Vacation and the Quest for Rejuvenation

Penguin - VacationThe word “vacation” comes from the Latin word vacare, which means to be empty, free. This is a very Zen concept that few of us, I suspect, would apply to our vacations. Often we are as busy and occupied during our vacation time as we are doing our work. This because we are a culture of workaholics and don’t know how to relax. For more about this see The History of Vacation, an NPR interview with author Cindy Aron.

It certainly seems that we are all working harder now than we did even five years ago. The pace seems faster, the to-do list longer. Those who still have jobs do the work of two or three people. Those who do not have work, spend long hours seeking jobs or creating their own businesses. Most of us are lucky to take a weekend off much less any real vacation. And when we actually do, we seem to apply the same industrious effort to our vacations as we do to our work and we exhaust ourselves in the process.

On a recent vacation to La Pine, Oregon, my husband George and I spent seven hours preparing to leave and that was just the morning of our departure. You would think we were going on safari or climbing Mt. Everest given all the preparation. Granted, the cabin we would be staying in was 30 minutes away from the nearest town, and 20 minutes down a long and bumpy dirt road. And it is true that said town lacked an organic food store. Also, this was to be a work vacation, at least for my husband, who needed to fix a number of things at the cabin. We filled our van with shop tools and supplies, a cement mixer, various pieces of lumber, some massive pieces of metal, all the perishable food in our refrigerator, snacks so we wouldn’t have to stop on the way and a few clothes.

In preparing for departure, I was mindful of my own desire for a restful and restorative vacation – something I desperately needed after an unbelievably demanding and busy spring of workshops and teleconferences. Hence, I brought no computer, no internet access, no email, and no work of any kind.

I had visions of long morning breakfasts watching the antics of chipmunks seeking peanuts hidden around a rocky knoll; of quiet walks on dirt trails meandering through miles of pine forest; of leisurely canoe rides down the Deschutes River spying bald eagle and blue heron; and of lazy afternoons reading a book suspended in a hammock on the back deck. I feel blissful just thinking about this.

lapine rain - Vacation

Rain at cabin

The first two days at the cabin promised to deliver the vacation of my dreams. The weather was warm and the biggest task on the cabin to-do list had been deemed unnecessary and crossed off shortly after we arrived. We move in unhurried anticipation of life at La Pine as it is in August, when we normally come, – hot and dry and full of life.

Then the rains came. At first it was a novelty – the sound of rain on the metal roof above our sleeping loft, a quiet morning hush when even the birds stayed home. Soon it became just cold and limiting.

I have never been to La Pine in June and was totally unprepared for this other reality. My shorts and short-sleeved shirts, items I can never wear in San Francisco but always found useful in La Pine, huddled together uselessly on the shelf. My single long-sleeved pullover did duty every day as did my fleece.

George’s parents had joined us for our stay, as they do every summer. The cabin, which usually feels quite ample, became very small. Tempers grew short, impatience heightened and boredom set in.

At first I was able to find escape in the long novel I brought to read. I curled up on the warm sofa all afternoon and evening and devoured it in two days.

Now what? Too rainy to walk, to canoe, to hang in the hammock! Even the birds and chipmunks were staying inside. I observed my mind and how it longed to be occupied, to be entertained. What a great opportunity, I thought, to practice emptiness, to meditate, to reflect on my work, my life, my journey. And since I had just finished giving a workshop series on “dying well,” I also thought of the chance it provide to develop muscle for facing the boredom that often comes with dying or at least acquire a greater appreciation for it. Hah! Oh how my mind resisted! Or was it my ego?

Perhaps this resistance to emptiness is the key to our cultural penchant for busy vacations. We seem uncomfortable with ourselves, alone, undistracted, much like we are afraid of silences in conversation. Do we fear what thoughts might arise? What feelings might surface? I have great respect for those people who go on Vipassana retreats and sit for hours a day in silent meditation, becoming at peace with their minds. My mind was having none of it.

I read a week-old copy of the Wall Street Journal. Every damn article! How China is stealing all our intellectual property and the US is supporting the rebel faction in Syria. All news to me, as I generally avoid newspapers as a matter of principle.

I read every magazine in the house and started in on the Oregon guidebooks and a guide to wildflower identification. I learned about saving the Roseate Spoonbill in Florida, the commercialization of war drones, audacious plans for sequestering Co2, the promotion of bug consumption as a more efficient source of human food protein, the boom and bust cycles of industry and the names of plant parts and their functions.

I did no yoga, no meditation, and very little reflection. I just couldn’t seem to do it.

I tried not to judge, just to observe, to notice, and to see my resistance. It is not easy to do nothing. The mind hungers for stimulation. Yet I believe periods of doing nothing are essential to recharging, and re-inspiring. I know that when I meditate or lie out in the sun and let my mind drift on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I am better able to write, plan and solve problems. Some of my most creative ideas come upon waking from sleep or in the middle of meditation. So I have become more mindful, more insistent about having down time.

On first reflection, I judged my vacation in La Pine as a bust. I did not make the best use of this precious time off. When I got back home, I did not feel rejuvenated. I felt tired and depleted. Tired of the continual bickering of my in-laws, tired of being cold, tired of the boredom, and certainly tired after the 12 hour drive home through a torrential rainstorm and the 2-hour traffic jam in the Shasta pass.

On further reflection, however, I think my tiredness and disappointment are more about my negative thoughts and interpretations than what actually happened. As I write out the details of this time, I recall the wicked pleasure I felt at reading things unrelated to my work. How delicious it was to absorb new information without plan or purpose. How mind-expanding and stimulating! While my spiritual bully was nagging me to be more productive; I curled deeper into the sofa like a cat and rested.

Then there were those afternoons and evenings preparing meals with the assistance of Barb, George’s mom. We flowed effortlessly together in this nurturing task, coming up with ingenious combinations of whatever was in the refrigerator. I reveled in the accolades of our happy diners and watched with pleasure as Tom, George’s dad, ate salads and vegetables, foods he would typically avoid.

Alpine Lake - Vacation

Alpine Lake

A break in the weather allowed us to get out one day and visit the meadows and surrounding lakes. And on another day, George and I squeezed in a canoe ride before the rain clouds returned. We identified wild flowers, a wild duck, and three water ouzels, spied a bald eagle and watched an otter eating a fish.

While being with George’s parents was not always easy given their habit of bickering, there were many precious moments. Barb, who has breast cancer, asked me about the “dying well” workshops I recently held in San Francisco. We talked about the benefits of doing a life review and tried to come up with special places where she might like her ashes spread — when the time came — that reflected who she was and what she loved in life. This approach to death preparation intrigued her and made death preparation seem a little lighter.

Tom, who mostly helped George throughout our stay, spent a morning with me repainting part of the wooden deck that surrounds most of the cabin and another morning winterizing the cabin’s water system. There is a sweet pleasure that comes from working at ease with someone else – deep respect, appreciation, even love. It was the first time we hung out together like that. Special.

When I began this blog, I planned to write about having a really restorative vacation and how our cultural need for activity and industry resists such an exercise. Also, that our fear of being empty has at its core, a fear of death. My writing, however, has taken me somewhere else – to gratitude and welcoming whatever shows up. This is the real lesson of my time off and it is applicable to all of life. When the heart is open, all is well.

To learn more about my work, Secrets of Life and Death, and this practice of shifting perspective around what is unplanned and unwanted, join me this Wednesday, July 10th on Astrology Heals:

Transform Grief: Secrets of Life and Death
Wednesday, July 10 at 12:00 noon Pacific, 3:00 pm Eastern
Check your time zone.

This teleconference is free and a replay will be available if you can not attend live.



WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

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