Right now, I’m in Maine on our annual vacation. Duncan (my husband) and I come up here once a year. He has been doing so since he was a child and I’ve been coming here with him for the last 15 years. It’s the one time of the year where we leave everything–our stresses, concerns, chores, work responsibilities–at home. Or try to.
There is one thing I don’t want to leave behind though, and that is my meditation practice. How can you bring your meditation practice on the road with you (if you so desire)? Here are some of the things I try to do.
1. Decide how much time you’d like to spend on your practice while away. As much as possible, determine in advance how and when you can bring your practice into your vacation life. For me, it’s easy because we always come to the same place and I know how the days flow and where in the house I’m likely to find a peaceful meditation spot. But I know I’m not going to keep up with my normal practice schedule (although you might want to do just that), so I made the decision to sit for 10 minutes a day with my husband. We do this at home anyway and, under normal circumstances, I go back and do more practice when he leaves for work. For our vacation, we decided to keep up with our practice time together. (Duncan is not a Buddhist, nor a student of spirituality in any formal sense. That we sit together is a lovely gesture of respect and love from him to me and I appreciate it so much.) If your normal practice is 10 minutes per day and you would like to keep it up when you’re away, please do. If you think that might be too much, try 5 minutes a day or 10 minutes every other day. Conversely, you could think that since you’re free of normal daily constraints, you’d like to experiment with longer sits while on vacation, say 20 or 30 or 60 minutes. Go for it! The point is to decide in advance, even if your decision is to forego practice altogether while on vacation.
2. Designate a spot for your practice. If your vacation is taking you somewhere you’ve never been before (like a hotel or a friend’s house), figure it out as best you can. If you have the space and inclination, setting up a small shrine area can really help you focus your practice. If this isn’t possible, do your practice in bed before you get up. Or, if you’ll be traveling a bunch by train or plane, designate travel time as your practice spot. If you have room, bring your meditation cushion, although this is not necessary. In our case, since we were going to be in one house for a week, I knew I wanted to set up a little shrine. I brought our cushions (easy, since we were traveling by car) and a photo of my teacher (which reminds me that I am a grateful student). I found a candle in the house and placed it on a table in a spare room, along with a photo of my husband as a boy, together with his parents and siblings. This place is soaked in his lineage! I feel great love for his family and wanted to include them on our shrine as a gesture of respect.
3. Try to keep up the connection, even if you don’t formally practice. If you decide that you won’t practice at all until you get home, think about bringing a dharma book with you and reading a page or a paragraph or a few words per day until you return. I’m not suggesting this because I’m some kind of meditation bully, but because it is so helpful and useful to touch in, even briefly, with the spaciousness and receptivity of your own mind. Even a momentary flash is very, very practical. Else, when you return to your practice, it is like returning to exercise after an absence. First, there is always resistance and procrastination (for like 99.9% of all humans) and second, there is a sort of inflexibility, no matter how brief, before you settle back in to your efforts. So it’s just sort of utilitarian to keep the connection going on a regular basis.
The last thing I’ll say on this topic is that, sure, vacations are wonderful. For those who are lucky enough to be able to take one, it’s a very fortunate occurrence and we should be grateful and use the time to really relax and let go. However, there is a difference between letting go and falling apart; between opening and expanding–and collapsing. The key is discipline. When we maintain our basic habits of human decency–taking care of our bodies, keeping our environment clean and allowing our minds to remain soft and open–true relaxation can occur. Just as I know I’m not going to stop brushing my teeth or going for a bit of a run in the mornings, when I bring my practice with me, I feel clean and good and in a position to allow my mind to relax, not just my body. Then it is a real vacation.
Hope this helps and I wish you many deeply wonderful respites from the pace and stress of daily life that enable you to truly rest, body and mind.
In honor of vacations and shorter practice times, here is a 5 minute sit.
In honor of vacations and longer practice times, here is a 20 minute sit!