My Minka in Santa Fe – A Spiritual Antidote for Burnout

Guest Post by Judith Anne Desjardins

I first learned about minkas several years ago, when my husband read me an article about them in the Los Angeles Times. A minka is a traditional Japanese farmhouse, which was built over two hundred years ago, in the rural areas of Japan. Typically, they have very high-pitched roofs, to allow the snow to fall off. Built with massive wooden beams, they are large enough to house the farmer, his family, and his livestock. The minkas usually have earth floors, are heated with charcoal fires that, over time, color the beams a rich, dark color, and the second floors, which are accessible by ladders, usually house the silk worms and may provide additional sleeping space.

I have been fascinated by Japan for years. I love the architecture. The tatami mat flooring, shoji screen doors, sudare bamboo shades, kimono and beautiful textiles, the granite lanterns, the graceful gardens, the connection of the outer space with the interior space, and the simplicity of furnishings. There is peacefulness to the Japanese aesthetic. The Shinto religion believes that God is found in nature.

In 1992, my daughter Danielle and I made a trip to Japan, spending most of our time in Kyoto – the spiritual center of Japan, famous for its Buddhist temples. I wanted the full Japanese experience, so we stayed in ryokan, authentic Japanese bed and breakfasts. Almost no one spoke English and I started the trip with only one Japanese word: arrigato. It was very hard to navigate our way around the city, but I did manage to find the temples. I was in awe of them. They are so immense, so beautiful, so quiet and peaceful, made with beautiful massive wooden beams, and tremendously high ceilings. My favorite thing to do in Japan was visiting the Buddhist temples. I would get up very early, walk the grounds and enter the sacred spaces.

It was no wonder I was fascinated by the idea of a minka. The LA Times article was about the new movement in Japan to save the old minkas that are run down and in danger of being demolished, resulting in the loss of a wonderful tradition. Skilled architects and master carpenters are now taking them apart and moving them, piece by piece, beam by beam, to new locations and then reassembling them for new, modern owners. Some are even being imported to the United States, with master carpenters flying here to reassemble them. And, by the way, no nails are used in a Japanese minka. Each beam is carefully cut and joined in an interlocking fashion (joinery). The carpenters use special tools and all work is done by hand, no power tools are used.

I knew I would never be able to afford buying and importing a real minka, but I never gave up the hope of building one. That seemed most unlikely in Santa Monica because land is so expensive there. Nonetheless, I bought every book I could find about minkas and studied every detail. In my heart, I wanted a minka and never gave up on the idea. When I was able to purchase a property in Santa Fe, New Mexico three years ago, I finally had a lot that was large enough to house a small minka. My dream seemed possible. I hired the best contractor in Santa Fe and began the building process one year ago. The construction of the minka has proceeded slowly, with the constraints of the weather and saving money for the project.

Around the same time, I completed another dream: the 15-year process of writing my first book and establishing my own publishing company. Publishing and marketing the new book has taken all of my time and consumed every ounce of my energy for the last two years, in addition to running a private holistic psychotherapy practice and time for family.

There has been so much to learn, as a new author and publisher. I had no idea how difficult the marketing would be: sending copies for reviews, entering awards contests, writing marketing copy, maintaining a website, sending the book to book fairs in New York City, Frankfurt, London, and New Orleans. In addition, negotiating foreign license rights, signing copies of the book everywhere possible, develop flyers and posters, and a book video.

As a psychotherapist and author, I have been trained to recognize the signs of “burnout.” These include loss of energy, fluctuating mood swings, depression, anxiety, pessimism, low frustration tolerance, and a general loss of Self. Truly, I was so tired and so burned out I didn’t want to begin the mornings, and barely had enough energy to make it through the day. Any little unexpected problem could turn into a tailspin. I was not enjoying my life. I forgot who “I” was. I felt that I had become a “doing machine.” Me, the holistic psychotherapist and author, who write about the need of balance in the body, mind, emotions and spirit, I was fried to a crisp.
“Where is the me who just ‘is’? Wasn’t I given a spiritual essence at birth? Don’t I have value just ‘being’? Where has that gone? Can’t I just ‘be’, without having to produce something? Where is my connection to the Higher Power who made me? Why am I not tapping into His strength? Why am I pushing the book and marketing so hard, all by myself, without a break?”

I knew that the best way to recover from burnout would be to take a spiritual retreat to my minka in Santa Fe. The prescription I wrote for myself was: “No more work on the book or marketing. Go to bed early. Rise when you want to and spend the day in nature and quiet, inside the minka. Journal. Pray. Take walks in the arroyo with Brutie (my nine year old Australian Shepherd) and enjoy collecting river rocks. Eat when you are hungry. Eat healthy food. No television. No radio. Limited computer time. Read uplifting books throughout the day. Take naps. Listen to the birds, the sound of the wind in the cottonwood trees. Watch the clouds, the sun and the moon moving across the Santa Fe sky and mountains. Enjoy every aspect of the minka: the massive wood beams, the colors of the Douglas fir and the cedar, the stained concrete floors, the open air windows and doors, the meditative music, the high ceiling and beautiful pitched roof. Be as a small child in your minka. Let it hold you, comfort you, and make you feel safe and secure. Be still. Be quiet. Listen to the still small voice within. You will find your spirit, your voice, and your Self once again. Let the Spirit guide you and inspire you. Have fun connecting with other authors and publishers. Visit their websites and read their blogs. Enjoy your yoga practice on the cool cement floor. See the colors of nature: the green cottonwood trees, the bright blue Santa Fe sky, puffy white clouds, and magical sunrises and sunsets. Be thankful to God and thank Him for all that He has given to you. Spend time with Him and seek His guidance and help.”

I am happy to report that my prescription is working. The spiritual retreat and time in my minka has been a perfect antidote for burnout. I am regaining my energy, enthusiasm for life and creativity. I trust that God will show me the next phase of the book marketing process. I am blessed to have a husband who encourages me to take time for myself, and I am excited that he will be joining us soon. He loves the minka, too.

Judith Anne Desjardins is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Board Certified Diplomat in Clinical Social Work, and a Master Social Work Addiction Counselor. As an educator, she has taught nationally and in Canada, and has maintained a thirty-three year holistic private psychotherapy practice. Her book: Creating A Healthy Life and Marriage; A Holistic Approach: Body, Mind, Emotions and Spirit has won 16 book awards and is available on and her Being raised in a military family and traveling extensively gave her an appreciation for all cultures and all the world’s religions.

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