The Imagination Project...

creating epic shifts in personal awareness

Why Vacations Leave Me Empty

By Linda Haley

There was a time when a week off from work meant a week baking on a Florida beach.  The only variation to this standardized template was which beach, which brand of tanning lotion, and which drink to have nearby.   My most prized souvenir was the lobster-red burn that declared to the world that I had just returned from someplace exotic.  (Of course, you always wore white tops when you returned to work to emphasize your souvenir.)

My exotic locales were never more interesting than the Gulf Coast of Florida or, if I felt adventurous, Hilton Head.  I'm not sure why, but I never considered a beach in Texas.  There probably were lovely beaches there, but I had my standardized template to follow.

And then there was the drinking.  All the commercials showed cool people laughing with their beer in the pool, on the beach, in the living room.  If beer was cool, then bourbon must be even cooler.

The template started to get small cracks in it when my traveling partner and I no longer traveled together.   I could have gone by myself or vacationed with a new vacation buddy but that shift would have thrown me into a paradigm that I didn't consider.   Then came the scare of two pre-cancerous skin lesions.  Wasn't the sun's vitamin D supposed to be healthy?  A bright red glow to my skin felt cool and sexy.  Two surgical scars felt like such a betrayal. 

The cracks got wider when I realized that I really didn't enjoy drinking anymore, even if it was on the beach with all the cool kids.  An especially wild evening in Naples with my new buddy Jim Beam led to an emotional break-up the next morning.  That would be a relationship that was gone forever. 

The truth hit me at some point that I was bored with the template that had been so familiar but ultimately so unfulfilling.  Beach, drink, shop, eat, beach, drink, shop, eat.  I didn't need any more clothes, I didn't enjoy the drinking, I lost patience with sand in my swim suit, and I was gaining weight.  Beach, drink, shop, eat just wasn't working for me anymore.  It felt a little lonely to not follow the familiar path, especially since I didn't have anywhere else to go.

My new husband (and exceptionally fun traveling partner) and I had a brilliant brainstorm one day almost 20 years ago: we deserved to have the most marvelous adventure of our life.  No beach vacation for us.  We would travel the world and discover the mysteries of truly glamorous locales we had only heard about. The planning was all-consuming for this inaugural trip.

Two weeks prior to our departure, two planes flew into the World Trade Center and the world was thrown into chaos.

We had three weeks scheduled off work and suddenly every one of our plans was as shattered as the buildings, the airplanes and the lives of the thousands who tragically died that day.  Even if the airports were to eventually re-open, I couldn't leave what I perceived as the safety of the States.  I couldn't take my eyes off the carnage on the TV and couldn't stop crying at the insanity.

Everything had changed on that day.  Nothing was safe anymore.  Nothing made sense.  No one anticipated the many ways we would be personally impacted by fears of future terrorism, rampant paranoia, or the new Homeland Security color code ("Today's color threat is ORANGE!")

I think that something also changed in me on that day.  I started to look at the world in a different way.  It wasn't enough to live in the moment, e.g. beach, drink, shop, eat.  I was driven to better appreciate every moment.  I needed to understand how one person's moment could either positively impact the world or leave it an emptier place.  And where did I fit into this equation?

We started a 3-week camping tour of North America.  We visited the Oklahoma City Murrah Building Memorial, silently staring at the 168 empty chairs and plaque memorializing "the deadliest attack on American soil" six years earlier.  We honored sacred sites within Native communities.  We marveled at landscapes which defied description.  We toured Canadian archeological digs where teams of scientists were deciphering Earth's mysteries.

It seemed like a random event (but is there really such a thing?) when I discovered that a well-known author, southern France and a discussion of Mary Magdalene after Jesus' crucifixion all would converge in a 10-day package.  The concept of a spiritual pilgrimage completely eluded me, as did the trip's intended purpose to connect each person to a higher level of meaning and purpose.  I was pretty sure it was an adventure with some study time thrown in. 

I would be slowly shaken to my core.  I struggled to comprehend the paths of pilgrims who dedicated their lives to their beliefs.  I wondered how builders' faiths were revealed in the construction of shrines, chapels and magnificent cathedrals.  I began to feel the resolve and terror of those who understood that they would be persecuted for their certainty.  Maybe I was psychically channeling the unrelenting emotion saturated in each site, or perhaps I was connecting to something waking up deep inside myself.  All I knew was that I couldn't understand why I spent much of each day wildly veering between deep introspection and a persistent sadness.

I was staring into a mirror reflecting my own beliefs, and I couldn't see the image.

This clearly wasn't a vacation, yet it became one of the most defining events of my life.  There was little about it that was relaxing, yet it filled a part of my soul that I previously hadn't even known was empty.  I didn't understand what had happened to me and was incapable of finding words to capture the confusion.  I was living a life filled to the top with a collection of things, with a daily calendar of tasks to be ticked off, with people who bumped into my life like a pinball machine.  The guideposts of what was known and comfortable were taken away and I wasn't sure what was left.

All I knew was that the trajectory for my life and an emerging belief system had been forever altered.  I didn't know who I was anymore, but I was given insight into who I was becoming.  I needed more training.

In the years that followed, my husband and I studied Celtic Shamanism at 5,000 year old monoliths, visited Native American sacred sites, and spent a week in Assisi to understand how St. Francis' 13th century beliefs are just as relevant in today's chaotic world.  We attended conferences explaining the Tibetan concept of the rainbow body, Egyptian ascension rituals, and the piety of the Gnostic Gospels of the Essenes and early Christians.  We visited temples sacred to the Mayan.  I read everything I could find on spiritual development.  And we experienced the collision of quiet reflection on a secluded Italian mountain retreat, followed the next day by the overwhelming excesses of the Vatican Museum, filled to capacity with gold-plated artifacts and far too many tourists.

Perhaps this was a gentle awakening which comes with the eventuality of aging.  The energy of youth is designed to navigate life's lessons.  Those of us who have already mastered the How of life are often now focused on the Why.  Why is purpose important?  Why do we seek union with others who have similar questions?  Why do we even have those questions?

I've also changed in other subtle but perceptible ways.  I no longer read fiction or watch TV shows that don't seem to have a positive message.  It feels like abuse of precious time.  I just can't do a relaxing getaway anymore without including something that adds depth or meaning.  I don't connect to the appeal of scary or violent movies.  I'm less rock n' roll and more light jazz, or more often silence.  Alcohol makes me physically sick.  And I feel a deeper connection to those who are on a similar path, as though our souls are united on a common yet unspoken endeavor.

Many of those who have known and loved me for countless years are baffled by the shift.  But how could they understand when they haven't shared my experiences and I can't begin to communicate why I am different?  Sometimes we know that we must travel on separate paths; sometimes we share the same path we've traveled for so long with the awareness there are differences.  As much as I gather my new experiences, I also must release with some sadness parts of the other me that no longer fit into the puzzle. 

With every new layer and experience, I realize that my beliefs are continuing to evolve.  Some of those beliefs align with orthodoxy, but many do not.  And that's OK with me.  And as those beliefs continue to silently form and percolate to the surface, I hope that I will have the courage of a pilgrim to live those beliefs.   Heretics may no longer be publicly flogged or crucified but seeking acceptance will always be a uniquely human trait.

I realize, too, that the list of places I want to visit and better understand is far longer than the amount of time I might have, but that's also OK.  Because I still haven't seen Texas, beaches or otherwise.  

Linda Haley - Featured Writer Bio

Linda Haley is the founder and executive director of The Reiki Center for Healing Arts, Columbus, Ohio.  

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