Summer vacation

va-ca-tion: Noun.  1: a respite or a time of respite from something: intermission. 2 a:  scheduled period during which activity (as of court or school) is suspended b:  a period of exemption from work granted to an employee 3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation (Webster’s Dictionary).

I will never forget  a conversation with a boss about vacations.  I was experiencing a particularly stressful time at work with some of the most mentally taxing cases that I had encountered and the idea of ‘burn-out’ seemed like a step up from where I was in that moment.  Feeling full of despair, I remarked that I desperately needed a vacation.  His response was “You have to realize that vacation will not solve your problems of how you are feeling.  Escaping only provides temporary relief.  The real issue is for you to find a way to achieve peace and inner calm without having to physically leave and go somewhere.”  Granted, I know he had positive intent when he provided me that insight but all I heard was “blah, blah, blah, buck up and keep going.”  Needless to say, I didn’t receive the wisdom very well and rationalized his advice as ‘fluff’ that can only come from people who get 6 weeks of vacation a year.  Therefore, I rejected his advice and the equally insightful guidance that followed and proceeded to wallow in self-pity instead of figuring out how to navigate the enormity of my emotional and physical state of exhaustion.

Eventually, I managed to explore some options and restore my spirit, and now I can truly appreciate what he was getting at with his statements.  Here’s the deal.  We have a right to enjoy vacations, but it can’t be the answer to life’s complex and exhausting challenges.  It can provide us with relaxation, adventure, and a pause of our daily chores, but if we look at it with great expectations of erasing stress and wiping our memories of pain, heartache, and turmoil; we will only set ourselves up for deeper disappointment when we return to the reality of our everyday lives.

There is something magical that can happen on a vacation; we tend to notice nature more, not be in such a hurry, be more open to love and hope, and generally allow ourselves to take good care.  And the most amazing phenomenon that happens (sometimes), is that we realize everything we need is within us no matter where we go.

Vacations can help us reconnect with our spirits but we don’t have to travel a great distance to achieve an inner state of calm. I mean, it’s not like we become different people on vacation.  We are always there.  We convince ourselves into thinking that vacation helps us be calmer, happier, and more content. But let’s get real, we don’t turn into ideal human beings just because we don’t have to worry about laundry for a few days or sit in bumper to bumper traffic.  The core of who we are is always present, unfortunately we are just too dang busy to notice while we are working all day, managing our personal life, and keeping up with endless tasks that create our ‘daily grind’.

I wish we all were guaranteed weeks of vacation every year to the destination of our choice, but the reality is that most of us simply don’t have that type of luxury. However, nobody says we can’t take a mini-vacation of our own without ever having to pack a bag.  Here are some ideas that can give us an ‘intermission’ from the daily grind and encourage us to take in some of the awesome things that surround us each day.

  1. Lose yourself in a good book for a couple of hours
  2. Take a class in something you have always wanted to try
  3. Visit a museum
  4. Explore a park or take a walk outside
  5. Drive a totally different way to work one day or drive in silence for a while
  6. Prepare a dinner that you have never eaten before (or go to a brand new restaurant)
  7. Get up and watch the sun rise tomorrow (or watch the sun set tonight)
  8. Lay out and watch the stars for an hour ( I hear there will be awesome meteor showers in mid August!   http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors )
  9. Give yourself permission to do absolutely no household chores for a few days
  10. Go to bed early or sleep in late

Yes, summer vacation can be a magical time, but so can today.  We just have to decide if we want to use our senses to take in the beauty and awe that exists in abundance everywhere or simply ‘save’ it for those elusive vacation days.

My suggestion is to embrace today.  Listen to your spirit.  Hear what it needs and explore your options to appease it.  Then, just maybe, the idea of vacation (in any season) will take on a whole new meaning. 🙂

vacation pic

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Take good care of yourself…be kind

I have a job that tends to have an endless source of vicarious trauma.  I work with vulnerable youth and bear witness to their joy, pain, and sorrow.  And I am often reminded of the stories that we all hold.   The pure resilience of the human spirit is never lost on me.  Most days I leave work feeling inspired to be a better person, a better clinician, and just better.  Some days…well some days just kick me in the teeth. This is when I need my self-care more than ever.

Today happen to be one of those days and I knew I was going to need to pay attention to my regimen of self-care.   It started with my favorite P!nk CD at the maximum volume on the way home, led to a walk with the dog at the park, and may wrap up with some mindless television watching after a thoughtful spurt of writing.  Is today a model of good self-care?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on who you ask.  See, I will be the first to tell my friends to take good care after days like this.  I will ask them, “What is something fun you can do tonight?  Something relaxing?”  The problem with this approach is that fun and relaxing activities are great, but they don’t often release my heart of the burden that I absorbed that day.  When you are truly present for someone in a time of need and bear witness to their pain and allow them a space to release their energy; a simple activity is not going to erase a memory that was etched in your heart.  Sure, I feel better on the short-term.  I lower my blood pressure back down and give my heart a healthy boost through my structured activity. But the pain has not dissolved, not completely.

So I’m trying something new.  Well, maybe not new…but I am adding something to my usual ‘go to’ strategies.  I am exploring this idea of more purposeful kindness.  Not only to myself, but to others.  I am finding that the more kind I am to others and to myself, the more I heal that vicarious trauma and ultimately the more I can give in those moments that I am called upon. I am doing this a variety of ways.  First of all, I’m not criticizing myself for not knowing what to say in a tense moment, instead I’m practicing self-compassion and giving myself permission to simply not know how to respond.  I also am being proactive with kindness and taking opportunities to smile at people more and say ‘good morning’.  I am reaching out to people I haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hi and that I was thinking of them.  I am taking many deep breaths on my commute home and remembering that everyone wants to get home just as much as I do and that if I let one car merge over (even though they don’t have a blinker on), I’m not hurting myself with this act of kindness and actually improving my own well-being in this process.  The easiest way I’m practicing is by asking myself “what is the most kind response I can offer with this particular situation?”   And the most beautiful part of this process is the more I increase my own awareness, the more opportunities I am realizing each day.

It’s not that being kind keeps me from experiencing pain or prevents the sadness from hurting my heart some days, but I can tell you that it has insulated my heart and soul to a point that makes it easier to recover from these hard times.  I still need to do the fun things and relax my body and mind. It’s just that adding kindness to this regimen provides a thicker layer of insulation from the harsh impact of trauma and pain.  So today I am going to practice kindness to those around me.  I’m not sure what that will look like just yet, but I’m sure it will come to me soon.  That’s the beautiful part of life….if you want an opportunity to practice something all you have to do is open your eyes to see what is present in front of you.

Be Kind Photo