Friday, July 1, 2016

The Discipline of a Summer Vacation

"Oasis in the Wilderness"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

The month of July has arrived - the season of summer vacation. Lots of people will be packing up their cars and getting on planes as they head off to places of rest or recreation for a summertime respite.

Our local NPR station recently featured a seasonal story about “vacation time.” They reported on a new policy in a major “technology” corporation that allows its employees to take unlimited vacation time – no restrictions whatsoever on where or when or how long their employees can take time off from work. On the surface this sounds too good to be true, the “most wonderful dream” of anyone who holds any kind of job in today’s work force. Imagine, being able to stay away from work whenever you wanted and for as long as you desired and still get paid for it?

However, the interesting little twist to this vacation story is that, for the most part,  the employees of this company hardly ever take any time off at all.  In fact, some are forced to take a few days away from the office. Why? Because they said they were afraid to be away from work for too long.

Many of the people who worked for the company with this liberal vacation policy figured that if they took off too much time their boss might judge them unfavorably, think of them as “sluggards” who have no loyalty to their work. Others said that if they stayed away too long they would miss too much work that had to be done, and then when they got back it would all be staring them in the face.  Still others said that, even if they were away from the office, they would still be expected to work. Even on vacation in a mountain cabin or lounging on a beach they would be taking along their laptops and smartphones, answering emails and reading reports, so why not just go into work?

I found this story to be somewhat entertaining, but more than that it helped open a window for me into the everyday life of so many people in today’s popular culture. It seems to me that, for the most part, people rarely stop and rest. So many of us are afraid of leaving work behind, often still working even when we are supposedly on vacation, perhaps working even if we don’t have a job - always insanely busy doing all sorts of stuff all the time, rarely if ever taking the time to just stop and rest and do nothing.

Is there any wonder why so many people feel over-stressed and burnt-out nowadays?

I am reminded of a wise observation once offered by the Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh:

If you are like most people, since you were born, you’ve been running tense,
carried away, the mind always pre-occupied by so many things.
So, first of all you need to train yourself to stop –
 stop running after these things.
 Train yourself to stop, to be here, to come back to the wonders of
the present moment.

I actually believe that taking vacation time is a spiritual discipline, vital to growth and health on any spiritual path. Since summer is now here, this a perfect season for all of us to train ourselves to “stop and rest” - to take the time to be here in the moment, open and available to the wonders it all may bring.

When any of us practices the discipline of summer vacation this year, I hope we won’t even think about reading emails from work.

The jazz musician, Miles Davis, once said this about his music:

The space I leave is just as important as the sound I make.

Such great life-wisdom!

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