Don’t Vacate Your Vacation

Next time your thoughts are dragging you away from your well-earned holiday, instead try relaxing into the sensory world.

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A gentle breeze lazily rocks the hammock I’ve been lying in for hours. My breath is low and slow, and I’m smiling for no reason. It’s vacation time. It feels so good to do nothing on purpose, to stretch out, curl up, and let myself rest. It is necessary, but it isn’t always easy to relax and stop being so busy, even just for a while. It requires a clear intention to make room for some nourishing downtime.

Vacations offer important opportunities to rest, recharge, and put a spring back into our step. Even the word—vacation—seems to shimmer, doesn’t it? It may evoke palm trees and backdrops for perfect selfies. We fantasize about vacations, we save for them, and we hear that they are crucial to mental, physical, and social well-being.

And yet, you might plop yourself down in the most glorious sunshine and still find it hard to unhook from the wild and woolly chaos of the un-vacationed brain, essentially vacating your own vacation. Unhooking from the daily buzz can feel impossible, and you find your attention drifting to work or to other problems you can’t—and shouldn’t—solve from your deck chair. This can open the door to chronic stress, ongoing sleep difficulties, or a large bar bill for a trip you can’t remember.

Even if you are able to leave your troubles at the door as you head out for a week of sun and sangria, life’s inconveniences have a knack for following you no matter where you go. With a mindful approach, you can prevent yourself from getting sucked into the whirling vortex of seeing obstacles and unmet expectations as a source of distress. Instead, you can learn to be present and curious about whatever comes your way. Take, for example, the all-too-common occurrence of luggage gone awry; whether your suitcase failed to make it onto the carousel or you realized you packed all wrong for the weather, you can rise to the occasion. Choose to see the chaos as an adventure. Stay open to all the unfolding details and really drink in the entire experience, whatever it is.

Staying close to your sensory experience will help anchor you in the present moment. Become a detective of the details. You might start by taking a good sniff. How often do you stop and notice the many subtle fragrances wafting across your path? Is the air moist or musty or floral or salty? Let the olfactory world in and notice how this welcoming attitude makes you feel.

At your own pleasure, shift your attention to your ears. What do you hear? Each city, each locale, has its own rhythm, its own hum. By tuning in and listening to the grand symphony of life, you can invigorate both body and mind.

Tangy, pungent, sweet, or sour, when it is time to dine, offer your full attention to your taste buds. Whether you are biting into barbecue or banqueting on blowfish, succulent and savory vacation victuals can increase feelings of joy and well-being. Why wouldn’t it? It’s a party in your mouth!

You can practice mindful seeing by staying connected to an energized and vivid visual relationship with life. Exactly what color of blue are you seeing? Or is it many shades of blue? Take a moment to widen your gaze, placing emphasis on your peripheral vision. Let in the kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and textures lingering around the edges of your perception. The mind loves new experiences. Even if you think you’ve seen it all before, remember that nothing is quite the same as what it was. Open up and see what is here, now.

As you keep bringing your attention back to the lavish newness all around you, you are also giving yourself a huge health boost by limiting the amount of time available for your tired but still-buzzing brain to hook back into rumination. Ahhhhhhh.

It’s a bit like hibernation is for bears: A vacation can be a way to fatten up on laughter, joy, and ease, keeping you warm when the cold winds of hard work blow. Vacations won’t solve all your problems, but they can be part of maintaining a healthy and balanced life all year round. When you have the opportunity for leisure time, make a point of intentionally revving down, opening up, and going from doing to being by connecting to your senses. This way, you too can vacation like a pro.