Spending Christmas and New Year away from your usual abode (as I have just done) during a six week trip is useful. Not only do you get to experience different weather conditions than you’re used to – despite the fact it was in the Caribbean and the temperature was akin to a very warm British summer (and even then I’m being rather generous to us) I’m not going to harp on about that side of things too much – but you get to enjoy what people commonly refer to as a vacation.
Of course people may mean different things by this word. They may use it to refer to an action-packed experience filled with numerous activities that stave off the boredom associated with what the slackers call ‘resting’. Others may prefer to sit by a pool, in the sunshine, and regain the energy they’ve used up all year round on a tough schedule that helps provide the very income to secure such a vacation in the first place. Some people won’t call it a vacation at all, protesting that it’s actually called a ‘holiday’ (hey, we’re British).
Most of us would agree, to varying extents, that on occasion it is necessary for everyone to take a step back from work and enjoy some kind of break; something to provide change from an everyday schedule that, no matter how stimulating, will eventually become tiresome. My question would be: are the majority of people doing it right? Is it healthy to use a holiday/ vacation to collapse and recover from exhaustion, or alternatively to use that break as a means of exhaustion in itself? No doubt there are times when both of these scenarios can be desirable. But then there is the inevitable moment when you realise your vacation is fast coming to an end. Soon, you will be on the plane back to monotony, business, endless phone calls, emailing, and whatever else that your daily schedule may involve. And you may find that you are dreading it just a little.
Once you have become used to not worrying about the various tasks that must be achieved throughout each day, the pressure of deadlines that have to be met, and the interactions with those difficult people your life could do without, it can be hard to go back. It feels, perhaps, almost like going back to another person’s life.
The alternative for some is not to take a holiday at all, or take one that nonetheless allows for the checking of emails and occasional business call. They may argue that this is entirely necessary in their line of work (I’m thinking mainly of anyone who owns a business and just needs to stay updated on every aspect of it), and they may very well be right. In trying to compensate for the potential lengthy interruption of their work ‘flow’ they end up sacrificing periods of prolonged relaxation to stay in the mindset. Someone with this kind of lifestyle will likely be one of the most focused, committed individuals you know. Others will be blessed because of their hard work and sacrifice; indeed, many people may have a decent job because of them.
So where am I going with this, then? Because it may sound very much like I’m hinting criticism of the type of person we should be praising. Well, it’s not the person I’m criticising at all. In fact, I am not even making a criticism. I am simply observing the pattern our society has taken, and picking up on the more unhelpful aspects of it. For me, this is kind of what our February theme of mindfulness is all about.
Take a look back at the definition of mindfulness from our last post. It defines it simply as ‘being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on to when it changes’.
Earlier, I asked whether the majority of people were doing it right when it comes to vacations. Yet the problem, as I would try to make clearer in a lengthy essay on the topic, is not with the vacation itself. Not how long it is, what you do on it, even whether or not you do a little bit of work while you’re there. Different things will work for you depending on your personality, energy levels, and biological genes. The problem I have touched on is found in the general attitude towards the relationship between work and vacation.
I would like to say work and rest. However, going on vacation can in fact be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life, especially (although I’m merely speculating here) if you’re a parent with multiple children in tow. With increasingly mounting personal and professional obligations as you approach adulthood, rest is harder to come by, and is rarely found in the ‘one size fits all’ vacation period before your boss expects you back in the office ready to meet more deadlines.
Yes, it is entirely necessary to step back and take stock of where you are in life. In our mindfulness challenge for you this month, though, we are encouraging you to do this daily. It’s not something everyone can afford to save until their next break from work – all that will do is make you dread returning to the alternative. Our daily challenge is about bringing a little bit of this vacation into your everyday schedule. In the process I would ask you to dwell upon your own attitudes toward work and time off. Perhaps they may need adjusting, one way or another.