We have all heard the phrase “stop and smell the roses.” But who actually does it? How often do we stop and notice as the world changes around us? How often do we notice the minutiae of the world?
I was raised Jewish, so this time of year has always been a time of reflection for me. While I do not follow most Jewish traditions (it was my rabbi, after all, who first recommended the book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, about a Jewish woman who became a Buddhist), I do take the lessons of the New Year and Yom Kippur seriously. If for no other reason, they are a time to reflect.
Last year, I made a mistake. I scheduled my first-ever “Stress Management for Lawyers” seminar on Yom Kippur. A little mishap on my Google Calendar, and my own ignorance, were to blame, but I felt awful about it, not to mention the irony of working and teaching about stress management on a day that is supposed to be devoid of all work. Ooops.
So this year I decided I was going to get away for Yom Kippur. I am usually unable to fast from food for physical reasons, but there is little doubt of my most intense addiction. It is, of course, attachment to the internet. While I struggle with how much of the news to read and know, I also incessantly check my email on my phone and pop up facebook whenever I can. I even tweet, though that comes and goes.
But sometimes the universe works out right. I finished the entire rough draft of my thesis last week, and I knew I could get away for a few days. It just happened to be over Yom Kippur as well. So, I decided to head to Queenstown, the “adventure capital of the world!” My only adventure tourism was paragliding, but I got away from work, and Saturday, Yom Kippur, I stayed off the internet for more than 24 hours. Getting away from everything proved to be exactly what I needed.
It felt great. Absolutely wonderful, in fact.
Spring here in New Zealand apparently means still wearing a winter coat, but the trees and plants know it is spring, and they show it in all their glory. And for the first time in years, I took the time to pay attention. I do not mean just the flowers appearing, though the tulips and daffodils have been amazing. I mean watching the buds on trees turning into leaves, and the emerging pine cones. I mean literally stopping to smell the air as the flowers bring forth all their glorious scents.
But there was more than stopping and staring at flowers and leaves. There were hours of hiking and just sitting and looking at beautiful scenery. Early in the morning, I sat on the beach and watched the sun rise shedding its light on the Remarkables, the mountains looming over lake Wakatipu. At some point my shoulders dropped away from my ears. My breath began to slow and deepen. And my mind began to focus.
There is no other way to say it, getting away did some good.
I was worried about turning off the internet. I was worried about being out of communication for a full day. I was worried about the massive amount of information to which I would return. And then I sat by a tree, staring out over a lake toward the Remarkables. All those concerns slipped away. The beauty of the mountain released me from my grip on myself. The "forced" fast gave me the perspective once again. Of course, I knew before being in Queenstown how much I love trees and mountains, but I had been striving so hard to live in two days at a time because New Zealand is a day ahead of the United States that I had forgotten how to live in the present. Mountains do not let you forget. Spring does not let you forget.
The greatest lesson I want to learn from yoga, and in turn share with others, is how to use the tools in everyday life. I want to learn to sit at a desk breathing as well as I did on that mountain. I know it is possible. But I also know that modern life, especially a lawyer’s life, means cities. It means being indoors, carrying sweaters in summer because the air conditioning is too cold, and going days, weeks, and perhaps months without noticing the world’s changing patterns. Thus, sometimes we need to refill our coffers and remind ourselves what it means to truly stop, breathe, and reflect.
Then we can get back to work, the choice many of us make, using the tools to hold onto that essence for just a little bit longer. On this vacation, I found my breath again, not just my breath, but a deep, solid breath. But more than that, I remembered to stop and look at how amazing this world is and reflect on the beauty from which we so often hide behind our computer screens. It was through this fast that I was truly filled with the wonder of the world.
Do you remember to get away? What do you learn from it?
© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.