I had been floating in the hot baths of the Spa a dear friend had gifted me for my birthday for over an hour before I felt myself really exhale. Before my mind stopped chattering. Before the relaxation began at both a somatic and emotional level. It is not that I wasn’t enjoying it before. Candle light against old brick walls, bubbling blue-green water, hushed voices and soothing music around me. Of course I was enjoying it! And it still took a while for the depth calm I was seeking to settle in.
It always amazes me: how long it takes for deep relaxation to emerge from the cacophony of the mind. Even when we have regular meditation and prayer practice, it can take a while. Our habits of anxiety are strong. So much is going on that needs our attention. Cultural change makers often act as problem solvers.
The assorted practices of ReMembering, all of which ultimately point to the reMembrance of our deep interconnection with all beings and our closeness with the Divine, requires relaxation. To be in a place of giving and creating societal transformation requires being able to receive. Receptivity is hard without relaxation.
August (when I am writing this post) is often a time of vacation, especially in the northern hemisphere, or at least a weekend get away with a lot of water. How do we enable ourselves to really relax during our time off, be it for a few hours or a few weeks?
Here is some of what I’ve been noticing during my birthday weekend extravaganza about relaxation, receiving what the world is offering us, and wallowing in enjoyment – even when there is so much else going on in the world.
First, let's recognize what we are talking about. Rest, in a world of that emphasizes doing and seeing and discovery and exploration and more and more and more, can itself be an act of radical faithfulness. We could even call it Radical Rest. But those kinds of phrases risk making the process of resting stressful – like you have to have top performance on “resting!” That kind of stress could defeat the whole purpose!
Many cultural change makers are also healers, and spend a lot of time taking care of others – ensuring that Stuff Gets Done. That can-do attitude often gets translated to vacation. Even if you aren’t cramming packed travel days, it can still be hard to turn off the buzz in the mind. And then there are the other questions, the deeper social-ecological questions – what do you do when the beautiful place you are in (a spa, a lake front property, a vacation home) replicates the same shtuff (racism, classism, colonialism, religious prejudices) you are working on lessening at home? What does it mean to enjoy wherever you’ve gone, knowing how many people cannot get there? Is it ok to take “off” days from social and environmental analysis?
Obviously these are big questions. You are hardly alone in asking them, for all that they might not show up at various vacation brochures. So take some time to think about what really is rejuvenation for you (not just what social media says). What is the internal experience that you are seeking, as well as the external one? And what do you need to do to help get your own internal resources flowing?
A few things I can share with you as I reflected on my most recent 'time away' - my birthday weekend extravaganza which included tubing down the Delaware River, amazing food, stars, friends, multiple celebrations, and an incredible spa night.
Not taking time off does help the people you are seeking to serve. It is ok to relax. Really. The body, the mind, the soul – it all has rhythms, and relaxation is an important part of that. On the seventh day of Creation, God rested. Therein the importance of the Sabbath.
Recognize that it takes time to unwind. That’s pretty natural. It usually takes me at least 5-6 hours, if not the first full night, to “arrive” somewhere (and is part of why I am not a big fan of changing beds every night when traveling – but sometimes that happens).
Schedule less. Or rather, schedule more time doing less. This might be hard. That’s ok. You might feel uncomfortable. That’s ok. You might want to take naps instead of going out for some excursion. I’m a big fan of resting over seeing everything, but that’s me. I’ve seen a lot, so, “seeing” something , which can be done relatively quickly, is less valuable to me than “being” with something/someone/someplace, which takes a different quality of attention. If your partner/family/friends differ from you in this regard (very normal), schedule different activities and some activities together.
If you benefit from silence, you might have to create some firm boundaries with the other people who are with you. This is up to you. It is VERY easy to just keep talking…. And not get the silence you crave. You don’t have to do a vipassana retreat to get more silence in your vacation time. But you do have to be clear about what you need – to yourself, as well as to others. Social pressure is powerful – whenever possible, use it for your advantage (enroll everyone you are with in how great it will be that you have 4 hours of silence a day! And then they can help you do that!)
Limit work/don't work on off-time. Obvious: not always easy. This past weekend I knew I would want to make some phone calls – without which this week would be insane. I needed the weekend-away exhale – but I also needed to stay on top of some stuff else things would be way more stressful when I got back. So I created boundaries for myself: I only worked on the project that was critical, no computer, no web browsing. I did write down some new ideas so that I can keep track of them and I made a call about a new course idea when it felt right – not because I had to. That was actually super fun.
You might need time to work on a creative project. Feel free to tell other people you are going on a silent retreat so they don't interrupt your creative time.
I find it very helpful to voice the racism and environmental destruction I see around me at least to the people I’m hanging out with – it helps me release it a bit. Its harder with colonial and indigenous stuff that people don’t know about as well – then I might have to start explaining things to people, and that begins to feel a lot like work.But I also love it. Here’s an example of my inner dialogue thought process tends to go:
"what does it mean to take a break from history when it is everywhere I look?"
"Why do I need a break? What does it mean to take a break?"
'Am I physically tired? Emotionally tired? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I spending enough time doing nothing? Sharing my feelings?' etc.
In other words: what is the real thing you need in that moment? Dig beneath the common notions of "break" and "vacation" and "getting away from it all" and see what your body-soul is saying.
Pay attention – a lot of attention- to your body. If you get a massage practice praying for each part of your body during the massage (thank you feet for helping me walk; thank you toes for all that you do for me, thank you ankle for your flexibility, wow, I really feel that knot, etc.) Imagine the stress leaving your body wherever the therapist touches you.
Walk slowly. Practice wide-eyed awareness: really take in everything around you. Breath it in if it is good.
Lay down your phone your camera. Spend some time every day not taking pictures. A good way of doing this is to do something where you can’t take your camera or phone with you. Yes, I love taking pictures. A lot. And it removes you from the experience. You are not doing this for social media. You are not doing this for your friends. You are doing this for the spiritual growth within you. Pictures help with that – but not always.
Receive. Receive gifts from your friends, your partners, colleagues, sweetheart(s), exes, family, earth community. Practice receiving.
Pay attention to limits- time, budget, food, receiving, etc. If you haven't given yourself a break for a while you might over sp'lurge. Just like too much dieting can lead to food binging, too much working can lead to over-indulgence on rest/vacation that you might regret later. Time off does not mean you leave your common sense behind. Having a rough budget before you are out can be very helpful!
Give yourself time (if at all possible) between your trip and when you have to go to back to work. (For those where these lines blur a lot – define for yourself what counts as “work”.)