I went on vacation last week and something very unexpected happened…I found it nearly impossible to relax. Usually on planned retreats, within a day or two I find myself slipping into “relaxation mode” after overcoming the initial anxiety of getting ready for the time away. But for some reason-despite being in a gorgeous cabin so far north that the sun didn’t set until practically the next day-I simply couldn’t get there. I drank coffee on the deck overlooking the lake; I ate home-cooked breakfast every morning with my family; I listened to my pseudo-brother strum the guitar; I took my camera to the beach in the morning fog and loved every second of the time with my son and my mom, but I just couldn’t find that sweet spot of bliss- that time when you feel completely at peace within your soul, existing exactly where you’re meant to be, doing nothing more than exactly what you’re doing in that moment. It’s the most amazing feeling when it happens…but despite my best efforts and intentions, I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself fully. I couldn’t just be on the mountain.
And that signaled to me that there was a serious problem. Something must be critically out of wack if I was so distracted by my non-vacation life, so wrapped up in what was happening at work, or preoccupied with the messages popping through on my mobile that it was preventing me from connecting to the other parts of myself that needed nurtured. The part that craves time in nature. The part that needs to take solace in being with people I love, away from the distractions of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, there were fleeting moments…bicycling around the island with my mom, feeling the sun on our faces…discovering the complexities and uniqueness of rocks on the shore with Ryan…listening to the sound of a guitar around our campfire on the beach. But the overall sense of harmony that usually manifests when I remove myself from the daily grind, settling like a soft blanket around me, was nowhere to be found.
It would have been easy to blame my inability to “be on the mountain” on the ants that seemed to abound in our cabin bungalow, or the internet connection that was so slow it timed out instead of loading pages (and let’s point out the juxtaposition of “needing” the internet during a cabin retreat). But that wasn’t the crux of it all. Serious problems were lurking within. And it has taken me seven days post-return home to sort through what all of this meant.
And what I determined was this: when things are critically out of place in your daily life, no amount of “getting away” will allow you to relax. Despite the knee-jerk instinct a lot of us possess to “cut and run”, we can’t run from things to fix them. We can’t pack a bag, drive north seven hours to a lake, and expect the troubles nagging at our minds or hearts to fade away into the mist. Getting away does however lend perspective to the view. It allows time to reflect, from a safe distance, on the things that demand our attention the rest of the time, and evaluate whether or not those are beneficial patterns, healthy relationships we have with the people in our lives, or positive habits we’ve created for ourselves. Time away points out the “energy drains” we are desperately trying to get away from; it highlights the squeaky wheels in our brains demanding to be greased. And most importantly, that reflective time gives us the opportunity to decide on a remedy.
On the drive home I began the quiet process of reevaluation. I decided several things. I decided to reach out to people I’ve let slip away. I decided to commit to eating better and respecting my body more. I decided to finally cut ties with unhealthy situations and stop looking back. I decided to not settle for less than I deserve in my personal relationships. I decided to weed through my music collection and eliminate anything that doesn’t stir something in my soul. I decided to get rid of clothing that no longer feels like me (as one friend so eloquently phrased it, I’ll be “jettisoning my dress pants”). I decided to actually put into practice the life I envision for myself.
My retreat actually did me a favor by pointing out my inability to relax- it gave me the temporarily unsettling gifts of self-awareness and quiet reevaluation. And as it turns out, I was looking at things all wrong: it shouldn’t take a vacation to force myself to “be on the mountain”…when I am true and nurturing to myself, when I follow what feels right instead of habitually living life day in and day out without question, that feeling of harmony occurs naturally…each and every day I have the ability to stop unhealthy patterns, recenter my focus, and be on the mountain- I just have to make it happen.
The following are some of my favorite shots from Cheboygan, Michigan, a beautiful part of the country I had never visited before.