Vacations: Autumn Arrangement
For over a decade I worked with a volunteer organization which had, at its height, over forty members. I knew them well enough to notice a pattern in many of my friends. Again and again I knew that one of of them was working intensely for weeks or months. Then the demands would relax; sometimes the friend was able to take a vacation. And then I would observe in my friend a spurt of growth. He or she would be more real, more integrated, more beautiful, more advanced in practical spirituality.
This is a pattern that can come alive every day, every week. We get up and plunge into activity. Then we relax, rest, take a nap, play, break for a meal, stimulate our minds with something new, socialize, or worship. And then the cycle begins anew. Along the way, if we are making wholehearted decisions for the new frontiers of the divine way of living, we will enjoy the accumulation of tiny increments of unconscious growth.
I remember hearing a brilliantly clear talk forty years ago, at the Chabod House in Berkeley, California, given by a Jewish teacher named Chaim. He spoke about the meaning of Shabbat, the Sabbath. Some people work every day, trying to get ahead. But taking Sabbath rest from work is a way stating that, above all, we trust God for our sustenance.
Vacations, including a weekly spiritual vacation, are essential to balanced living. A good vacation refreshes our health, sanity, and happiness.
The semester schedule in school enables growth if persons take advantage of the potentials of its rhythm. Study is part of the process of growth. The intellect needs to expand to discover new facts, meanings, and values.
Some people are too busy to grow. They may be full of idealistic ambition but psychologically driven into levels of activism that do not allow the time for artistic living, balanced living. Thus, they lack the depth of calm that would add a cosmic dimension to their effectiveness. We can be busy accomplishing tasks, whether they are material tasks or religious religious tasks, and lack the higher leverage of the spiritual quality of action that touches the soul.
When we find ourselves overcommitted to many projects, it may be because we are undercommitted to the will of God. But there is a way out, which I call survival plus. When these times come, we let go of any commitments from which we can responsibly withdraw; in the tasks that we still recognize as our duty, we let go of perfectionism, excessive care for trivial details. We stand tall in profound self-respect, not making ourselves slaves to the person or institution making the demands upon us. In particular, we do not compromise our health, but maintain reasonable habits of nutrition, rest, and exercise. And we finish strong, not falling across the finish line and collapsing, but with arms raised in triumph. And finally, when the level of demand lessens, or when we can take a vacation, we make plans to avoid getting needlessly trapped in anything similar again.
The primary function of a vacation is to change our focus away from the monotonous grind of daily existence. We engage in different activities, taking up old hobbies or learning something new. A vacation can give us the chance to look back, reflect, and savor our accomplishments. A vacation can also provide time to look forward, re-conceptualize, and make some decisions regarding the season to come.
I experience a vacation-like phenomenon every month in our home, when I am blessed with an artistic contribution to our dining room by my wife Hagiko Wattles, gifted and accomplished in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Her most recent arrangement, characteristically, has some reference to the season, now autumn. The radiant warmth of a bright yellow flower contrasts with the cool purple-and-green of two branches from the backyard liliac tree, one branch showing autumn fullness with many leaves, while the other expresses autumn sparseness, with just a few leaves, as winter comes on. Every season is transitional, and getting ready for winters of any kind is part of the wisdom of autumn. Let us prepare for whatever winter we may have ahead as we look for the springtime of a spiritual renaissance.
Vacations are part of that dimension of life that I call walking in beauty. Research indicates that we typically go back to work after a vacation and in three weeks it is as though we have never had a vacation at all. But a true vacation should introduce us to new ways of living that we can turn into habits so that we abide ever more joyously in the divinely beautiful dimension of life that is always there if we sincerely, wholeheartedly, and persistently seek it.
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