cassmaster P muses…
Leisure vs. Contemplation…
Coupled vs. Alone…
(Yes, I do realize the polarized nature of this post… please indulge me anyway)
I went to Cape Cod for 10 days last week on a real, legitimate VACATION. My first one, really.
And here is my report:
Vacation to me has always felt so decadent and frivolous — a desperate grab at empty pleasure seeking. Aggressive relaxation. An artificially constructed mind state. I’ve never been a pleasure seeker in this particular way – vacation is too passive, too contrived feeling for me. But I tried it anyway — the beach; swimming, biking, resting (a lot of resting!) eating lobster rolls, reading, sunbathing, and hanging out with my boo a lot (she’s so cute.)

Now, I’ve traveled before and taken plenty of trips, but there has always been some other agenda or purpose. I have never excused myself from my everyday routine for the sheer sake of R & R. As soon as a little bit of time and space opens up to me, I usually spend my time away on retreat (formally and informally). I will leave town by myself to meditate or write or to spend some time being unbelievably quiet — a time for reflection, introspection and contemplation. A time to sift through old grief and new desires. And usually alone.
When I lived in San Francisco, I used to drive up north on Highway 1 and spend some quiet time with the redwoods under the moon. To re-center, re-calibrate, and reassess my life’s direction. I went to India for a year by myself, lived in monastaries, and would go days without even talking to anyone… this kind of underlying rigor has always informed my “vacations”. I do not know how to a) go on vacation and/or b) go on vacation WITH someone else. Time away = quiet, pensive time by myself. I am curious how to share “away” space with someone and how to sink into it, be present for it (drink a beer on the beach in the afternoon; sleep in the sun for hours on end; read a trashy novel) without having this nagging feeling that I am squandering my time “off”. I must say, I did a pretty good job just letting it all hang out on the Cape, but I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that I was fooling myself. How do we strike a balance? We talk so much (and I think so much) about happiness and the causes of happiness. I know on a deep, fundamental level that lobster rolls and sex and beach breezes do not necessarily or directly correlate with happiness — yet we behave as if all vacation-ey accoutrement will directly translate into feeling better rested, more connected and well, happier…. I wish I could buy it. I really wish I could. But I am ultra-wary of that American trend to work hard and play hard… that “I deserve to do nothing (or I’m entitled to everything) because I bust my ass all the time” mentality. I do not think it’s helpful or particularly healthy.
Yes, I am sun kissed and salty. I am moving slower, chewing my food more, breathing deeper…. but I can’t help but feel that I have deluded myself into thinking that these things are lasting or actual solutions to mundane suffering. I know its partly a childhood thing — all my “vacations” growing up in Wyoming were tests of endurance: hunting trips, boating/fishing trips, horse packing trips…. vacation meant hard labor. Time away from work meant, well… it meant more work. It meant seeking sustenance. It meant callused hands and feet. Being cold at night. Frostbitten fingers. Waking up at dawn to get an early start…. (an early start to what exactly?) So the idea of leisurely making my way to the beach to lie in the sun all day is completely alien and overwhelmingly bougie/libertine to me.
I didn’t get any writing done on the Cape. I meditated, but dreamily… not in any kind of sustained way. I spent a lot of time with my girl — good intimate time, but still… I think I have this internal fear of even first admitting to myself and others that I actually need  to have contemplative time, especially in the context of vacation. (My boo is very supportive of my practice, but I still have a hard time taking the space that my practice deserves and craves when in ANY kind of mixed company.) I fear being percieved as the Debbie Downer or the wierd, dark, brooding outcast. The anti-fun guy. Too serious… Unless you are dating a monk, how can you enjoy vacation time together whilst still maintaining some kind of meditative shape? Discipline? How to relax without being uppity about practice? I get uppity about my practices — how is that for an oxymoron? (Panicking about not having enough time to practice, rushing to yoga, etc….)
I’m also reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat Pray Love (that is a whole other blog post — coming soon!)… where she discusses pleasure vs. devotion and her desire to discover and integrate the two. This search feels all to familiar to me… pleasure has no impact, no currency in my life without a devotional foundation. I crave some kind of fusion, where both are honored equally… where there is perpetual interplay between the two.
Do you have any suggestions? Any ideas about how to balance these two aspects of “time away”… Let me know your thoughts…
Much love.
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