My bank called me recently and asked me if I “have time”. I answered: “No, sorry, I’m in between holidays”. And then I hung up.
I got back from India two weeks ago. After being away for seven weeks, I came back to five days of work (punctuated by a weekend) before another two weeks off for Christmas vacation. The truth is I have nothing BUT time, and I’m in a total holiDAZE, for lack of a better term. Life could be worse.
I’ve got one foot still in yoga ”la la laaaaaa” land (although with each passing day it feels like it never happened), and the other foot dipping hesitantly back into “normalcy”, aka “fa la laaaaa”…
The two questions I’ve answered most frequently since my return have been: “How was it?”, and “How is it being back?”
For the first, I’ve developed a brief scripted response: “It was amaaaazing. The hardest and the most incredible experience I’ve ever had”. (If you want more details, read the blog, I’ve documented the bulk of the adventure there, and to repeat it in every conversation is a bit redundant).
Besides, it’s almost impossible to sum up a long trip without going through a million pictures and stopping every five minutes to explain what REALLY happened in each one. Does anyone really have time for that? Didn’t think so.
This brings me to the second answer to “How is it being back?”. In a nutshell, it’s weird.
Slowly but surely, with each passing day, “normal life” is getting back to being just that: normal. What’s strange though is that I’m experiencing this “normalcy” differently than before.
I’ve already mentioned how after finishing the yoga teacher training I felt lighter and more free in my way of seeing and thinking. This wasn’t just due to the fact that I cried more during that training than in the past 30 years combined, or because my body mass was significantly reduced by 15% due to hours upon hours of daily yoga.
No, the lightness I feel comes hand-in-hand with realizing I’m not the center of the universe (shocking, I know!!!), and the fact that the subsequent responsibilities that come with that view have magically dissipated. Emotions we carry around with us are heavier than they appear. They’re easy to dismiss, but they weigh us down more than we know.
The teacher training, hard as it was, broke my ego and every notion I previously had of myself.
While humbling and difficult, I can’t help but think that maybe it was necessary. I’m not saying I’ve had a yoga lobotomy and will suddenly start hugging random trees, but I have taken from that experience the lessons I wanted to keep, and I’m finding they have become a part of me.
I’m no longer reacting out of habit, but out of awareness and intent, and as a result I’m finding more joy in even the most insignificant daily actions. It’s much more fun to enjoy things as they come, instead of having to deal with the heavy load of controlling them. I must admit it’s really not that difficult to just” be” without trying “TO” anything. But I digress.
Let’s get to the transition between two months of spiritual lessons in India and re-entry into the Xmas nuthouse that is North America.
For two months we were surrounded by colours, jungle, vegetation and a laid-back existence where everything was really sloooow and “no problem” was pretty much a greeting.
The people we spent time with, for the most part, were on a path of searching for something, questioning regular life and traveling as a means of discovery. There was a serenity and quietness about them, a sort of temporary peace and self-reflection which translated into an empathy for their surroundings, and a sensibility to existence outside of their personal drama bubbles. A pause from the typical ways in which we react to life. I’m including myself in this group, since what ultimately this experience brought was the chance to hit the pause button, take a step back, and re-assess.
On our way back home, once Stacy and I got sucked into the airport labyrinth, we were in another world confined by concrete, walls, technology, rules and frenzied people. We felt like we had just been inserted into a movie playing on fast-forward.
The first thing that struck me was how preoccupied everyone seemed to be about their “stuff”: their suitcases, their schedules, the clock, their rush to get from here to there and their frustration, which they readily displaced onto others. We saw numerous blow-ups between frantic passengers and fed-up airport staff… People seemed to be in pure reaction-mode: me, myself and I.
What was even more bizarre was how detached WE seemed to be from all the dramas unfolding around us.
We had to leave half our luggage in Goa (long story), but it wasn’t a big deal. We had fuck-ups (again) at the airport in Mumbai and there was a good possibility we would miss our flight, but “meh”. We found ourselves smiling when we normally would have been frowning or yelling, and I honestly felt like we were on a good dose of some serious grade-A valium.
Getting back to Montreal was also quite surreal, especially since we were dropped smack down in the middle of winter crazies. When we had left, there were still leaves, birds and grass outside. To come back to a monochromatic gray and white landscape filled with snow and pre-Christmas mania was a shock.
I felt like I was sleep-walking. I missed the green and the sound of the sea.
After hiding out at my boyfriend’s apartment for two days and gradually expanding my self-made cocoon to allow my friends and family back into my jet-lagged headspace, it was time to go back to work. I had braced myself for the usual pre-Christmas schizophrenia that occurs in my industry (anyone working in advertising/design/marketing will understand), but I was floored to find that returning to work was not at all the shit-storm I had been anticipating.
I was actually touched by how considerate my team had been in ensuring that my return was smooth and relatively stress free, and how nice it actually was to be back. Although they were all exhausted from the regular grind and rind of the previous months, they somehow found the time and space to make my transition back as easy as it could be.
