by Caitlin Krause
There’s no doubt about it: summer is an idyllic, popular time for vacations, with August being the hallmark month to flock to lakes and mountains for a bit of time away from the often-demanding nature of work. The sunshine, the joy, the freedom— it’s all wrapped up in my notions of summertime. Recently, I began to think even more deeply about what summer vacation truly symbolizes, so that I could try to capture a bit of that feeling, translating it into my daily life, so that I experience the same summer bliss year-round. Daunting, but do-able!
Why is summer vacation so liberating? Just the word itself, Sommer, or Summer, connotes a carefree, open state. The term stems from a root “sam”, which has been connected to the Proto-Indo-European “sem”, meaning “together/one”. The word Vacation comes from the Latin vacare, “to be free, empty, and at leisure”. This makes sense to me, an avid fan of summer days spent at ease, experiencing each moment as it comes.
On vacation, whether in summertime or other, we feel at one with ourselves; so free that possibilities seem to spread out before us. The idea of linking emptiness, freedom and summertime has logic: in terms of the farming schedule, summer falls between the sowing of seeds and the harvest; it’s a “free” time when the days are filled with sunlight, time outdoors, socializing, and carefree activities.
We might wish for an extended vacation, with open days that make us feel relaxed and renewed, physically and emotionally. Yet, the inevitable passage of time reminds us of the necessary return to rigors and obligations, which could be oppressive. While the laws of the seasons might make it necessary to leave some of the hallmarks of summer behind (at least for another nine months), the following are ways to adopt the trademark mindful freedom of vacation-mode, each and every day— even on workdays!
1) Get Outside, Preferably in the Morning
Vacations contribute to happiness, in part, because they involve movement and freedom in the magnificent outdoors. We’re outside, hiking, biking, swimming and frolicking, connecting with natural elements and getting a good deal of exercise. We breathe fresh air, feel sunlight on our skin, stretch our bodies, and it’s a definite lift.
When we exercise, our bodies release amazing mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins, neurotransmitters which increase our feelings of wellness and happiness. In addition, medical research is only just at the point of discovering new “exercise hormones”, such as the much-celebrated irisin. Its existence verified by Harvard scientists in August 2015, irisin is found in increased amounts in the bloodstream of exercisers. Named after the goddess Iris, it has been linked to increased metabolism and brain functioning, activating genes responsible for memory and learning.
I find all of this amazing and exciting— clearly, I feel better when I invite motion into my day; now, scientific evidence proves it.
Research and data aside, exercising— especially, in a natural environment— simply feels good, which is likely the reason that it’s part of nearly every one of my vacations. Why not start every day like this, getting outside for a daily dose of nature? It will also remind us that there are equally wonderful parts about fall weather to enjoy: the ripening of vegetables at harvest-time, the rich scent of the earth, piles of crisp leaves, and sunlight filtering through fall foliage. Just the thought of it fills me with anticipation.
If our days are busy, we can talk a brisk walk as a quick work break. We can bike or walk as part of our commute. In any case, prioritizing exercise and nature as part of the routine makes it something that will fit into our busy daytime schedules— and, it puts us in better moods to greet our days!
2) Nurture Sleep Needs
Sleep is one of the primary needs that is easy to overlook when life becomes demanding. I’m quick to forget how foundational it is; sleep deficits wreak havoc on the body in elemental ways… Studies show we need more than just a certain number of hours of sleep, but a certain quality, as well.
All I know is, when I’m on vacation, I usually sleep extremely well. I sometimes have vivid, colorful dreams, remembering parts that even might work their way into creative innovations. I tend to wake feeling alert, rested and happy. It’s a trend that makes sense: it’s common, to get better sleep during periods of freedom from stress. Perhaps we sleep better on vacation because our body’s clock has the ability to regulate itself without alarms, and we might simply give ourselves more time for sleep, combined with the relaxed mood of vacation.
It’s recommended by most medical organizations and sleep foundations that we get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, yet we often compromise this when we’re not on vacation. We might even manage time differently, thinking we can’t afford as much sleep during the periods of high demands and difficult work. I operated like this for many years, thinking that my productivity would be diminished if I gave myself more rest, which I viewed as “time off” from pursuing my passions. I wanted to work at my best level, and I also strove to enjoy an ample number of activities during the off-work hours. I soon found myself low on energy, trying to catch up on sleep during weekends.
There are many reasons that this is a natural tendency, to view sleep as a luxury. We scrimp on sleep because we feel there is always more to do; we can’t relax; we want to squeeze in as many “waking hours” for ourselves as possible. Yet, the more respect we give to nurturing our primary sleep needs, the more rested we feel overall, able to use our active time in a more productive way.
The short answer I have for myself, in order to invite the vacation sleep bliss into my daily routine, is just say yes. I’m phrasing this as a positive rather than a negative: if I say yes to sleep, as a commitment to my base level of needs, then it’s a non-compromise. It means I have to give myself a chance to relax beforehand, inviting a restful mindset; training my body to respond in kind. In a sense, I’m tuning in to my local surroundings… and, I can feel as if I’m on vacation while doing this, because I’m letting go of all thoughts of work. I separate myself from devices and pretty much all technology; I’ll enjoy reading, stretching, tea, art— anything that’s just for the moment, to be enjoyed. For many of us, this will feel like an experiment— just remind yourself, all along the way, that you are truly saying yes to yourself and your life by doing this. Your body will notice and appreciate it.
3) Embrace the Empty
The third way I’m inviting vacation-mode into each and every day involves welcoming the “emptiness” mentioned earlier. See, emptiness is not empty; it’s not nothing! A good friend of mine and I always share a laugh over the “glass half empty/glass half full” debate; for us, the key question is not whether the glass is half empty or full, because it’s not representative of a fixed state. In other words, does my glass have enough emptiness to let something be poured into it? Am I inviting that? Can I appreciate opportunities that might emerge at any moment?
This concept is key to mindfulness: to be aware and open to possibilities, even ones beyond our original scope of expectations. I want to create enough freedom and emptiness in my life that I am able to authentically make connections, responding to an environment that is certainly neither rigid nor static! I can be more flexible with openness; this requires a certain breathing space.
John Keats has a phrase about negative capability, and the great power in such emptiness, such un-knowing and open questioning that leads to a fuller experience. If curiosity were a driving force, rather than certainty, then discovery is invited to become a part of the journey. That’s a prime part of vacation: discoveries and adventure, to stretch beyond expected limits.
With this in mind, I will definitely create extra “breathing space” for myself, to be able to respond to spontaneous events and invitations that might come my way. This involves freeing up the calendar a bit, leaving certain spaces open to possibilities. I also invite myself to make use of that time as a creative space for anything that might suit my whims and desires. In this respect, it becomes a form of mindful play— and, this can serve us well as a creative boon, sparking innovations that have profound impact upon our lives!
In sum, after I contemplate the idea of vacation-mode, I’m ready to invite that expansive feeling of rejuvenation and bliss into every one of my days. It’s an active choice. Yes, it seems to all hinge on intention and connection. While it’s a challenge to change expectations and behaviors, it’s not impossible (a phenomenal book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, talks about this concept of behaviors and change). Certainly, the benefits are profound and life-changing. I’m certain that if each day involved even just one of these three vacation-mode resolutions, it would prevent many a burnout… plus, it’s mindfulness, present in daily life.
Thus, let the fall season begin! I’m keeping my vacation bliss a part of each and every day, whether at work or otherwise. After all, it’s a state of mind.