Summer has ended. Most of us are saying good-bye to the vacation season and easing (or some of us are being thrown) into the new fall rhythm—school, refreshed energy for work projects, activities that resume once everyone is back in town from far-flung adventures. But how many of us truly rejuvenated during this summer season? After my family’s epic road trip (see previous blog post: The Epic American Road Trip), I was exhausted, cranky and in need of space to myself. So I took it. It felt like a matter of survival—not just for me but for members of my family as well. As the saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
I squeezed in three days to myself. It’s a funny thing, going off on your own with idyllic dreams of recharging and rediscovering your best self again. Reality usually hits me in the face the minute I step through the doorway into my retreat.
What do I do now?
I can feel the anxiety I was trying to escape creep up. I’m supposed to be relaxing, but I’m not relaxing. I’m here, I’m ready and I’m also fidgety and restless. Where is that Zen state of mind?
If only it were that easy.
I have found over the years that I have to ease into relaxation in order to withstand the withdrawal symptoms of exiting regular life. So many of us live in a wound up state all the time. We’re addicted to our electronic devices and the rush we get from the influx of constant information. What happens when we do stop? It’s difficult. When we disconnect, we fear we might miss something. The roles we play are stripped away, leaving us as…well, who?
When we extract ourselves from all the noise, we are faced with our unfulfilled longings and desires, the disappointments, the ways in which our life doesn’t measure up. And this was supposed to be a nice getaway. How awkward.
I usually start by finding a broom and begin sweeping. It’s a little quirk of mine. It’s still productive, so I’m not plunging headlong into “lollygagging" (my wound-up self’s word) right out of the gate. But it’s also a way for me to sink into mindfulness: the swishing sound, the feel of the broom handle in my hands, watching the dirt collect in a pile, the sense of completion when I’m done.
Maybe my unconscious mind recognizes this metaphor. Maybe it also is cleaning house of the busy thoughts that keep me distracted so I can open up to the present moment. After all, it’s only in the present that we find our true self. Our past self is just a memory and our future self is either a longing or a fear. But when confronted with our present self, we find grace. We find everything is okay. Not perfect, maybe. But okay. This last retreat, I was even able to experience the joy that lives at the center of all of us. That joy is what rejuvenates us, gives us hope and energizes us for the work ahead. That is a true vacation.