A time to reflect

Some lessons I learned on vacation

Summer cocktail (photo credit: Courtesy)
Summer cocktail
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, I think to myself, as I remember heading back to school at the beginning of September with my essay titled, “What I did for my summer vacation.”
How I wish that I was asked for this essay now. This year’s summer vacation was truly wonderful and I really have something to talk about – especially since it didn’t require leaving the country! The dictionary defines vacation as “a specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism; a period of time devoted to pleasure, rest or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee.” Our specific trip this summer was indeed a journey – traveling so far while staying so near, and if “pay” includes non-monetary rewards, it met all of the above criteria and more.
We decided to live in the Old City of Jerusalem for an entire week, attending a program which each day provided full mornings of learning followed by three to four hours of walking through history in the afternoon. Since the program also provided us with healthy lunches, a halla bake, a bonfire – complete with roasted marshmallows – and all of our Shabbat meals, I can say that it truly fed both the body and the soul. The participants included a handful of singles and married couples ranging from their mid-30s to retirees, along with a group of twentysomethings fresh from their Birthright trips. Age turned out to be irrelevant on this journey, and so did religious or political affiliation, place of birth or current residence.
It seemed we all had much more to learn from each other on a deeper level. Arriving with little in common with the exception of a keen desire to learn, our diversity made us look like cast members of a reality TV show.
We all signed on to a program that promised us that we would “enjoy seven life-changing days” in which to “explore Jewish spirituality.” What had I done with my precious hard-earned week of vacation, I thought to myself, as the time drew nearer? Had I gone insane? If I was unhappy, I knew I could leave, but the program came very highly recommended by people whom I trusted completely. Leave? With each passing day I loved it more. My sadness peaked when I realized I would have to go back home, go to work and reenter my everyday world, which to my great amazement, I had truly managed to set aside for a full week. It felt just like it did when summer camp ended, back when I was young.
Sometimes, what we really need the most is right there in front of our eyes, but unless we are really open to it, we just don’t “see” it. My requirements for this vacation were minimal – I wanted to recharge my batteries in the healthiest and most basic way possible. I knew that my fuel supply was close to empty. I work hard: on a daily basis I deal with much grief and sadness as well as misplaced values, and I frequently hear about people who just don’t “get it.” The past year has been a good one, but difficult nonetheless in many ways. I could have run off to play in another country, but as a therapist I knew what I really needed was to find the time for self-reflection, leave behind technology and create appreciation for the non-material. So while I realize that topics such as “Secrets to Personal Freedom” and the “Art of Happiness” may sound abstruse and may not be for everyone, a return to simplicity and the basics in life sounded like just what this doctor ordered! Returning from my reinvigorating vacation, here are some of the lessons that I was reminded of: 1. Look for the positive in people. If you can’t find something nice to say, then say nothing at all.
2. Don’t allow your fears to paralyze you – mobilize instead.
3. The more absorbed we are in our fears, the less energy we have for what is truly important.
4. The beliefs you hold are the foundation for the world you construct. They can either constrain you or open up your life to a world of endless possibilities. What you believe determines what you perceive, and in turn what you receive.
5. Happiness is something we choose. Life is a journey. When we start out, we never really know just what our final destination will be, who will join us along the way, how we will get there or what detours we will take. Sometimes we are so focused on the destination that we forget to live in the moment and enjoy all the blessings along the way. It’s the journey and not the destination that matters.
6. In our information-driven world, knowledge can be life-changing, but only when you recognize what is truly important and make it relevant to your life.
7. In order to feel good about anything, you must first feel good about yourself. The rest flows naturally.
8. The more you think it is impossible to experience miracles, the harder it is to experience them.
9. Faith, in a spiritual sense or in yourself, can be a tremendous force in your life, and will help determine how you see your world and how you overcome your challenges.
10. Your challenges can be a vehicle for growth.
11. You are responsible for weaving the tapestry of your own life. How you choose to live your life, your thoughts and feelings, as well as what you say and what you do, all contribute to how you experience your world and derive a sense of joy from it.
12. You have an incredible opportunity to incorporate meaning into every aspect of your life.
How you choose to do this is up to you.
13. Take time to look inward and reflect. It will be time well spent. Get to know, love, honor and respect yourself because this is the key for loving others.
As we begin a new year, what better time to reflect, recharge your batteries and become inspired.
If you really want to have a vacation, spend some time with yourself.
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. Send correspondence to ludman@netvision.net.il or visit www.drbatyaludman.com. Ludman has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000, and her book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships, Resolving Conflicts, was recently published.