It’s midmorning, day 2 of my vacation. I’m on the beach doing what is rapidly becoming my Superpower: Staring at the water.
My reverie is broken by a new arrival on the beach. A young couple with well-appointed tattoos starts setting up camp to my left. The woman has one of those Pinterest-board bodies that accompany fitness pins with captions like, “Strong is the New Skinny!”
The couple spreads out their towels and assembles their umbrella. Next, they set up an elaborate series of orange cones in front of their beach camp. Then, they pull out kettle bells (kettle bells?!) and large rubber bands. Their beach camp is transformed into a Crossfit box.
I consider what my friend Bramlett said to me at dinner one night last year. That there are three kinds of vacations, and it’s good to know from the start which kind you’re embarking on.
There are sightseeing vacations – where you visit museums, eat the local cuisine, and experience a whole new culture.
Then, there are trips. Trips involve the family, your friends, and lots of interactions.
And lastly, there is rest. This is where you stare and dream, eat good things, perhaps read. But mostly you do nothing.
For many people, rest is the hardest of these three options. I think this has to do with our funny little minds.
Plan a sightseeing vacation and you keep the mind occupied with maps, schedules, time frames, tickets, costs and reservations. Mind is happy. This is its terrain.
Plan a trip – and the mind is occupied with who, where, how long… gifts to bring, games to play, and news to deliver.
Go for a rest vacation, however, and the mind is likely to say, “I don’t suppose there’s anything in that little black bag for me?” And once it realizes that no, Dorothy, there isn’t, the mind does what the mind always does: It tries to get involved. We’ve become a world of people whose minds are always getting involved.
We can go from zero to sixty in the time it takes for the alarm to sound and our feet to hit the floor. If that doesn’t happen, there’s always our go-to breakfast blend of venti mochacinos, cortisol levels that could fill a trough, and at least three looming deadlines.
We have an intimate relationship with acceleration.
Going from sixty to zero, however, is a bit of a different path. Our minds can’t provide strategies because when you move in the direction of rest, it’s not about strategy. It about release. Mind doesn’t like release. It likes clinging, arranging, tinkering, thinking and achieving.
So a “rest vacation” can create a bit of stress in the mind. We now have two weeks to full recovery, deep peace, or something that looks a little less like the person we were when we arrived. So mind wants to start working at this.
And in the same way that your goal of inner peace while, say, in a yoga class, can get waylaid by a single thought like, “Holy shit, I don’t think I ever sent that email this morning!”…
… the beachy dreamy restful vacation can be interrupted by almost anything: sneaking a peek at your iPhone and clicking on the email from your assistant with the subject line, “Don’t open til you’re back.”
…or putting on your bikini and noticing that your muffin top is now plainly just a muffin…
…or in my case, here and now… the tattooed couple who brought kettle bells with them onto the beach.
As per Bramlett’s advice, I’ve told myself I’m on a resting vacation. The beach, after all, has always been my extreme-dream-spacious-soul place.
That is, until this very moment.
The couple sits on their towels for exactly 13 minutes. Then, at high noon when the sand is burning hot, their workout begins in earnest. They sprint around the cones, kicking gusts of glittery sand behind them. They hoist kettle bells in Russian swings. They do push ups and burpees. (I kid you not. They are doing burpees in the sand.)
I can’t not watch.
And in steps the mind. It wonders how I could possibly have come on this vacation without setting any goals, bringing any kettle bells or having any of my trusted work-out habits in tow.
But the thought of bringing those habits and routines with me on my vacation depresses me. It’d be like flying to Venice and eating dinner at The Olive Garden. No, I am definitely not here for my habits. I am here because I know that even if I do nothing but stare at sand crabs and pelicans, this is the space I need.
So then, why does watching this couple do sand-burpees make me suddenly question the wisdom of rest? What am I so scared of? What would really happen if I gave myself this space, if I actually trusted myself to relax?
As if in direct response to this very thought, a man enters this beach scene and begins setting up camp to my right. He is decidedly unconcerned about muffin tops. He puts down his cooler. He sets up his umbrella. He unfolds his chair, and he sits. He pulls out a beer. He turns on his boom box. He gets out a cigarette. And he lights up.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of his late morning exercise routine.
At this point, I’m looking for a hidden camera. Someone has to be fucking with me. I can almost hear one of those whisper-y television voices: “Here are Christine’s two choices. Let’s watch to see what she does.”
On the outside, I don’t appear to do anything.
On the inside, however, my mind is having a field day. The first thing it does is this: It compares. Thoughts that go: “Well, I suck compared to those people. But at least I’m not as bad as that guy.”
And folks, this is the mind fighting for its survival as I open myself up to rest. I know enough to know that if you argue with your thoughts, if you engage even a little bit with your mind – its existence is assured.
It may start with comparison. But then it will quickly degenerate into whether or not you deserve this time. And then, it will wrap up with a grand finale of whether or not you are a mean horrible person or a nice person. If you’ve ever battled your thoughts, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
That’s because as long as we are fighting our own thoughts, then we are going exactly nowhere. The mind always wins as long as you keep running back with more rational arguments, even if they are on your side. You’re like the Black Knight in The Holy Grail. Both arms chopped off by King Arthur, insisting “It’s just a flesh wound!” You can’t win as long as you’re fighting your mind.
It’s all just thinking, and it all has one thing in common and that is this: It is missing one key ingredient… me being present.
Me being present. That sounds so lofty. So mystical. But it’s not. I don’t have to turn into Mother Teresa. I don’t have to miraculously transform myself into a yogi, or even a more perfect version of myself. I can just let myself sit here in the midst of this scene that has played out for my enjoyment and that I have attached so much meaning to. The scene that I have made into a “the gods are messing with me” drama.
And that’s when I have real release. And by real release I don’t mean angels and unicorns. I simply mean the moment that comes when I simply let myself stay here in the middle of this scene…
Witnessing the crossfit games to my left – accompanied by Lynryd Skynrd’s “That Smell” coming from my right. I watch my thoughts as they continue their antics. I continue staring at the water, the activity that is rapidly becoming my super power. I breathe. Serene is the new strong.