Many of us are counting down the days to Christmas and the end of the year, and the only thing that is keeping us going is the thought of taking time off, time out, taking a break.
It has been another big year, life is getting more and more intense, we are tired, if not exhausted, there is pressure on us to go to end-of-year events, to buy presents and food and prepare for festive events…this can be a tiring and very expensive week.
There can also be a sense that ‘the year has gone so quickly’ and that it feels incomplete, that we have not done all that we planned to do, all that we committed to do, and a drive to try and fit things in, like long overdue medical and dental appointments, before the year is done.
We have a tendency to ‘put our heads down’, ‘get through’ and ‘get by’ until we can do what we feel like doing when we finally get ‘time off’.
‘Time off’ becomes a holy grail…something we look forward to, and the working week, year, career, becomes an endurance race we have to run.
But living in this way creates an enormous tension in our bodies and we miss out on so much of the beauty and joy that is within us and before us, every single day.
What is the purpose of work and of life?
And why do we need time off from it?
In a day, there are periods of motion and periods of rest. We need to stop for moments to eat, to drink, to support our bodies. We cannot do without sleep for long, because our bodies and minds need it to rest and recharge our physical and energetic batteries. And on a deeper level, we need take moments to stop and appreciate not just our physical selves, but who we are, to appreciate the quality of our being-ness, and so to build a loving and firm foundation from which to take the next step in life.
There are cycles in a day, and in a week and a year, we live in larger cycles of motion and repose.
The weekend offers us a space to reflect on the week that was, on how we were in it, and to rest and recharge for the week to come, so that we may return to work refreshed, renewed, inspired and ready for more.
Our holidays offer us more space, time to review the year that was, to reflect on the way we were in it and to develop ourselves so that we may bring even more of ourselves to our next orbit around the sun.
But is that how we see and use our time off?
I know that I used to slay myself in my holidays. I would push myself so hard in the lead up to them that I would inevitably get sick, at least for a few days. And then I would use the remaining time off to party so hard that I was almost grateful when it was time to go back to work and I had to give my liver a rest.
My time off was a time when I was ‘off’…I saw myself as having to be ‘on’ at work and that the reward for all this hard work was that I was allowed to be ‘off’ – to switch off from my responsibilities, to behave in ways that I would not allow when I was at work, to eat and drink to excess, stay up late and sleep in, indulge in distractions and entertainment like reading, watching movies and shopping and generally do what I felt like doing, with little to no regard for anyone else.
It was as if I had a work personality, when I was ‘on’ and a time off personality, when I was ‘off’. This happened on a large scale on my holidays, but on a smaller scale on the weekends and indeed every night.
Work was something I had to get through, so that I could get to the reward of the time off.
Once I had children, I realised that there was going to be no more time off, and I had to find another way of living life, or the tension I was living in was going to be too much for me and I was going to lose it completely.
This was neither an easy or an overnight process, but what I have come to realise is that it is all one life, that there is no time off from life, or from being yourself. And in fact, I have come to a time and place where I no longer crave time off, for I love myself, my work and my life, and no longer need to take a break from it.
So how has this come to be?
I have come to learn to listen to my body, and the simple truth it offers me, in every moment of the day.
Rather than overriding it as I used to, in the race to the finish line of work so that I could go and drink champagne, I take moments through the day to check in and see how I am feeling and if there is anything I need to do to support myself.
I take care of myself every day, through the day, and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. If I have any advice for parents of young children, or in fact anyone, it is to go to bed early, rather than staying up late when you are tired, trying to have time for yourself. If you are busy, it makes even more sense to go to bed early, as you will sleep more soundly, need less sleep, and wake feeling refreshed and ready for another day.
I rise early and do all the things I love to do in the morning, so that by the time I go to work, I already feel complete, and my whole being is open to help and serve other people.
I eat lightly through the day and take a moment to go for a walk at lunchtime, so that I have space to move my body and check in with myself and see if there is anything I have taken on during the morning that I need to let go of, so that I don’t take it into the afternoon.
At the end of the day I leave work at work and use the drive home as another space to review the day and see how I am feeling and whether there is anything I need to let go of before I get home, so I don’t bring it into my evening.
I use the evening as a period to wind down, eating a delicious dinner and spending time with my family before heading to bed for another beautiful sleep.
Now that I rest in the evenings instead of hammering myself with food, drink and staying up late as a ‘reward’ for a hard day at work, I no longer need to drink coffee, or eat sugar through the day to keep me going, nor alcohol at night to help me wind down and check out so I can get some rest from my busy head.
I feel lovely in my body, I love my work, my family, my friends and life.
Why would I want to take a break from that?
Having said that, I too am looking forward to a couple of weeks off and the space it offers to rest my body, catch up with family and friends, and complete some things that I did not get around to during this busy year.
I don’t see time off as a time to be ‘off’ any more, but a time to celebrate myself and my relationships and an offering of space – a space to be with me and the people I love – as we go around the sun together for another year.
This article was first published on 22 December 2017 on To Medicine with Love