I had the good fortune this past week to have been on holidays. A break from the regular routine of work. I didn’t travel to any exotic location or really get away. I did what has recently been termed as a ‘staycation’. I stayed at home to simply enjoy down time with my partner, family, and friends as well as to spend time by myself. I have always found the concept of taking a break from one’s daily life to be odd. After all, how can one truly take a break from life? Existence is all around us and in truth it is us. I thought I would explore this topic a bit.
Vacation time is typically viewed as time in which one focuses upon recreation or travel. In most western countries, organizations provide vacation time as part of their compensation strategy. This allows employees to have down time, or a break from work, to refresh and recharge. It is like putting one’s work life on hold for a short period of time. The idea of taking a break is not unique to work situations. Some individuals take a break from family, relationships or medical treatment. The view being we need to take time to gain perspective, recharge or gain new perspective to come back to whatever one has taken a break from.
Yet, can one truly take a break. Pema Chodron speaks about this in her audio book on Happiness. We sometimes try to pause our lives as if to suspend things. Have you ever seen anyone suspend life? The only way to truly put life on hold is in death. Life is dynamic, changing and ever unfolding. It is only in our minds that we are stopping some aspect of our life. For example, we may stop thinking about work while on vacation but it is always there, none-the-less. Because we stop thinking about something doesn’t mean it goes away or is on pause. The sun rises and sets every day. The same is true for our lives. We can attempt to put our life on hold (or our work life) but it continues to unfold.
We spend so much of our daily time and energy in a working environment. Many individuals become tired and stressed in their work environments. But what is truly causing the fatigue? Is it the actual work? Well in some cases, depending upon your job, it may be physical fatigue. In a job that requires a great deal of physical strength and activity, one may definitely need to take a break to rest the body. In a retail working environment, many employees find they need to take a break from the never-ending demands of customers. Office environments are not immune to stress and fatigue. Employees find they are tired and overwhelmed with deadlines, colleagues or the boss. In most of these cases, with the exception of physical labour, it is often our own thinking that causes us stress and fatigue. How we view our work environment and the things that we tell ourselves about our job are the seeds of our discontent. Think about whatever job you have. If you simply did the tasks without adding in your own mental commentary about how it should be, would the job be stressful? Perhaps it is our thinking that we need to take a break from rather than the specific task at hand. Maybe we simply need to be the observer of what is happening rather than the commentator in order to take a respite.
By taking a break, are we trying to escape life? Are we are trying to take a break from the mental madness we tell ourselves about our jobs, family and/or relationships? Unless the situation is detrimental to your health and wellbeing, we are probably simply trying to get away from our thoughts. We put distance between the object causing our stress so we can stop thinking about it. A vacation from work provides the distance from the daily routine and tasks but doesn’t mean work has stopped. It is only our thoughts and perceptions that have changed or shifted, not the object of our stress. While we can take a break from situations that are causing us stress, we can never take a break from ourselves. The mental processes will continue to unfold and whatever we put energy into (whatever seeds we water) will continue to grow. Perhaps taking a break is about consuming smaller doses of our own mental thoughts.
We would do ourselves a service if we were more mindful of the things we water and nurture. In our daily lives, we need to be more careful with the things we foster to grow and things we need to let go of. We tend to focus upon what we don’t want rather than what we want. By taking little breaks throughout our day to reassess, recalibrate and refocus we can let go of negative thinking, finding ourselves less stressed. In truth, there is nothing we have control of anyway. We can’t even control the essentials of life, our breathing. Without breath nothing matters. When you feel yourself needing a break, take a few minutes to watch your breathing. Observing three slow deep breaths will bring things back into focus and provide the break you need to center yourself.
One last thought on taking a break. There are many in the world who don’t have the comfort of a vacation or holiday from their daily lives. They work seven days a week just to sustain themselves. Many of us are so very fortunate to have the time and capacity to take a holiday. When we have these opportunities, gratitude should fill our being. Just as when we sit to meditate we should be grateful for the time to focus upon conscious awareness. Being grateful for all one has in life and that we can take breaks shows us how resourceful we are. Let gratitude fill your being will you are taking a break. You may find your world has transformed.