Returning from vacation is always bittersweet. The lovely days of enjoying the time without a focus on schedules, plans, to-do lists and routine activities can be hypnotic. I treasure the restoration that accompanies this slow and easy life that allows one to appreciate the luxury that is time, and the abundance that is our life.
When I return to work, I sometimes struggle with keeping the composure that seems to accompany “island time” while on vacation. We visited Isla Holbox while on a brief honeymoon trip after our wedding. It was a location we had visited before, 2 1/2 years ago during February. This time, it was hotter and more humid (77F dewpoint), so that forced me to go much slower than the pace I usually move. Never a fan of heat and humidity, I treasure the crisp autumn weather in Minnesota. But in any case, the island temperature called us to slow down, to walk more mindfully and to adjust our overall pace.
For many years I have been a runner, and in the past couple of years have focused more on developing my yoga practice as a component to living a more mindful, intentional and conscious life. While I still enjoy running and it helps me calm myself in some ways, I realize that slowing down is also a necessary and vital component of my wellness and vitality. Tuning into that “frequency” deep within, that is so easily drowned out by so many other noises in the outer world has become fundamental, not optional, to the way I choose to live.
In returning to work after the wedding and the vacation trip, I am realizing that this is when the “rubber hits the road” as far as putting that mindful, slower, intentional practice to work in my life. Retreats from the world and from the daily routines can help us re-establish a rhythm that is more amenable to those quieter forces within us that wake up only when we really listen. And to listen, we must sometimes turn off the outside influences that may appeal to our minds and our desires for more knowledge, more data, more connections in our neural networks. But in the same way that pruning the old, dead blossoms from a flowering plant helps the other flowers to flourish, our minds seem to require this pruning.
By meditating, and for me this means watching my thoughts come and go, I am able to give myself that necessary quiet space to allow for greater growth in the long-term. Now that it has become a daily practice (sometimes for as much as an hour, but more often, as little as 5-15 minutes) I have begun to understand, and just lightly “taste” the benefits, while opening to new insights. Yesterday while traveling home a number of different situations presented themselves that in the past may have caused anxiety, but I was able to handle them gracefully. I am far from perfect, but I am learning to see how this practice can help me bring some of that vacation mindset back to my daily life and to my work.
Martha Beck recommends a practice of “vacation from predation” which I believe comes from her book, The Four-Day Win. I am paraphrasing and giving my interpretation of this, but what it means to me is to realize that whatever stress we may be feeling, most of us, at any given moment are presently safe. I realize this reflects privilege to say this, and indeed there are many instances when people are not safe, but there is also so much stress and suffering that are added by our minds, by our thoughts about whatever is our current situation. It is actually those thoughts, not the situation itself which cause anxiety and stress. The situations themselves are neutral and to a large extent we can choose our reaction to them. We can observe our emotions and become aware of our thoughts and then realize that the “stories” we use to interpret, filter and process those situations are what drive and feed those emotions.
As I return to my email inbox, the appointments that will pop up on my calendar and the responsibilities of my day-to-day life, I will strive to remember this wisdom and to practice compassion for myself when I do sometimes over-react. My amygdala is trained and has its habits, which require some re-training. I also have better tools to calm these over-reactions and to keep events in perspective. This makes me profoundly grateful.