The coming few weeks may or may not be holiday season for you but for many they will be and I am often asked about the difficulty of keeping some kind of mindfulness practice going when routines change for holidays, when the children are home for extended periods, or even simply because of the challenges of staying awake in the muggy heat.
And I sympathise. I remember a time when I came back to work after a period of time of travelling and holiday during which I had not really practiced mindfulness for a while and I was surprised by how lacking in awareness and how reactive I was being as I re-entered the fray of working life. Was this just the standard business of changing gear again or could this have been better managed if I had kept my meditation going in some way or other? Without a controlled test, of course, it is hard to tell. But since then I have tried to at least keep in touch in some way with mindfulness during extended holiday periods and I have not experienced the same struggle back to work in quite the same way.
So here are some thoughts on this.
Firstly to note that the challenges are real. Most notably, routines change and if your mindfulness practice is linked with a steady routine then it can be difficult to work out when and how to respond to this. Secondly there may be more people around or you may be on holiday with people who do not share your practice or outlook. And then there is the added conceptual challenge of thinking that it may not be such a bad thing to take a holiday from mindfulness as well as from my working life.
So, first, the conceptual challenge. If I think mindfulness is just something that helps me cope with working life or even just one of the things I include in my normal day alongside so many other tasks then this is where I may get stuck. On the other hand if I have grasped that mindfulness is a beautiful and creative way to engage more fully and more richly with the whole of life – not just another task to complete but something that connects me with the very source of wisdom, compassion and ease of being – then, surely this will have everything to do with how I spend my leisure time just as much as my work time. Indeed it has the potential to help my holidays and the time I spend with others during these times to be richer, more peaceful and, of course, less stressful (as, yes, we all know how holidays can be more stressful that work!).
But secondly the business of change of routine and working in with others who I am now sharing my space with which seems to prevent me from finding time or space for formal practice. And there are two aspects of mindfulness practice which come to our aid here. The first, most simply, is the very short practices, the most well-known being the three stage breathing space. Just one (or two, or three) of these a day can make all the difference. It probably wouldn’t not be enough to sustain your practice in the long term but it may well help to keep you in touch during shorter periods when longer practices are not possible.
And the other tool from our mindfulness kit which can be really exploited on holiday is ‘mindful activities’. These are suggested as part of most courses not as a substitute for formal practice but as a way of bringing mindful awareness into ordinary life. And it would seem to me that there are plenty of opportunities to turn holiday activities into mindfulness practices with just a little bit of forethought and a little bit of intention. Mindful activities are simply doing the ordinary activities of life but instead of doing them automatically while engaging in conversation or letting the mind wander to this that or the other (often back to stressful concerns), paying as much detailed attention to the whole physical process of what I am actually doing and to my experience, moment by moment while I am doing it.
Examples might be:
- Mindful walking: either on your own or drifting away from the pack just for a few minutes to come back to body sensations, the rhythmical movements of walking and connecting with the senses of hearing, sight, smell. Walking along the beech barefoot and feeling the sensations on the soles of your feet is a lovely way to do this.
- Mindful swimming: just for a few meters, really feeling the sensations of coolness on the skin, and the rush of the water; stopping and floating for a few moments, fully aware of your senses once again.
- Mindful sunsets/moon watching: just that really – and this is something others may so easily be drawn into. Often a natural silence descends as a small group of people are caught up with such strange beauty.
- Mindful washing up: yes (!) this could actually be your big chance for some mindfulness practice as you offer occasionally to do the washing up and insist that you are entirely happy to do this on your own on this occasion. So, while the party caries on outside you have a precious few moments to feel the soap suds on your skin and the warmth of the water and to bring your full presence to the business of carefully cleaning this one dish and then this one, marvelling as you go at the patterns on the plates and the gradually easing of hard caked food from the surface of the pan with gentle unstressed perseverance (as opposed to frustrated, angry, grinding).
Finally – and here is something to explore – you can think about how to bring mindful awareness to whatever is your particular much loved holiday activity.
- Mindful surfing; Mindful gardening; Mindful wild swimming; Mindful cycling; mindful fishing; mindful sailing; mindful nature walking; mindful skiing; mindful eating; mindful hill walking; mindful rock climbing; mindful kayaking.
In fact many of these activities seem to push you a bit towards mindfulness anyway such is the requirement to focus the attention in a gentle way to the exclusion of other nagging thought processes. And in the ‘resources’ section I have mentioned the series from Leaping Hare Press which seeks to make many of these connections for us.
So, are mindful holidays possible? A resounding ‘yes’ I would say. It just takes a little creativity and a little forethought and perhaps a bit of helpful reading.