I found myself in an uncomfortably crowded airport last weekend. Tired from a weekend in San Diego, full of old friends and new ones, a wedding, tons of beer, not enough sleep, and--let's be real now--not enough showers... I fell into a seat at my gate to hopefully get some much-needed down-time before my flight home.
Except I kept bumping elbows with strangers to my left, and to my right. More people milled about in front of me, accidentally kicking at my shoes as they passed. As people sat and rose, they jostled the entire line of seats. And most of all, the noise, noise, NOISE!
I was bug-eyed at this point: I needed to find a quiet place to sit where I could have my own space and not be jostled every few seconds. I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and went in search of the ladies room. This was how desperate I was! I figured I might be able to camp out in a stall until my flight...
Nope. Line out the door. Of course.
So, with my insides feeling as though they'd curdle themselves at any moment, I found a long blank wall and plopped down on the floor next to it. At least the floor was stable. At least I could stretch out my arms and not touch anybody.
I shut my eyes against the overstimulation of that airport terminal. I need a vacation from my vacation, I thought. I couldn't wait to get home.
And that's when I realized: I had done my vacation all wrong!
It's a common mistake. Try it for yourself: when you think "vacation", what do you imagine? Most likely, some very specific images come to mind.
Before I'd arrived in San Diego, I imagined lots of friends, too much booze and food (because somehow I get a pass from making healthy choices while I'm on vacation?!), and zipping between the beach and the mall every day. That's what I visualized when I thought, "vacation in San Diego". Isn't that what people DO when they're on vacation?
But as I sat on that dirty airport floor and reflected on my honest-to-goodness favorite parts of the trip, all I could imagine were the palm trees and the blue sky. I re-lived how that perfectly warm, lightly humid San Diego air felt on my skin. I held a snapshot in my mind of when I stepped out of my Airbnb studio on Sunday morning with a hot cup of coffee and just stood there for the longest time, watching the sun glinting through the leaves of the palm tree that shaded me.
I felt a sense of expansion as I held this snapshot in my mind's eye. Like, literally: I breathed deeper. My shoulders, my mind, and my lungs all let go of their twisted states all at the same time.
Ah, yes. This sense of expansion and loosening is how you know you've finally become cognizant of something your body has been trying to tell you. This is how you know you've finally started paying attention to what you truly need.
I hadn't needed adventure; what I needed was retreat.
I'm sure we've all heard (whether from friends, coworkers, our ourselves): "I need a vacation"--an utterance that's more often than not accompanied by a long sigh, stooped shoulders, and a hand rubbing a tired face. We associate "vacation" with "rest", but what kind of rest do you really need? What is it that you need a break from?
Do you need a break from the monotony of your mind-numbing routine? Then maybe some adventure and travel to an unfamiliar place might do you good.
Do you need a break from the buttoned-up persona that others (or more likely, YOU) have imposed upon you? Then maybe a party bus to Vegas with your girlfriends would do the trick.
Or are you in need of a break from the daily grind, so you can catch your breath, regroup, and do some much-needed introspection to make sure you're still on the right track? Then maybe a low-key retreat is the thing for you.
In my line of work, "rest" does not have a singular definition, and it doesn't have to look any particular way. "Rest" is as defined by the person who's doing it, and it can be done differently from day to day, or even from moment to moment.
The needs of our bodies, minds, and souls are changing from moment to moment, so it follows that what they'll need in order to restore (REST-ore) themselves will also be constantly changing. The key is to pay attention to what gives you that feeling of expansion.
Imagine that you were to go on vacation tomorrow.
What do you need a break from?
Where would you go, or would you even go anywhere?
How would your surroundings look like?
What would you do?
Sit with the visual for a moment. Are you craving adventure, exploration, connection, or retreat?
If you find yourself inhaling more deeply, and exhaling more slowly... If you find your heart quickening and your mind letting go of its usual chatter... You'll know that you've found your answer.