While everyone in my agency seemed to be running on their last remaining braincells and energy reserves, and while I saw that all around me, everyone (without exception) was in desperate need of a well-earned vacation, they all still seemed to find ways to bring out the fun aspects of Xmas. Department lunches, dinners, free food and alcohol abounded.
Although I couldn’t help but be shocked at the cost of it all (a $30 entree in an Indian restaurant here which would cost $2 there, and which would buy me two nights in a decent beach hut, for example), I have to admit that I got swept up in all the Xmas frenzy too.
I ate, I drank, I was merry, but mostly I observed.
The same issues, the same work stuff, the same stories from before I left were still there, but the difference (for me) was that I found myself more detached from them. In the grand scheme of things, and with a bit of perspective, they didn’t seem as urgent anymore.
Detachment doesn’t mean not caring, it just means not reacting from a place of fear, panic, habit, anger or urgency. It means observing, acknowledging, and acting accordingly, without letting emotions take over and overwhelm you. It means taking yourself less seriously, and having a good laugh at your own expense.
I feel like I’ve been put in slow motion (slow, compared to my usual pace) and I am enjoying the moments as they come, instead of seeing them as things to get over with so I can get to the next place I have to be or the next thing I “have” to do.
The world will not stop if I don’t cross EVERY single thing off of my to do list in X amount of hours.
Angry people on the metro pushing and shoving? Instead of matching their bad moods, I’m discovering that a smile will go much further instead. They may not smile back, and keep on pushing, but I personally feel much more grounded and unaffected by their shit. After all, it’s THEIR shit, not mine. It’s not personal.
What IS personal is that I am just choosing in each moment what emotion or reaction best serves me. I’m consciously choosing to look at things not as black or white, or through the filter of ME as the center of the universe, but as what they are.
The winter is cold. Instead of getting pissed off at it, I can just accept it for what it is, and put an extra layer of clothes on. It’s not a shitty day, it’s just a cold one.
I don’t HAVE to run with the bulls, I can just step aside and watch them.
Because in every moment we have a choice. We can choose how we interpret life around us, and we can choose how we react to it.
Sometimes, it’s okay to step aside and not get swept up by it all.
In the New Year, I know for a fact that real life, real clients, real “work” are waiting for me with a vengeance. But maybe, just maybe, I can meet them with calmness and detachment instead of letting them take over. My job is stressful. I can look at it as a source of stress, or a challenge to stay calm. I want to choose the latter.
What if, even if we can’t fight the tide of normalcy, we can push it back just a little bit each day, and subsequently maintain some distance from the day-to-day grind?
What if we were able to consciously take a step back from amidst the chaos of our lives and just observe, without getting caught up in it?
What if we could remember that feeling, that CLARITY that came about when we were in an airtight airplane cabin looking down at the curvature of the earth below us and realizing that we were flying over cities, and countries, and continents filled with drama, hopes and dreams, just like ours? And that from our view, they all just looked like pretty shapes, and nothing more? There’s peace in abstraction, after all.
The thing about traveling and extracting yourself from the hustle and bustle of your life is that you buy yourself some perspective.
I’m scared that I’ll get swept up by real life again. But I really don’t want to. And maybe I don’t have to.
“Swept up” inherently implies that we are victims to whatever circumstances came our way. Real life can sweep us up with a million mini-crises each day, if we let it. But what if we don’t?
Would life be more pleasant if we approached it as we do vacations? If we saw the “newness” of every moment instead of letting all that we have to get done and “deal with” weigh us down? Would we feel a bit less involved, and ready to just take in the experience, like we do when we’re abroad experiencing a new corner of the world?
I had a design teacher who approached life this way. She really inspired me, but I never told her. She had been a huge world traveler, and then life, kids, job, responsibilities, blablabla took over. But she told me that she made a conscious effort EVERY DAY to approach her permanent life in Montreal like a tourist.
She looked up, she looked down, she constantly approached her surroundings as if they were new. And even though it took some effort at first, eventually it became second-nature, and she was always filled with wonder at the “newness” of it all.
There was a permanent twinkle in her eyes. At the time I was convinced she drank before class. Now I get it.
Since I’m between holidays, I’ve been doing this too, without really trying. I’m filled with enthusiasm and love for my city and it’s like I’m seeing it with fresh eyes, taking in all the little things I tend to overlook when my head is down and I’m just trying to get to the next place I HAVE to be.
Instead of sniffling over all the things I miss about India (which are many), I’m instead taking pleasure in what’s HERE, in front of me. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, things are expensive. Yes, it’s gray, black and white, and the beach is far away. But small things like going to the market to buy cheese, the smell of popcorn in the movie theater and really rich, fatty food in a good restaurant are special too. My family may be loud and kinda neurotic, but I have loved spending Xmas with them, neuroses and all.
Real life isn’t perfect, and it can’t be as escapist as a vacation inherently is. The grass always seems greener on the other side. But if we stop looking for the colour we don’t see, and appreciating the palette we have, we can make up new shades by playing around with what’s in front of us. We just have to stop more often to smell the roses. Or build a snowman, if the garden is temporarily unavailable.
Maybe then, every day can be a holi-daze. And if it can’t, well… in the meantime, we can start planning our next holiday.