I was three days into a seven-day vacation in sunny Cozumel, Mexico with my sister Fran before I realized that I felt jittery and unsettled.Â I felt like a coin that kept perpetually spinning on its side, refusing to come to a stop. I couldnât relax. What was that all about? Heaven knows that relaxing on vacation is not something that has historically challenged me.
When employed, I’d leave my concerns about work, like my cats, back at home in the competent hands of others. To go on vacation meant that I worked harder prior to departing.Â And when I returned, unresolved issues would be waiting for me. It was a price that I was delighted to pay for periods of carefree time.
When my husband joined me to build our coaching business, we shifted into an easy rhythm of work and vacation time together. Â There is a unified exhalation of relief when our garage door closes and we are backing out of our driveway. By the time we are on the highway, three minutes from our home, we look at each other, laugh, and declare ourselves ‘on vacation.’Â And, as we drive away, I feel the day-to-day stresses of life and work disappear behind me.
Each morning on this recent trip to Cozumel, after exercising and enjoying the first repast of the day, Fran and I would change into our bathing suits and saunter down to the crystalline, white beach in front of our hotel. Â We looked like any of the many sun-birds seeking the perfect perch from which to soak in the mid-morning sunshine. After strategically choosing an ideal chaise lounge, from which to enjoy the sun, sea and surf, I began to empty my beach bag of the necessary accoutrements: sun block, sun hat, a Kindle filled with light reading.Â And, after straightening out my beach towel, and lathering my lily-white skin with maximum sun-block, I kicked back ready to relax. Â But relaxation eluded me.
I jumped up and pulled my chaise into the shade of a faux coconut hut, and I stretched out again. Maybe I need shade I thought. Within three minutes I was up again, pacing the beach. Whatâs going on here, I wondered. By lunch, I was ready to pick-up my towel, change into shorts, tee shirt and sandals and head out to the shops.Â Now shopping was an activity where I would feel no anxiety. The second day played out like the first, but by lunch on the third day, I had a break-through.
These are the thoughts that flashed into my awareness: You should be writing. You should be reading the white paper that you brought about e-books. It was that âstinking thinkingâ that was eating at me making me edgy. The source of my low-grade anxiety was all my thoughts that began with âYou shouldâŠâ
Aware that I was âshould-ing on myself,â I fought back: What I should be doing is relaxing and basking in the beauty that surrounds me now. What I should be doing is enjoying where I am right now.â I came here to relax, and relax I will.Â With that last internal declaration, my disquiet melted away. With that awareness and declaration, I was back on solid groundâI was in vacation mode!
After four and a half days of total relaxation, I returned home refreshed. Within a few days, however, a low-grade angst began to emerge again. I felt jittery and my mood slipped into resentment. What in heaven was going on here? It took only a few moments to reconnect with the nervousness that had plagued me on vacation, so I returned to the scene of the crimeâthe âshould-ing.â Was there something else that I neatly folded and packed in my suitcase as a should, then inadvertently carried back with me from Cozumel?
I thought that I had totally washed away that negative thinking, like salt from the ocean and watched it swirl down my shower drain, but here it was again.Â Or, was Â there a good reason that my mind couldnât find peace?Â What if the unease and the âstinking thinkingâ were symptoms of a more substantial issue? What if there was something chewing inside of me prior to the trip and the time apart made visible what my busyness was keeping at bay?Â Now, I had an internal excursion worth taking.
What this pause in life may have provided was the perfect environment to let the day-to-day demands of âlife as usualâ be pulled away. It provided a place to just âbe.â Â And, what I saw at the bottom of the sea of thoughts were not luminescent tropical fish, but the source of my anxiety. Should I be writing? Was writing still a source of nourishment for me? And, importantly, should I write a book?
To be a good writer, or for that matter, an okay writer, I need to work at it. I need to write every day. It doesn’t need to be a lot, and it doesn’t need to be brilliant, I just need to prime the pump so that words, rather than water, flow easily. It is essential. Itâs how I process life.Â In fact, Iâve been journaling for over thirty years. Itâs as important to my well-being as physical exercise, eating healthy foods and experiencing the quiet of nature.
When I write, I’m happy and time does fly. Thatâs a good thing because I am not one of those natural writers who sits down and produces masterpieces.Â I write, re-write, let it settle for a while, and then re-write again. I have others read it for flow, context, and proper syntax.Â Not for contentâthat is mine. And then there is the publication of it.Â It can take me another day just to find the appropriate photos to convey the tone of the piece. When it is done, it may have taken a week of work. And the truth is, I still love the creative process. So it is not writing or publishing the blog that is dragging on me. Whatâs left?
Lately the question of publishing a book has surfaced. People say to me: “Use your blogs and published them as an e-book,” or âI can’t wait until you write a book.”Â But, I’ve also sat with a publisher who told me that once something has been published on the web, it is not book material.Â I’m thinking that the anxiety that underlies my inability to relax has to do with the idea of publishing that type ofÂ book.Â Even as I write this, I feel a knot in my stomach form and tighten. Iâm getting close!
Because of this revelation, I knew that publishing a book is not right for me now. But I was still not clear as to why.Â A few days after the realization, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my best friend and spiritual director. During our visit, the conversation turned to where I was emotionally, and I was surprised by the level of frustration in my response.Â When asked what exactly I was frustrated about, the answer came crashing to the shore like a storm wave.Â “I just need to know what God is calling me to do.” Even as I blurted it out, another question arose to greet it. “What is God calling you to be?” Maybe this is not about doing, but about being.
Who I have been is someone who takes on othersâ suggestions as if they are mine.Â Instead of continuing that habit, I see that I am being called to be someone who trusts her own personal process; someone who understands that it is my precious process, and Iâm just where I need to beâin the unknowing. Who I ought to be is curious about what my heart is calling me to do and courageous enough not to take on othersâ hopes and desires for me.
Who I intend to be is someone who continues to feel my feelings and sensations and explores their relevance in my spiritual evolution. Â I will be patient and loving; I will be someone who holds my self and my process gently. The gift of experiencing and exploring anxiety is that there is always a life changing lesson to be learned from unfolding it!.