Column: Restoring the Body, Mind, Spirit Through Vacation

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One of the hardest things to do in this fast paced world is to pause or to take a break from ordinary routines. June is symbolic of transitional pauses such as weddings, high school graduations, and summer picnics. It is a time for taking a day off work or attending a celebration.

While weddings, graduations, and summer fun with the kids can last a day or maybe a weekend, the type of break that refreshes on a deeper level is extended time away to renew the body, mind, and spirit. Taking a full vacation, a weekend or just four or five days away from the normal routine of life can have a tremendous impact on how life resumes post-break.

Peaceful Break [Pixabay]

Recently, I took a true break from the world, a time period that didn’t include checking social media, or work email, or text messages, or anything else that comprises a daily routine.  What I found is that vacations are just as much work as real life.

Imagine the regular routine of getting up at a certain time to prepare the body, the mind, and the house for the day. Finding socks, keys, wallets, lunch for work, and something that resembles breakfast for yourself and anyone else who needs feeding takes time. The working part, be it doing an enjoyable occupation, searching for a job that pays a living wage, or studying in school for a future career and employment, requires structure, time, and discipline.

Technology adds a layer of distraction via smartphones, social media, and emails that can range from absolute necessity to occasional enjoyment to  serious addiction.

Breaking free from the technology and the routine that creates work for a time when all options are on the table and the only priority is the self should be easy. Commercials exude the happiness that individuals, couples, families, and friends can find if only they can get away from it all, or at least from the daily grind that too frequently leaves people frustrated and unsure of what really matters in life. Yet, after making the arrangements, which may be staying at a friend’s home while the normal occupants are just not there, staying in a hotel or AirBnB in a desired location, or tent camping in the woods in an area with no cell service and few people, the hardest part is sometimes getting the body to just relax.

The first night, when realization hits that the body has escaped the normal grind, may pass smoothly. Perhaps too many days were spent working to be able to take some time off, so the body sleeps. Vacation eating may kick in, where the food choices are different as a means of celebrating the thrill of being able to do whatever, whenever, and without restrictions.

The joy of having nothing to do is exhilarating. Sitting at dinner for two hours and not having to worry about returning texts, emails, checking social media, calling anyone seems like a dream.

Reality starts to set in with a desire to do the very things that taking a vacation was meant to avoid: checking work emails, dealing with the boss, checking social media, texting back, and other stressful components of life. Parents traveling without children for the first time may be naturally anxious. On the one hand, the purpose of the vacation was to de-stress away from the kids; on the other, the kids are the first, last, and major thing on a parent’s mind.

As the rush of the actual travel to the vacation destination subsides, a second reality emerges: What am I going to do with all this time? Perhaps this thought is mixed with guilt for all of the activities and responsibilities that are willingly missed to take a well-deserved rest. No matter what the profession or occupation, overwork is so common that there are locations where visitors can willingly turn in their smartphones and other devices just to resist the temptation to return to the fast pace during the supposedly relaxation time of a vacation.

So really, a successful vacation takes about as much work at times as work does, if not more. One major lesson I discovered in general was how leaving an open schedule does help. To do this means pushing aside the desire to have everything and to do everything possible while on this one vacation. How can the new come in, if the old has crowded out time for finding it?

In previous vacations, every minute was planned – breakfasts at 7a.m., activity from 9 a.m. through 12 p.m., followed by an hour lunch, and more activities from 1 p.m. through 5 p.m., followed by a dinner from 6 p.m. or so, and some evening free time with new friends made on the journey. The schedule may vary with a longer activity, where you start at 6:30 a.m. and finish around 8:30 p.m. Despite having meal time included, a fourteen hour day is comparable and as regimented as some jobs. However, there are few complaints because the time is well-spent on a tour or looking at new places or events with unfamiliar people. At the end of the day, the only craving is for sleep.

Sleep [Pixabay]

Taking a break from social media can be difficult because it plays a positive role in many ways. Social media brings together thoughts, ideas, and individuals who might not otherwise interact for the betterment of humanity. Perhaps it is not the need to break free from all social media, but from the negative aspects that wash in with the positive posts. For every adorable kitten post, birthday picture, graduation ceremony, body-positive, or funny meme, there are an equivalent number of divisive posts that reflect intolerance, hatred, bigotry, ignorance, or narrow-mindedness.

The thing about stress is that the mind often does not distinguish between the happy posts or positive posts and the negative posts. They all go in, and they all can become overwhelming. Therefore, the need for a vacation or a break from social media is created.

Within social media communities, such as Facebook, it is more common now to see posts from friends or  family members announcing an extended absence from social media. “I’m taking a break for awhile” as a phrase may be followed by a reason. In any case, it is a reminder that unspoken contemporary social media etiquette requires an announcement to let others know that you are alive, taking care of yourself or others, and that you are stepping off the fast paced highway of social media everyday life.

The stereotypical dilemma that television commercials often use is the reality of social media as an everyday presence for humor where three or four family members are so engrossed in technology that it takes a parent interrupting the wi-fi network and services to announce that dinner is ready or that it is family time. The underlying premise that everyone is so busy with a phone or the internet that there is no time to simply talk with another person face-to-face reflects current societal norms.

While it should not be difficult to break free, or to put down the phone, perhaps there is a fear of missing out, or FOMO as some call it.

Taking a break from social media may mean not seeing posts from your best friend who posts everything that happens during the day on social media. Deep down, taking a break can test whether the individual remains relevant to the rest of the world. Will someone actually care if P\person X does not post or appear as frequently for a few days, a week, a month?

Pause [Pixabay]

But something amazing happens after that 24 hours or whenever the body stops craving sleep: the world begins to look different in tiny, but significant ways. Take breakfast – If normally breakfast is just a cup of coffee or an energy drink due to a lack of time, then a few days of taking time to put something else into the body – some fruit, eggs, bacon, a smoothie, pancakes, or anything that can be savored over a longer period of time can start to help slow down the rapid pace. Continuing the pattern with lunch at a different time or at a leisurely pace can add to the change.

Beyond the change of atmosphere with meals, being in a different place, even if it is just across town, means a new area to explore. Taking walks or reading a book in  new location, gives the mind time to breathe. Perhaps having a conversation with a stranger about the weather triggers a reminder that you really can’t stand the weather where you live, so you begin to think about options in a more suitable climate.

Maybe a night or two of recuperative sleep brings long-lost dreams and desires to the surface. These are ideas that don’t get time to form fully during the fast pace of everyday life, so on vacation, they can flourish at will.

Finally, there is something about walking in nature. Feeling the ground with bare toes if the weather is warm and dry enough, or inhaling the scents of trees, air, or a breeze off a lake or ocean centers. Each step pulls the tired spirit back into the body, back into a slower pace that heals as it rejuvenates.

The most healing part of vacation is the silence. It may take a few days or even a week. When digging one’s feet into the soil outside in the early morning hours on the last day, stillness and silence wrap around the body, cradling the soul with a healing presence.

The gifts of peace and renewal are the joint blessings of a good vacation that continue after the time away ends.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.