I am on vacation this week and have been pondering how a change of environment impacts me. I noticed the anticipation of going somewhere is both exciting and mildly anxiety-provoking. Truth be told, I am a homebody and usually am content staying right where I am. My tendency when I do travel is to attempt to re-create my creature comforts as a strategy to soothe myself in strange places.
When I leave, I am focused on the arrival and have been told that I miss out on a lot of things because I am so intent on getting “there”. Wherever “there” is. This is in stark contrast to both my mother and my husband who were inveterate wanderers. Still, once I am “there” I am excited to go out and about and discover all kinds of new things.
My colleague and fellow-blogger, Mark Brady, suggests that new environments are actually good for our brains. New stimuli spark neuronal growth. Our bodies adapt to new sounds, sights, and smells. Our digestive systems take in new foods and our bacteria devour and transform them into useful energy. All of this is very exciting and, fortunately, goes on behind the scenes so that we don’t have to put much conscious effort into it.
I remain in awe of the old-time explorers who were open to new experiences, had to adapt to whatever food was available, and didn’t have a CVS or Safeway to make a quick stop to obtain a familiar and needed item. I find familiar foods in familiar restaurants and grocery stores whose names, menus, and layouts are carbon copies of each other. This is both a good and bad thing. Predictability does lessen the chance that I will encounter a food or substance with which my body is unfamiliar resulting in possible negative gastro-intestinal events. But it also limits my exposure to new and untried things.
Different faces and accents fall into tried and true patterns. The weather is different, but the weather forecaster shares the information the same way. Ads on TV reflect local businesses, but we are all apparently in need of new cars, mattresses, and “end of summer sales events”. These things are reassuring to me as I settle into a new experience, but oddly disconcerting in their familiarity.
Another benefit of getting away is relaxing. This, too, comes from a change; a change in routine. So much of my work life is centered on timekeeping. When I am on vacation, I don’t need to worry about being somewhere at an appointed time. My inner clock starts to take over and I find a quieter and less insistent rhythm to my day.In this quiet space, I find my thoughts coming and going. And unlike when I am in my regular routine, the spaces between those thoughts expand. This is useful because there is so much clutter in my brain that I typically jump from thought to thought, from lily pad to lily pad, from memory to memory and I often miss out on what is right in front of me. In this space, I can just rest on what is happening in the now.
There have been many other comings and goings this month. People of note and influence whose lives ended. Aretha. John McCain. Neil Simon. People who lived large in the public eye. But others have also left us. August is particularly challenging for me, since so many of the people I loved and who loved me died in Augusts past. Life and death happen to all of us.
Yesterday, as I was driving, I noticed a spider being held to the windshield by the force of the air. As I slowed, the pressure eased, and the spider, no longer held in place, quickly crawled away. I don’t know if that spider was amazed or relieved or shocked. I don’t know if it returned to the ground or was swept away. But I do know its life was changed by forces out of its control. Taken from an environment that was familiar and transported to somewhere it would have never have gone under normal circumstances.
This raised a variety of emotions in me, remembering how many times I had been transported to places that were new or different. Not always of my own choice. Requiring me to adapt to new things. To incorporate the unfamiliar. Feeling unsure, vulnerable, scared, and even excited. And, when the pressure was lessened, finding myself again. Creating a new normal.
As I grow older, I am finding that comings and goings are actually a rhythm that is predictable but not constant. I sporadically pay more attention to this rhythm when my patterns change. Vacations offer an intentional change. Loss of a loved one so frequently results in unintended changes. My take from this is recognition of how adaptable and flexible the human spirit is.
I have a few days left before I return home. I suspect I will begin to transition into “going” mode shortly. Again the anticipation of returning home will arise, but I am already changed by my being away. I will be returning with new eyes and new memories, and new commitments to ways of being.
I hope I will be able to stay true to these new commitments, since the benefits of a slower pace and taking time to care for my own needs are resulting in such positive changes. It will require that I incorporate new patterns and new ways of paying attention. The familiar exerts its influence much like that force of air on the spider. Sometimes I cannot move because the familiar routines and habits hold me in place. It isn’t until that pressure is eased, that I find ways to escape or re-position myself.
I will view my home with changed eyes, perhaps now seeing what needs to be spruced up or changed or gotten rid of altogether. I will have new comparisons that will either reinforce my choices or make me see my environment more critically. Familiar faces will once again inform me of the local news, weather, and sports. And I will tune-in or tune out the ads and return to that conversation in my head about how little there is for me to watch on TV.
But not for a few days yet. May your comings and goings bring you positive changes!