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Vacation Lessons in Mindfulness (My Unintentional Sabbatical – Part I)

I have written about my endeavors to maintain a mindful, sustainable pace in my family’s full life (see previous post),especially in the midst of a busy school year. Each June, the mere thought of summer approaching invokes a sense of calm as I imagine a more relaxed, leisurely rhythm unlike that of the other seasons. Although I maintain my full psychotherapy practice throughout these months, the ability to sleep in a bit longer, coupled with less of a copious family schedule, suggests the promise of a peaceful respite.

I know I am not alone in this fantasy.

As the end of June arrived this year, I thought I had slowed life down to a lovely summer tempo, until a weeklong vacation away illuminated just how much more deceleration was possible.

 This is deceiving. I actually carried Ben the last little bit. Erik did most of the work!

This is deceiving. I actually carried Ben the last little bit. Erik did most of the work!

My ideal vacationconsists of arising without an (electronic or child) alarm, meditating, and enjoying coffee and breakfast before heading out for the day’s adventure of hiking, biking or kayaking. I love to return bone-tired, sweat-dried from a day out in nature, shower, and relax a bit before a dinner accompanied by a glass of wine or local microbrew; a trip to the local ice cream shop, some reading, and off to bed we go. Rinse and repeat. This may sound terribly dull to some, but to me, it is a little slice of heaven.

This year, the daily vacation schedule included somewhat of an enforced midday rest period for us all, as our toddler still requires a solid two-hour nap in order to maintain his composure and, consequently, our sanity. Aware we would not be spending an entire day hiking the most challenging trail or biking up the most epic mountain, this quiet time was initially accepted as a necessary inconvenience suffered for the greater good.

Instead, it became a lesson in the beauty of slowing down even further. What an unexpected gift.

So, after my little guy laid his curly-haired head down for an afternoon nap, I did something radically different I paused. I observed my body, my heart, my mind. I noticed what was called for in those few hours of quiet. How did I really want to spend the time: A restful nap, exploring the nearby shore with my daughter, an uninterrupted chat with my husband, time to read, or to simply sit and daydream as I watched the breeze blowing gently through the trees?

It took a few days, but I slowly felt my body unwind, my muscles breathing a sigh of relief for the rest; not rest in the way of atrophy or disuse, but in the deliberate, relaxed way of mindful movement, exercise, and calm.

My pace slowed, my breath slowed, my mind cleared, and Ireconnected more deeply with how I want to live my life: being even more mindful of the simple pleasures, including the gift of rest.

While first learning to meditate, people will often comment how much easier it is to focus and practice in my office than it is at home. Absolutely. At home, countless distractions clamor for our attention. The same is true with pausing and slowing down. It is much easier to slow the pace on vacation than at home in the midst of chaos and normalcy. But it can be done. The key is to consistently pause, bring our awareness to the pace we have set, assess its’ helpfulness, and, if needed, decelerate.

This is my challenge:

To preserve the restful rhythm I tapped into while away and incorporate it into life at home.

To pause and give myself permission to rest despite the endless list of to-do’s.

Why wait for the summer fantasy to roll around again next June? Find of piece of that slower summer tempo regardless of the season.

I invite you to do the same.

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