Mini-retirement – What’s it all about

This little article contains my personal perspective on a, so called, mini-retirement – what’s it all about, the differences between it and a full retirement and between it and a holiday. Why should we do it? – are there rules for it? Is it a requirement to be old? Lastly some tips from someone who’s done it.

I originally trained in marketing and environmental science and took my first mini-retirement of 4 weeks after selling my share in a garment hanger reuse and recycling business which colleagues and I set up in my 30s to help M&S to meet its environmental obligations. The work was hugely stressful, and I was very glad of some down time.

Since then, I’ve come to really appreciate the value of the mini-retirement, of at least a few weeks, hopefully at least once a year. As I entered my 60s, with a successful practice in wellbeing and education, including my own clinic and training centre, I naturally considered retirement. However, I decided that, as long as I was well enough and loved my work, there was no point. In fact, I’ve known a number of others who have deeply regretted their retirement and not fared well with it.

In my case I’ve been fortunate enough to streamline my practice, partly due to the COVID lockdown, including selling my clinic and training centre and transitioning into the world of hybrid working, with a combination of online and in-person work.

Being part of a team makes the concept of mini-retirements more workable although, for those of us self-employed, we have to accept that other than any residual income, our mini-retirement will cost us financially. The financial loss will be fully compensated for by a period of freedom, rest and recharge, along with hopefully some new learning.

To me, holidays are normally very brief breaks and easy to arrange. They don’t get in the way of my client schedules. Mini-retirements, by contrast are much more of a challenge and require the cooperation and understanding of clients/participants and colleagues.

I strongly suggest that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that because we are fortunate to love what we do, that it is not real work and therefore we don’t need breaks. I have to admit that sometimes, over the years, I have been absolutely rubbish at taking breaks and I’m pretty sure that, on more than one occasion, it has had a serious negative impact upon my health.

Of course, these days there are numerous holidays which are advertised as ‘mindful’ holidays – whether that’s painting, river cruising or writing. Personally, I think that any holiday can be a mindful one as long as we stay with the experience of it.  One of my colleagues tells me that he is brave enough for he and his partner to go to the airport with only passports and credit cards and then select a departure destination from the announcement board and buy tickets! As he said to me ‘the worst that can happen is that we end up going back home, and at its best we find an exciting new adventure’.

This same friend was horrified when I told him that I normally take my laptop computer on holiday with me (well surely it deserves a holiday too?). Sometimes I enjoy spending some time writing and find that being in a fresh, enjoyable location can inspire some creativity (my grandchildren are not at all impressed with this)! So, I think that the rule should be… not to have rules. Let nobody tell us what we should or should not do, and just see what happens.

Good luck with taking your breaks, however they happen and, you never know, maybe see you on the beach sometime! I’ll probably be the only one with a laptop computer as well as an ice cream!!

Mindful Walking

Most people think of mindfulness within the confines of sitting still for a period of time. But, in fact, carrying out mindfulness when walking can be incredibly beneficial. We regularly undertake a brief walking meditation during our mindfulness teaching sessions, when members of the group are encouraged to be fully aware of their bodies and/or breathing while doing this simple movement. So, like all mindfulness exercises, this is about awareness.

As is often the case, people are somewhat surprised to find what a different sort of experience this presents to them. Being completely and fully aware of our bodies when doing something we usually do without a second thought can be enlightening. When you are moving it’s often easier to become aware of your body than it is when sitting still for a period of time. And many opportunities arise each day when a brief walking meditation can take place.

Normally we don’t walk without intention – we are walking to get somewhere or our intention may be to seek pleasure. Here we aim to let go of all intention other than awareness. We may notice ourselves either enjoying or disliking our walking. We may be cold, we may be wet, or we may feel exhausted. On the other hand, we may feel completely happy and full of energy! Whatever we notice is OK – we’re not trying to change anything.

So, how do our feet feel against the changing surfaces we walk on? What do we notice about the differing shades of colours we encounter? How does the air feel against our skin? Is it cool, or warm or breezy or still? What sounds are we aware of and how do those sounds change as we walk along? Do the sounds of our own walking change as the walking surface changes? Does the pace of our walking change?

As you walk, scan through the physical sensations in your body, starting with the soles of your feet and all the way up to the top of your head. Take time to notice sensations in all parts of your body. Then notice sensations in your body, as a whole.

Now we might like to bring a little intention to our walking – by walking and smiling. This walking and smiling practice is recommended by world-famous mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and is all about generating positive feelings for yourself as you walk. So… walk as if you’re the happiest person on earth. Smile – you’re alive! Acknowledge that you’re very fortunate if you’re able to walk. As you walk in this way, imagine you are printing peace and joy with every step you take. Walk as if you’re kissing the earth with each step you take. Know that you’re taking care of the earth by walking in this way.

Every now and then, when you see a beautiful tree, flower, lake, or anything else you like, stop and look at it. Continue to follow your breathing as you do this. Allow each step to refresh your body and mind. Realise that life can only be lived in the present moment. Enjoy your walking.

So next time you’re getting up to put the kettle on, walking from the car to the shop, or walking along the beach on holiday or around the local park, just simply slow down a little and notice what’s going on – what is your breathing doing and has it changed? – what are your muscles doing and how do they feel? – are you brave enough to take your shoes off and feel the sand between your toes or the grass beneath your feet? Remember that the purpose of a walking meditation is to be fully in the present moment, letting go of any anxieties and worries; letting go of any intention. Simply being fully aware.

Rachel Broomfield, Mindfulness teacher and trainer