There’s something about being in the mountains that refreshes my mind and lifts my spirits. Other wild country can do it, too, like the canyon lands of Utah, but high-elevation mountains are the best for me.
It’s been three years since I’ve taken a vacation, and that’s too long — for me, anyway. Even before COVID-19 and subsequent job losses, I’d been spiraling down. Snippier, grumpier, more tired. A long talk with my wise husband resulted in, “Go get your mountain fix,” so I did.
I needed the break from the day-to-day to be able to sit back and evaluate. That meant: no news, in fact, no TV at all. Even when I felt bored. No chores to procrastinate from (or with), or similar obligations and no Facebook. I limited my Medium time to responding to comments, and limited emails to anything urgent (like bills or family issues) and skipped the rest. And on the two days travel each way, I listed to audiobooks, a history and a biography. No fiction was allowed.
Unwinding can be hard. Being entertained by a flock(!) of hummingbirds sharing or fighting over feeders while eating breakfast outside, and watching the light change on the mountains in the evenings with a glass of wine in my hand, helped a great deal. By the second day at my destination I knew I was getting there, at least enough to start asking myself questions.
Introspection and self-examination aren’t easy. But some twenty years ago, I decided I didn’t like the tone of my life, the feeling that I was at a dead end, and decided to do something about it. That involves questions and being honest about the answers.
My issues may or may not be your issues. What I want to share, however, are some of the questions that can get you started if you want to get unstuck in an area of your own life. For me, it helps to just go through questions first, without working on solutions right away.
- What am I most fearful of? Why? Or, What do I worry most about?
- What is my sense of Purpose?
- What gives my life meaning?
- Do I feel more alone or isolated from people? Or overwhelmed with extras in the house? (Hello, COVID-19)
- How do I feel about my relationships with those closest to me?
- How do I feel about my health? How does that affect me emotionally or in my thinking?
Certainly, there are more questions you can ask yourself. This is just a sample of some of the ones that helped me kickstart this particular rest-stop in my journey.
Not all answers are going to be Biggies, but they are still important.
For example, my normal social circle is relatively small. What I hadn’t realized is how much COVID-19 had impacted the small interactions that I value, such as talking to a barista, or chatting with a waitress. Sitting in a coffee shop and people watching.
Interestingly, on my “retreat”, some places enforced masks and social distancing while others didn’t. I found myself getting anxious when someone sat what felt too close to me at an outdoor counter while I was eating. At another restaurant with widely spaced outdoor seating, I was comfortable with taking my mask off to eat, and chatted with the masked waitress as she took my order from the other side of the table.
Another insight was how much my health has an impact on my mental acuity and emotional state. And what actions I can take to improve it.
Some questions had ready answers and easily determined action items. Others weren’t so easy, or the action items are harder to swallow — literally, when it comes to my eating habits!
Now that I’m back home, the challenge is to work my action items into my daily and weekly routine before I slip back into the old ways that pulled me down to start with.
I’ve decided that whether or not I’m working, I need some sort of schedule, otherwise I get too easily distracted.
Part of that schedule must include “refresh” time, where I allow myself a break from chores and other obligations (real or imagined) to sit back and do something special (or NOT do anything!) that can provide a mini-vacation for my mind and body. These days, I understand better the concept of “Sabbath” in the Jewish and Christian traditions. While I don’t agree with rules for rules’ sake, I realize that I need to set aside time from the business of life to do an internal check-in, a look at what is or is not working, so I can make changes accordingly and stay happy.
It might be as simple as 15 minutes in the morning with a cup of my favorite tea and my gratitude journal; it might be a trip to a city park once a week to walk for 30 minutes without the dog. (Sadly, I don’t live where a hike in the mountains is a daily or even weekly possibility.) Regardless of the form, I need that break for my mental, emotional and spiritual health.
There are other things I want to do as a result of this introspective time, but they’re more specific to me, and I want you to be considering what might help you at this time, especially as we transition through lock-downs to opening up, and some of the back-and-forth that is resulting from different approaches.
What nourishes you? What brings you refreshment? Do you know?
Perhaps it’s spending time with your grandchildren. Or walking a beach. Maybe it’s painting or working with wood. It might be as simple as working in your garden, or as complicated as a silent retreat with monks in New Mexico.
An afternoon, a week, or a months-long sabbatical — the time isn’t as important as how you use that time to fill your depleted reservoirs, let go of baggage, and get nourished and refreshed, so you can become the most effective You as you touch the lives of those around you.
Refreshing Grace and Peace to you!