When I was out of town in July, off at my favorite place, I gave a lot of thought to the idea of idleness. It’s not popular, and a recent study showed that people seem to find being alone with their thoughts so uncomfortable, they chose to self-administer electric shocks. I think of free time as a gift, not a punishment, but perhaps I’m in the minority.
I come from a tradition of workaholics, and for some sick reason, this is considered noble. Surrounded by a culture that promotes being busy, preferably multi-tasking, every moment of every day, I find I’m swimming up steam with the concept of vacation.
The art of downtime is something that has to be re-learned.
It’s ironic, because I am at camp as the yoga teacher, so even on my vacation, I’m working. On the other hand, it’s pretty blissful because I truly love what I do, and there are days when I’m finished with my official duties by breakfast time. Then, I have the rest of the the day – to rest.
The family camp that we have attended for the last few years has been a great place for us. It’s an annual reunion of dozens of people that I love, always a nice sprinkling of newbies, at a location that is one of my visions of paradise. My girls have friends who have become almost de facto cousins over the years. Between sessions of the world’s longest running game of Capture the Flag, there are deep conversations and light laughter. We are good company.
But, we often have to encourage each other to relax. I see people with laptops, working, or kids with homework, reading, studying. There’s always a deadline lurking somewhere.
One morning I was off in the woods on my own, reveling in the soundtrack of the forest. My feet crunching in the dry leaves, the birds singing in the sunshine. Just listening to the wind blowing through the trees, the quietude was a symphony with more rests than notes.
In daily life, it’s my left brain that sings the melody, scheduling appointments and planning meals, jugging dozens of responsibilities while the right brain might get in a bit of harmony with a new recipe. The calendar and the clock are either the instruments we play, or the masters that play us.
I was sitting under an enormous Jefferson pine (not on it, just under it – pine trees can be very sticky) when an idea floated towards me, and rested gently on my shoulder.
I was completely surprised; a problem I had not even thought about for weeks suddenly had an elegant solution. Just as I marveled at what a wonderful solution this was, another idea popped in to my mind.
I felt like Isaac Newton, with a cascade of apples falling on my skull. Just as that thought occurred to me – this really happened – a small green pine cone dropped gently on to my head.
The most important reason to take a break is that the parts of your mind you are not consciously working are working even better subconsciously. Look away, and you’ll see it all differently when you look back.
Like dreams that offer surreal stories, there are so many different ways of thinking, limiting ourselves to those left brain symphonies leaves a lot of music out of reach.