On Vacation

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I’ve been on vacation. Really, fully, on vacation. I’ve unwound, becoming so relaxed and in the moment that I literally do not know what day it is. I have been sleeping deeply, breathing deeply, laughing deeply—so much so that my body flops over in paroxysms of laughter. I am the me I prefer to hang out with most: my vacation self.  

There are a number of things I notice about my vacation self that I want to discuss here, but before I continue, there is a sub-layer to this topic I feel the need to excavate which is: being blessed. Having the privilege and luxury to go on vacation—and not only that, but to have people in my life who nourish my soul, family and friends I adore, with whom I get to vacation. Going public with blessings such as these is a mixed endeavor. It can seem like bragging. It can land as – or even be – insensitive to those lacking in the very things I wish to celebrate. I want to find a way to express my gratitude for when things are going bountifully well in my life that is not obnoxious.

I wrote a manuscript (not yet a published book) that I intended to be an exploration of two major miracles that happened in my life, a manifesto of gratitude for the blessed resolution of two life-and-death calamities—one that ended in a gentle death, the other in a full-blown resurrection to life. A true story in which the person who was supposed to live lived (my twelve-year-old daughter), and the one who needed to die died (my seventy-three-year-old father). But writing from gratitude about good fortune proved to be tricky. A tall order I haven’t yet quite achieved. My manuscript landed to a literary expert as a fairy tale lacking narrative tension, a memoir akin to hanging my blessings out to air on a long laundry line of narcissistic white privilege. (The “narrator”—aka me—coming across as the vacuous narcissist.) Needless to say, that was not at all my intention—and the critique landed like a punch to the gut, and a brutal wake-up call. I have time set aside this coming summer to try to tackle the challenge of rewriting the manuscript. Of writing from the perspective of gratitude, a glass half-full kind of lens (such as experiencing the gentle death of my beloved father as a blessing) without minimizing the pain of my experiences (such as the fact his death was also an untimely tragedy).  

So let me say that it is with some trepidation here that I go public here with the glories of re-discovering my vacation self. I know it is a blessing and a privilege to have just experienced this, and I am deeply grateful. This vacation allowed me to unhook from all sense of responsibility. To lose touch with the calendar. To not engage for a single second in scheduling (which is the bane of a work life I otherwise find soulful and fulfilling). My only duties have been to keep track of my belongings—meaning my skis, gloves, goggles, helmet, and ski pass—and to stay on the trail designated as our route. I have not lived up to these minor duties with anything close to perfection, but the impact of my mistakes causes only short-lived stress. Waiting in a ridiculously long line once to renew my ski pass. Ending up in (literally) another country by taking the wrong trail. Inconveniences that take place in the context of breathtaking natural beauty, fresh air, and the sound of so many other languages being spoken in my snowy radius.  There has also been the bigger overall responsibility of avoiding injury, which has been constantly present, but somehow without the nagging experience of stress. It’s on my mind, but lightly—not with tension, not causing contraction in my body.

I love who I am when I am not stressed. When I remember that the small stuff is just the small stuff and not to sweat it. I am so much more available for connection with my family and friends in my midst. I aspire to live in this state of being all the time. But I know the return to non-vacation life will bring with it the time pressure, the financial pressure, the conundrum of how to fit it all in. And I know this sense of pressure will cause my body to contract in certain ways at certain times, my breathing to become more shallow, even staccato now and then, my laughter less fluidly available. But my vacation self has an idea. My vacation self believes that we could experience life (whether on vacation or not) in a state like this—not necessarily as a vacation but at least as an adventure. A journey—and a short one at that. A finite visit to planet earth. One that has a beginning, a middle, and for every single one of us, an end. This journey, this adventure, will be and is replete with inconveniences and losses, joys and delights and discovery—all of which come and go, all of which show up and then pass.

When I tap into this reality in my daily life—inhabit the awareness that This Too Shall Pass, whatever it is, be it joy or distress, bounty or loss—I feel the presence of my vacation self. My vacation self remembers not to stress, because it’s all fleeting. It’s all—and by all, I mean not only every single event, be it a tragedy or a vacation, but also every single one of us—here and then gone. If we remember this, we can aspire not to stress out. Or when we do catch ourselves stressing, we can remember This Too Shall Pass. And loosen our grip on things. Take things a little more lightly. Breathe a little more deeply. Laugh a little more readily. Be the self whose constant companionship we enjoy most.

19 thoughts on “On Vacation”

  1. Just back from weeks away in warm waters and windswept, deserted beaches and I am on the exact same wavelength, Hilary — so loose! Stress level down! Body comfort up! Hanging on to that feeling for dear life! It is a privilege, yes, but mostly a blessing of life to occasionally find sensual and existential relaxation, whenever possible. I wish it for everyone in whatever ways they can find it. Thanks for writing about it — you are in the groove… 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment, so well articulated. I am thrilled you experienced that somatic unwinding, too, and like you, I wish it for all of us. World peace would ensue if we were all in our vacation selves!

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  2. So poignant, I’m on vacation as we speak and was thinking about that exact topic…why is it so hard to keep our loose vacation perspective when back in the flow of chaotic routine?!

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    1. I love your question. One I too puzzle over. I am back day one of non-vacation and will see if I can stay loose today and let you know! We could keep a group log of how to stay loose, how to reclaim our vacation selves in the stresses of daily life and maybe compile a detailed set of Operating Instructions! Thank you for reading and commenting. XO

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  3. It’s always a challenge to get back to reality after a vacation. I find this even more true in the digital age. It’s so wonderful to disconnect from our phones and tablets on vacation (and often we don’t even allow ourselves that). As you mention, vacations offer us a great time to live in the moment. If only we could carry that over to our everyday life.

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    1. Yes, that is the goal isn’t it? To live in the moment in our every day lives. I wonder if even when we have to get on our phones and tablets we could do that with a sense of spaciousness? I am noticing that my non-vacation-self could do a little less over-scheduling. I have been working on this assiduously for over a decade but still find myself in a life that often feels too fast paced and back-to-back crammed…. Onward with the project of presence…living in the present….

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  4. What a rich essay! I love your thoughts on vacation and life, but what I am mostly struck by is your resilience and courage in the face of gut-wrenching feedback on a book in which you have poured your heart and soul. Your response – to power on to try to tackle the challenge – makes me wonder how well I respond to constructive criticism. It is a wonderful message. I hope that it is a wonderful adventure.

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    1. Thank you for commenting on that aspect of the post. To be honest, I spent some months in not such a resilient state over the feedback: it stung, or worse, wounded me in ways that were deep and wide. The unintended impact of what I had to say, or how I said it, blindsided me–as it was so far from my intention. I had to really re-examine who I am, what I stand for, what I seek to share in this book that I am so keen on writing. This blog has kept me in the art and act of writing, kept me “on the horse” as the expression goes, and I am so grateful for that. And for your comment.

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  5. This warrants a much longer conversation than can be had here! What strikes a cord with me especially is the bit about expressing gratitude, being blessed, without, as you say, “being obnoxious”.
    I am so glad you are willing to do the re-write of your manuscript. It is a story (or stories) that need to be told.
    Let’s talk! Hugs and then some…..

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    1. Thank you for this comment. Yes how to write from gratitude and about blessings without seeming to tout one’s good fortune? I thought I had done this but clearly (at least to one reader in the business of selling books) blew it big time! Yes, warrants a longer conversation, one I will definitely need to have before I go spelunking back into the manuscript. Love and more Love…

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  6. Loosen the grip.. my new mantra today! Thank you Hil.. and please don’t change too much of what you have already written in your manuscript because it is already a beautifully written story to be told and shared!

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