So everyone these days is talking about resilience, mindfulness, focus, conscious behavior, being intentional….the terms and the list goes on and on.
But after a week in Florida and some time to take a GIANT step back from the world in which we now live, I am defining it in a new way – quieting your mind.
And before everyone out there says, oh great, just another term, hear me out. I really think this is what it is truly about, and I think if we all take a step back and are honest with ourselves we will realize that this is true. Both in general and always, but especially given the situation we are in now.
I had an interesting conversation with my business partner upon my return. I told her that while it took me a few days to really unwind, and of course that the trip was not long enough, (they never are), I was suddenly reenergized and had realized that I was ready for my next big “thing”. She, of course, being the good partner that she is, pushed on me. So did you have any thoughts about what it is? Anything at all? Any inspiration? And at that moment, I literally pictured the wind leaving my sails, as the achiever, Type A side of me took over and immediately started flogging me for not having used the time to do some really good, hard thinking and coming up with a plan, a solution, or at the very least a next step!!
So after a few moments of that, I at least did what I know to do when this part of me takes over and I went for a walk. Not a run, not a high intensity interval training, not a cycle – none of the things that satisfy that Type A part of me. I went for a walk. I plugged in my headphones, listened to another guilty pleasure novel, took some deep breaths, and cleared my head.
And later that evening, this thought came to me: I had actually done far more good for myself than I had realized because I had succeeded on my vacation in totally quieting my mind.
Now, if you are someone who is blessed with the ability to – for the love of god – not think for even a single moment of your day, or even your life, I applaud you and I am so SO jealous. I unfortunately do not have this ability. Like at all. Like to the point that I more often than not wake up at 3:30 in the AM with my mind working away at a puzzle I am solving for my work, or the to-do list that I have not yet built for the next day – and then it literally takes another 30 minutes (on a good night) to an hour+ (on a bad night) to get back to sleep.
So back to my initial point, and the fact that I seriously have an inability to turn off my brain – it wasn’t that I had done that exactly. And it wasn’t that I had not thought either. It was that I had somehow channeled the 2+ years of hot yoga where the instructor had consistently told us to acknowledge our thoughts and then let them pass and I was actually able to DO THAT.
So, it wasn’t that I hadn’t thought. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have my company and my constant and never-ending list and ever other crazy thought that goes through my head in there, but I had somehow realized the ability subconsciously to acknowledge those thoughts, not dwell on them, not get stressed, and let them pass.
And now, as I sit here – of course mourning the lost of said vacation – I am suddenly VERY aware of the gift I have given myself. And a thing by which to call it. I have quieted my brain.
And I think this is so important – especially now – when the world is kind of a shitty place, and lots of things are out of our control, and we are seeing the very worst in some people (and also the very best) and where literally the weight of the world seems to be on all of our shoulders. And so I think we need to stop asking ourselves to and our brains to “turn off”. And we should not even be asking ourselves to “not think”. We have to move past that and ask for calmness in a world full of chaos in the one place each of us has that is all our own – inside our heads.
As I sit here and reflect – and I admit, I am still in the midst of the thinking, processing and digesting part – here is what I think happened to me:
- I took time off. Throughout the course of all that is going on, it has felt like taking time off wasn’t “worth it” if I couldn’t experience life the way I was used to. I was dead wrong. We rented a house with a pool out back and got away for a week while still having fun. And though our definition of “vacation” changed in our brains, the break was much-needed for all.
- I didn’t take time off from my good habits. Throughout quarantine, I have made a conscious effort to do a few things every single day. Practice French for 15 minutes (thanks, Duolingo!), read at least 2 books per month that will help me grow in some way each month, read at least two physical books so that I put my phone/tablet/computer down, diversify my workouts so that I stop killing my hip and knee with running. Every single day of vacation, I contributed to the “bank” I have built up of these things. And I found that by keeping up those habits I felt centered and also confident that they will be maintained when I had the risk of the sun, pool, drinks and family to distract me and give me a way “out” each day.
- I played with my kids. Now, I might come under some fire for this one, but I am not really a mom who “plays”. Sure, I get my kids everything they need, I make sure they are well cared for, I drown them in affection, and I share my “things” with them – cooking, baking, art projects, growing plants, and even working out and chores – but I am not a mom that gets down on the floor to play cars for hours or can play pretend super heroes for hours on end like my dad does with my son. So this vacation I decided – somewhat on the fly – to play their way. I caught my daughter in the pool at least 300 times when she jumped off the side. I danced around like a fool with her and sang all of her favorite songs over and over and over. I dove for sticks in the pool with my son, I filled buckets with water over and over, I played squirt guns, and I swam like a kid. I was flooded with summer memories from my childhood – carefree days and nights of sleeping so sound smelling still of suntan lotion and the sun and without knowing it I reaped the benefits of playing from spending that time with my kids. (I also relished every evening when – so exhausted – one or both of them would crawl in my lap and fall asleep in my arms and I just held them because there was nothing else that I needed to do.)
- I made an effort to be in the moment. As the days started to go by, I recognized that gremlin that always comes into my thoughts halfway through vacation and grows as the last few days dwindle by – the one that wishes to start over, to have more time, for some miracle to happen where we had to stay an extra week, etc. The growing pit in my stomach, the melancholy for it going by so fast…you get the picture. And every time he reared his ugly head, I acknowledged it, and then said to myself, very consciously, “Enjoy the time you have. Be in the moment. The kids will never be this little again. You still have time left. Go and be.” Now, did it make that gremlin go away and stay away? No. But you know what I didn’t do? Spend more than a few moments of my vacation already missing it before it was gone.
- I practiced balance. I know for me that if I completely go off the rails of my routine for both eating and drinking and exercise I literally feel like crap. Both mentally and physically. I have not taken more than a couple of weeks off from physical activity in many years – and those times only after having C-sections with my kids – so I have that part pretty well nailed down. But I realized that I am pretty unkind to myself sometimes when I eat things that are bad for me. I love my red wine, so I sacrifice desserts, treats, chips, all the things that allow me to indulge in wine and consistently tell myself that I “can’t have them”. So this trip I decided to do things a little differently. I had a few handfuls of peanut M&Ms. I ate Doritos. I had dessert at dinner one night. And when my mind started to tell me I shouldn’t have, I told it to be quiet. It was vacation. If I gained a pound or two, so what. I was having it. And I was going to enjoy it.
- I quieted my mind. And so what I have now come to call “quieting my mind” is the last thing that I did. But it was more of a result of the others than something I actively did. And I think this is an important point. Because I did all of the things above, but also embraced the vacation and allowed myself a true break, I was able to have a much more positive and quiet inner dialogue inside that therefore led to a much calmer me in general. Now, will I be able to continue this behavior now that I am home? I guess only time will tell. But I can tell you that my work has been super focused this week. I am enjoying what I do. I am also enjoying not jumping back in at a million miles an hour and I am still riding the high of talking about all of the great things about vacation with my kids each night. The days feel sunnier. The issues of the world seem more manageable. And as I wrap up here I am making a commitment to trying to build upon the good habits of COVID-19 as I have learned to call them and keep my mind quiet, while figuring out what my next big thing will be.