According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a vacation is “freedom from any activity; rest; respite; intermission” or “a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation, usually a specific interval in a year: as, two weeks’ vacation.”
When I was a kid in the 1950s, the family vacation was Marietta Hot Springs, which was a place in southern California similar to the Catskills on the east coast where lower middle-class Jews from Los Angeles went away for a week or two during the summer. There was horseback riding, smelly hot spring water, and I got to hang out with my parents and go swimming. It was perfect.
Now “I’m going on vacation” is a tricky bag of potential enjoyment mixed with frustration: deciding on plans, buying airplane tickets, getting deals on hotels and making other arrangements, and the vacation is still just a thought form in my mind, filled with both excitement and the possibility of a slice of air-travelers’ hell both coming and going.
For me, the trip starts on my last day of work before leaving with the act of packing. That’s when I begin to shift emotionally, but after that it’s getting to the airport, luggage in and luggage out, and finally getting to the hotel. That’s when I find out that the voice in my head didn’t get the memo, “I’m on vacation.”
The first clue that I’m still “in my head” starts with the hotel reception desk check-in. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t like getting up early with an alarm clock because I worry all night that it won’t work, so I keep looking at the clock and end up with a poor night’s sleep. I’m really tired after a grueling traveling day, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m standing before an IRS auditor at the reception desk.
The terrorist part of the voice in my head, produced by my mind’s machinery, comes fully awake, and I find myself looking at the well-trained receptionist as a potential enemy in disguise as opposed to a friend: Am I going to get a good room? The voice in my head even speeds ahead to later, when I’ll come down for dinner: Am I going to get a good table?
I once heard that the definition of a financial Depression as “when money goes back to its rightful owners.” My mind’s default programming tells me that the descendants of the first-class passengers on the Mayflower are the rightful owners of the money in a Depression, not me whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. And now my unconscious is sending “beware messages,” telling me that the Mayflower descendants are also the rightful owners of good rooms and A-tables and the best seats at the pool and ocean.
Hence, I’m on vacation, but my machinery takes a while longer to get into the true vacation zone where I, too, am emotionally entitled. The machinery in my head is fighting for what it considers survival in the world of vacations – and until I’m rested it won’t let me be at peace.
So for me, the vacation only begins after a drink and a nap or after a good night’s sleep, and changing rooms at least once.
Second day, potential paradise, and I’ve got a good waterside lounge chair and the vacation is on. Or at least it could be on…
Now my Higher Self wants a debate with my machinery and the terrorist voice in my head in the manner of what my college psychology professor called “approach avoidance” as I find myself drawn to my ever-trustworthy iPhone and conflicted because I know that I shouldn’t be drawn to it since it’s a direct connection to everything that is un-vacation. So I try to lie back in the lounge chair and read a book and commit to only checking my iPhone every four hours.
What’s with all of this? I thought I was on vacation. The problem is that our mind works with a survival-first agenda. It is designed to always be on the lookout for potential problems, even if we are on vacation! It’s also looking for rewards, and unfortunately, the rewards are now associated in many ways with the iPhone because texting and emails are the communication flow of our time.
So I’m hooked into my iPhone for potential rewards. They fall into two categories: texting, which is generally related to potential social, love and companionship rewards; emails, which are generally business related.
Every time a text or an email comes in, I’m looking for some tiny emotional reward like a sweet call from the kids or an email announcing victory over some other business guy, but three-quarters of the messages are problematic, and this keeps me from experiencing the real rewards of being in the here and now of a real vacation, “a period of rest and freedom from work.”
It usually takes me two days and $12 worth of suntan lotion, plus $32 worth of rum, to get in the vacation mode, and then everything is good until 48 hours before the vacation is over. This is when the iPhone starts coming out again, the book is put away, and the voice in my head goes back to what I left behind before I went on vacation, and what punishments for leaving will show up when I get home.
I begin getting anxious, unconsciously anticipating all the things that could go wrong when I get back, which triggers my machinery to start back into real survival mode, and I start going back in my routine before I’m actually even home. The final transition is paying the hotel bill and arguing about what I didn’t use in the mini-bar and the premium movies I didn’t watch that I’m being charged for. From there it’s the “Road Warrior” of commuter travel in 2013!
The antidote for all this, of course, is mindfulness – focusing my mind in the present and reminding myself of one of my basic Guiding Principles: Every time something new happens, I go back to my old ways.
Being aware that “Every time something new happens, I go back to my old ways” alerts me to the fact that if I don’t interrupt my machinery, instead of acting a new way in a new situation I will act on automatic pilot and return to my old ways, regardless of whether they’re appropriate.
When I’m on automatic pilot, it’s as if my inner world hijacks that part of my mind that has learned better. Remember: the machinery doesn’t care if what it’s doing is good for your Being or not!
I think of interrupting our machinery as analogous to driving a car with manual transmission as opposed to today’s much more common automatic transmission. Making what I’m calling “a manual shift” to interrupt our machinery means consciously and intentionally taking over the control of our mind so that we are in the moment and making conscious, intentional, and appropriate choices that drive our behavior. By doing this, I can short-circuit my old patterns and bring myself into the present where possibility for new experiences exists and I am not stuck in emotional pain.
When I use mindfulness to interrupt my machinery and stop allowing it to run me, I can put away my iPhone and I can be in the here and now and enjoy the vacation even if it’s on a cruise ship when there’s bad weather and the ship is rolling and I can’t go on deck because it’s too wet. Whether my vacation is for two days or two weeks, the choice is mine. I can be mindful or let my machinery run me. The only thing we really need a vacation from is the voice in our head!
- 27 Jun, 2013
- Posted by Steve Fogel
- 0 Comments