A vacation for the mind

“After all, a vacation is not a matter of place or time. We can take a wonderful vacation in spirit, even though we are obliged to stay at home, if we will only drop our burdens from our minds for a while. But no amount of travel will give us rest and recreation if we carry our work and worries with us.”

-- Laura Ingalls Wilder, essay September 1919


Recently I started thinking about why I talk so much. And resolved to say less in order to write more. It's not an easy thing for me to do, and it requires constant discipline, which I'm sorry to say I don't quite have. 

Yes, I talk less than I used to. But I have a long way to go yet. Old habits die hard, they say. And they're right.

There's a certain comfort in unburdening my mind on others. Because it's easy and comfortable for me to do it. I don't wear slippers on my feet, I wear them on my face. The minute I start opening my mouth to yak about the tornado of thoughts that live in my head, I feel the familiar and warm contour of the faux fur enveloping me. It's molded to my lips, not custom-made but custom-worn.

The problem with slippers is, they're the wrong footwear for exertion. Nobody has ever pushed past their limits wearing them. They're the antithesis of effort. They're fulfillment prevention tools.

I still find myself reaching for mine. When I let my guard down, my loose lips get going. I lose myself in comfort and familiarity, temporarily forgetting my resolve. Instead I close my mind and sink into my mental la-z-boy. The one you can't help but fall asleep in.

It's a trap alright.

In the last two weeks, I've become more aware of it. I still let it tempt me, but whenever I fall a little bit into it I yank myself out of it hard. I'm sure the people around me have noticed the change. Instead of continuing to let words tumble out of my mouth, I suddenly stop and become slightly withdrawn. I may even scrunch my eyebrows on occasion. That's probably because I'm mad at myself for being so damn weak.

I haven't found an elegant way to skirt the trap. But at least now I recognize the little bitch, even after it has grabbed hold of me and is dangling my mental slippers in front of my nose, and swat it away.

The good news is, I have been writing more. The ideas and thoughts and feelings I have in my head find their way onto the electronic notebook page. I have an entire folder with "random thoughts". At last count it contained 20-odd files, plus over 30 essays in various stages of completion. Not everything deserves to see the light of day, but it all needed to come out of my head. If I just babbled instead of writing this stuff down, it would be lost forever. Now at least it will stay in the electronic notebook and serve as inspiration or springboard for what I hope will be writing worth reading.

It's a small beginning. A blip of progress. One that comes with a benefit I never expected: The feeling you get on vacation when you finally hit that point where you start believing you're entitled to relax.

Your chest opens up. Your shoulders feel less heavy. You breathe better. Your mind is clear. You see yourself as a beautiful work in progress, with amazing potential. You know, the opposite of the harried stressed-out perennially dissatisfied wench you brush your teeth with most mornings.

I just had that moment hit me this morning, as I drank my coffee while reading the New Yorker after a reasonably decent 10km run. I was in the moment; I wasn't thinking about all the stuff I have to do today. I was entirely bereft of stress. I was enjoying my coffee and my article. Purely, thoroughly, and refreshingly simply. Secure in the knowledge that more of my thoughts and ideas were safely written down (synced and backed up, too; I love my electronic notebook), and that my creative energy was no longer a resource I squandered mindlessly, as though I was afraid of making a permanent mark on the world.

Working more, and with better purpose, has allowed my mind to become unburdened and my spirit finally to sit back and relax for a spell. I never saw that coming. But I sure plan to have it hit me again soon. 

Honor, decency and virtue - yes, even towards that president

Rules for writing