Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.
Rest and relaxation should not simply be part of an annual summer excursion. For long-term benefits, we need to build small breaks into our everyday life and make it sustainable.
We travel, initially to lose ourselves; and we travel next, to find ourselves ~ Pico Iyer
What I Think About On Holiday
The pitter-patter of rain woke me up. The room was circular, unfamiliar. What time was it? My faithful phone, which had been struggling to find a signal since we had arrived at this little paradise in the mountains of Uttarakhand three days ago, told me it was 4:20. It would be dark outside, and wet. I snuggled back under the warm covers.
An hour later, bright streaks of dawn light sneaked in through the window that offered a direct view of the Himalayas. On the previous day, I had seen the tops of Trishul, Nanda Devi and other peaks in the far distance. I hugged my cold arms around my chest, slid the curtain across the glass pane, and stood transfixed.
From the steep drop that began at the edge of the property outside my window and all the way across the wide valley, frothy white clouds churned upwards in continuous waves. The nearest mountain range, its surface dotted with dark green pine trees, was visible in the distance. The view kept changing as the fog danced and galloped, thinned and disappeared as fresh new waves jumped upwards to take their place.
The External Reset
It has been more than two years since my last visit to India. Unlike previous trips filled chock-a-block with people to meet and things to do, this time I had deliberately planned a week-long break in between two busy phases to park myself in a quiet estate far from civilization. Two friends with whom I had previously traveled to Turkey and Morocco, had graciously agreed to go along on this low-key holiday in the hills.
The pandemic has not only changed how we work but also how we travel and what we prioritize. In the three decades since my first flight from India, the world has gotten smaller, travel more affordable, and connectivity has improved. As a new empty-nester, I assumed this ease would improve my chances of exploring new territories. But as the pandemic continued well into the second year, I felt the need for an urgent reset, both internally and externally.
We make plans based on assumptions; about us and about the world around us, until something jolts us out of our lethargy. It doesn’t take much – a job loss, a health scare, or a little virus capable of causing global havoc. But life, like the constantly changing clouds outside my window, is ephemeral and always changing.
The Internal Reset
I write this column seated on a quaint window seat with a ringside view of nature at her best. Dark clouds loom overhead and pour their contents at brief intervals as if on a predetermined schedule. Cotton candy clouds rise upwards from the valley, coalescing and splitting apart in response to an unseen rhythm. The snow-clad peaks remain hidden from view. I take a deep breath as I try to memorize this scene – what I see and what I feel, hoping to prolong the moment.
Isn’t this the reason we travel?
To briefly dispel the monotony of our boring routine. To create an artificial break from familiar sights and everyday struggles. To build a small intermission in the movie of our lives that seems to be like an out-of-control car speeding on a highway paved with unending to-do lists.
It has taken two full days for my body to acclimatize to the pace of hill life. Not just to the altitude and the accompanying cooler temperatures but to this new way of being. I don’t have to (and can’t) reply instantaneously to emails or micro-manage the details of daily life in faraway Singapore. Unconnected, unable to look up information on demand and uninterested in the ways of the wide world outside, I am forced to be with myself in the present.
Have the long distance from home or the lower density of people or the fewer demands on my attention (including the limitations of my mobile phone) slowed the hummingbird-like flapping of my mind?
Occasionally I feel the prick of separation, of the forced disconnection and inability to instantly respond, but I know the withdrawal pangs will recede. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Work and Rest Go Hand in Hand
I fantasize about bottling up this feeling of calm that has settled into my bones and using it as needed when I am back in familiar surroundings. This time my hillside vacation has been a welcome respite for my tired, exhausted self. How can I use the benefits that have accrued from this short period of rest as a preventive measure for those times when I can’t get away?
Work and rest go hand in hand. We tend to see work deadlines as rigid and unmovable while holidays as flexible and amenable to postponement. Soon, that becomes our default mode of operation. Without the soothing feedback loop that rest and relaxation offer, the hamster wheel of life starts spinning faster until we fall off, exhausted, injured or simply burnt out.
Even breathing, the most life-sustaining activity that we involuntarily engage in, has a small pause built-in.
The Pause Sets The Pace
The pause sets the pace – whether it is in preparation for an acute stressful activity or for the long run that demands stamina. Sportspersons know this.
In music, it is the space between the notes that determines the melody. Musicians know this.
For any work of art, the white space is as important as the one that is occupied by brushstrokes. Artists know this.
Perhaps it’s time ordinary mortals awaken to this simple truth. Spacing out our activities is the simplest way to elevate our energy. While going away on holidays is a great idea, for long-term benefit, it’s best to make the idea sustainable by incorporating manageable chunks that fit into our daily life.
I know I’m on to a good idea. All I need to do is to figure out how to market my current feeling of well-being into bite-sized bits.
Images: Ranjani Rao