Why we need vacation

Post in: German

Here in Europe, taking vacation is a normal part of life. Why?
Quite simply, because human beings need it.
We need to take time out to discover who we are, really, as human beings, when we strip away from ourselves all the trappings of business and busyness. When the everyday routine falls away, it is replaced by the need to care for our bodies and souls outside of our normal context. And that puts us back in touch with our bodies and souls in new ways.
I spent a month in Ireland. I returned a week ago. When the everyday routine falls away, it is replaced by the need to care for our bodies and souls outside of our normal context. And that puts us back in touch with our bodies and souls in new ways.
Here is some of what I learned in a month away:

  1. Most things that we believe to be crucial and important are not really. The things we sometimes don’t recognize to be crucial and important – like getting adequate sleep, feeding the soul, connecting with the environment and with other human beings – really are.
  2. There are very few emergencies that absolutely need me.  I forgot to send a letter of recommendation for a student. But the application office extended the deadline for his application until I returned. No problem. Some paperwork needed my signature for some other applications. Guess what? It waited with no problem. I was invited to contribute to a special issue of a highly visible journal on a topic that’s exactly mine. Guess what? The offer and the print deadline passed while I was away. So what? There will be other publications. We will never know what would have happened if my views made it into that publication, but probably the planet will continue to revolve on its axis. There is always something. I am late on a review deadline. But that sometimes happens even if I am in the office. This way at least the editor got a vacation automatic response and knows why I hadn’t responded.  My new employee started work while I was gone. We organized that the rest of the staff would give her an orientation and a start, which worked out well.
  3. I am more than the stuff I do.  Who I am is much more than my job title or my relationships to others. That sounds so banal, but how often do we really practice it by getting away from all those roles and titles and responsibilities? Sometimes in the natural rush to get things checked off the list, we can forget what it feels like to sit next to a creek or a cliff, or to watch a donkey or a cow in a field and wonder what it’s thinking about. We can forget that the ocean is going to kiss the beach over and over, whether or not we show up to watch, that it’s doing it right now on coastlines around the world, even if we sit in offices under fluorescent lights. That ocean is OUT THERE, rolling against the boundary where water meets land. That can be a source of great comfort. If we do show up to watch, we can get carried into that movement and sent to a primal place in our inner selves where we’re also physically rocked into that ebb and flow of push and pull, yin and yang, coming and going.
  4. Sometimes one can move forward in the grief processing by changing the scenery. The grief over lost things (relationships, homes, objects, people) follows us no matter where we are, but it has different shapes and colors in different environments, surrounded by different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and personalities. The trick is then the transfer back to the usual setting, bringing the new part along and integrating it into the old.  In a related thought, just because someone is not in my life anymore does not mean that relationship is over. That relationship stays in my heart forever and follows me wherever I am. If that’s not already a positive thought, it’s up to me to decide to make that something positive by taking the lessons about myself that emerge from that relationship.
  5. There are other people, careers, places, logics, problems, than just me and mine. We all know this intuitively. But watching innkeepers do their jobs day after day, witnessing the transportation industry workers in remote places – like ferry pilots off rugged coastlines, and being in touch with Irish radio for a month and following some of the stories there that would not make the news at all in Germany – and vice versa – lends perspective on our sense of importance. A case in point: the Irish news reported nonstop about an Irish 19-year-old girl who was taken into custody in Peru for drug smuggling. We got the blow-by-blow of which family member and lawyer was underway to help her get out of Peruvian prison, if that would be possible at all. I heard nothing about the fact that the Mainz train station was shut down for a couple of weeks because too many switchyard workers were either on vacation or out sick. Big news in one place is no news somewhere else.
  6. We can bring vacation back with us and incorporate it into our normal lives. In fact, we must. Otherwise, the effects dwindle or disappear within days or even minutes of returning. How do we do this? Keep a little bit of that “downtime” in every day. Take the time to stare at something. Take the time to plan newness into the routine. Take a new way home. Try a new kind of cheese. One rainy weekend day after my trip, a pigeon landed on my balcony railing. She looked at me a long while, and I looked at her. I decided to leave my own thoughts and doings aside for the duration that she decided to stay perched there, near me, and study her feathers and gestures, to get lost in her “pigeonness.” Well, she got comfortable and started pruning. Her feathers and movements were beautiful, the rain appeared to offer no discomfort. She stayed and stayed. So did I. Finally we both forgot the other was there, so comfortable we became with each other. She offered me a vacation within my normal day. Her presence was a peaceful offering from the planet. We are both at home here, sharing a moment together, across very different worlds.

It’s now getting to be fall, and the birds have started opening the walnuts in the trees next to my apartment. I got out the binoculars to watch their industriousness. And my industriousness? It’s more focused on what really matters. Which is so much more than just the job I am paid to do. It’s about the person I am meant to be, in all regards, in the time I have here on this blue and lonely planet.

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