Peace and contentment come from peaceful places…don’t they?
I’m lucky enough to be sitting in a beautiful cabin on the top of a mountain this weekend. Far above the hum of traffic, away from shopping malls and grocery stores and the duties of my own house, this house feels like a quiet refuge, even if only temporarily, from the busy hum of my every day life. All of the houses on this mountain have been quirkily named: “Away From It All”, “Peaceful Perch”, even a “Winterfell” just a few down from me. Regardless of the name, there’s an overall theme that is easily perceptible, which is this is a place that is stress free. This is meant to be an escape from reality, the stress of jobs, the grinding school schedule, from obligations. It’s as if there is an invisible line somewhere along the winding state highway that separates there from here.
We all immediately decamped to the back porch overlooking the North Georgia mountains and breathed in the fresh mountain air. We took pictures, gazed at the tree line and declared this the most relaxing vacation ever, even though it was only 5 minutes in. We quickly unloaded our things to their proper places and then, the relaxation commenced, and it was wonderful. Even making dinner seemed slower, happier, more peaceful and not like the hurried chore it typically is through the weekly grind. It got me thinking…why do we wait for vacation to relax?
Vacations are usually the space that we make in our crowded schedule to turn off the responsibilities of home, take a break from the chores, ignore the to do list we’ve been dreading. We get so accustomed to our crowded schedule that we begin to do it on autopilot even if we’re doing something different every day, with little appreciation for what we have. We pile paperwork on an already crowded counter and sigh about the bills we have to pay, often without giving a second look to the carefully decorated kitchen we loved so much when we first remodeled. We pile laundry on the couch and scowl at socks who have lost their mates along the way. Life comes with some strings, no matter how minimalist or zen you manage to be in your journey. Even if you have a service take care of the myriad of chores that are a part of keeping a home, you still have a connection to the things around you. You quickly gather a history about any place you live in or stay in very long, so you know when you go to the diner that it was better or worse this time than last. In fact, as you move throughout your home and community, you quickly build up a frame of reference for everything you experience, and then every time you experience it again, you weigh the new experience against your memory of it. This is normal, automatic, and helpful for our survival. It is the same thing that kept our ancestors from eating those mushrooms again or touching that spiny plant the next time they saw it. We modern humans don’t require quite as much time to mental record dangerous plants and animals, but we still follow the same habits of cataloging our experiences with the people and places we encounter.
When you’re on vacation, it’s either somewhere new or somewhere you don’t visit often, so it’s less familiar, less cataloged in your mind. You haven’t experienced the sights, sounds, or tastes of this particular spot often, if ever before, so there’s less to judge it against. The spot has less of “you”, so in return, you’re more free to simply be wherever you are, whether that’s a mountain cabin, beach condo, or a posh hotel in the city. Since there’s less there that reminds you of, well, yourself, you are typically more conscious of everything around you. The less of your own thoughts and judgments you bring into any situation, the more fully you’re able to be present with what actually is in front of you…and that seems to feel peaceful, immersive, and relaxing.
Fortunately for us all, it isn’t the vacation that allows us to feel this way. Ask almost anyone who has tried to extend their bliss by moving to a beautiful beach or peaceful mountain, and they’ll tell you that once you do your life quickly catches up with you. Those strings re-appear, and while the scenery may have changed, the every day chores of living remain the same. The fortunate part is that if it isn’t coming from the fantastic beach or exciting city, that means it’s coming from us…and if it’s coming from us, we should be able to access it at any time.
No matter where we are.
To be continued…
Krista Smith is the Program Director for Centered Recovery and facilitates the Psycho Educational component of the program. She has lived in the lush mountains of Asheville, the big city of Charlotte, the dry desert of Phoenix, and the beautiful beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast and knows first hand that laundry day stinks no matter where you live. If you’re interested in hearing more about our program and whether it might be the right fit for you, call Reed at 800…. for more information.