I turned 40 Monday, and to celebrate this milestone, my spouse and I packed up our Jeep and our two dogs and drove to Maine, where we’re spending a week in Acadia National Park. We’ve been here four days now, and it wasn’t until last night that I finally felt as if I had settled into this vacation — probably because I was so exhausted from a 24-mile mountain bike ride yesterday on the park’s famed carriage roads.
It occurred to me that vacations like this one typically follow a routine for me:
- I’m so knee-deep in work that I don’t think about anything related to the vacation until a couple of days before, which stresses me out once the time to leave arrives because I’m not ready. My predictable answer to this situation is to pick a fight with my spouse so that he shares in my stress.
- I stay cranky for the first 36 hours of vacation, often fretting about the two or three items from work that I brought with me (“I’ll get this stuff out of the way first thing,” I tell myself). My spouse can usually tell the exact moment this phase passes, as I’ll finally start to relax.
- The next couple of days are spent thinking about everything and anything except what I’m actually doing. I’m checking the news headlines every few hours, keeping an eye on my e-mail, etc.
- Finally, after three or four days, I start to really relax and mellow out, like I did last night.
Everyone has their habitual patterns; we’re all stuck in them, especially those of us who live in cities and hold down high-stress careers. But why does it take so long to shake off the effects of living in that environment? Why is that, like yesterday, I have to relax myself to the brink of exhaustion (in the form of a grueling bike ride in the mountains of Acadia) in order to unplug?
We’ve spent four nights now in a quaint cottage perched over the edge of Frenchman Bay. Each night, the sun has set behind us, but with a splendid reflection of oranges, red, blues and violets on the shore of the bay opposite our cottage. It wasn’t until last night that I took the time to appreciate the beauty of this sight: it was two minutes of absolute serenity. Toward the end, I stepped inside to grab a camera, realizing that I was letting an un-mindful habit creep into to my evening. Even so, I hope these two clips of video linked below serve as a future reminder of what I miss when I don’t take the time to pause, relax and be in the present moment.
Relaxing and reconnecting with the natural world around me shouldn’t be so difficult, and even when it is, I want to have the strength and presence of mind to recognize these patterns and take a first step toward breaking them.