Vacation….one simple word that conjures up thoughts of sleeping late, lazy days, and for me, time away from cell phones, computers, text messaging and email. This year, as my vacation approached, I became more and more focused on the idea of relaxing and, as I told a friend, “doing nothing in particular.” The idea of “doing nothing” seemed irresistible. So, the day finally came and I began my vacation. Sleeping late and just hanging out. Sounds like a winner, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I awoke at the same time I do on most days. So much for that! I got a latte and read the paper, checked the weather and then….I found myself thinking about work, thinking about my to-do list and wondering whether I should just peek at my email. Trying to resist the urge, I turned to flipping TV channels but found myself wondering what was happening at the office. By late afternoon, I was exhausted! My anxiety was stoking and I had to wonder what was happening. I was on vacation! Or was I? Turns out, the act of “doing nothing” took more effort than I realized. Maybe I needed to rethink the plan. I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. Along the way, I came across a beautiful clearing and stopped to rest. I sat down and listened to…silence. I became acutely aware of my body beginning to relax and my mind beginning to clear. I became aware of the thoughts that were stoking my anxiety. In that moment, I realized I wasn’t “doing nothing”. I was actively engaged in being still. I’d forgotten how good that could feel.
That experience reminded me of a line from the movie “The Karate Kid”. In it, Mr. Han says “being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” We are socially conditioned to be “on” or “doing” as evidence of our productivity. For individuals who are highly conditioned to be “doers”, the very thought of being still can be quite uncomfortable. Doing nothing suggests being non-productive; it is an avoidance behavior that generally involves activities that distract us from being aware of our feelings or thoughts. On its surface, being still looks very much like doing nothing. On the contrary, being still is an active process of mindfully stepping back and remaining in the moment. It is in that stillness where we are able to notice our feelings and thoughts which in turn fuels motivation. Research in this area is finding that mindfulness, meditation and the act of being still produce specific changes in our brains that are healing and rejuvenating.
As counselors, we spend so much time caring for others that we sometimes put our wellness needs aside. My vacation experience was a kind of “a-ha” moment. I’d gotten away from engaging in behaviors that relax and rejuvenate me. Have you had an “a-ha” moment related to your wellness practices? I suspect that being still is as much science as art. It’s a skill to be learned and mindfully practiced. How do you practice being still? What do you do to relax and rejuvenate? Armed with my rediscovered awareness, I am on a quest to improve my ability to be still. I want that feeling again!
Dawn Ferrara is a counselor in private practice and clinical manager for a community-based children’s mental health program. Her areas of interest include disaster mental health counseling, lifestyle management, and counselor wellness.