I started writing this column at the Spokane International Airport and finished it on a flight from Amsterdam to Greece.
Normally it takes me days to write. I start with an outline and chip away at it until I find time to sit, undistracted. Most times that happens at my home office, with my dog at my feet; other times at a coffee shop or restaurant with a comforting chatter in the air that helps me focus.
However, I’ve been unusually swamped these past few weeks preparing for this trip and grading papers.
I’ve always been good at being busy. In college a family friend gave me the book, “The Art of Doing Nothing,” in hopes that I’d learn to slow down and make time for myself.
Now I’m flying to the Mediterranean where I’ll be spending three weeks with 19 Washington State University journalism students and within walking distance to the waterfront and cafes.
Someone asked me what I’m going to do in my free time there. I responded by listing off the items on my to-do list.
Deadlines and research and class prep don’t stop just because I’m traveling. But the message from that book – that “being” can be more compelling than “doing” – isn’t lost. I’ve just been slow to embrace it.
I got my first job when I was 14 and went on to finish undergraduate school in three years because staying busy was a way to escape from a difficult childhood. In time, though, work became an addiction.
Until I moved to Washington state (10 years ago now), I’d never taken a day off. I worked on the weekends and never called in sick or took a vacation. I remember bringing my laptop with me almost everywhere, just in case something work-related came up – as if being a religion reporter was that urgent.
Then in 2015 one of my best friends convinced me to go on a backpacking trip.
Nature has always been my sanctuary. This was hard to turn down, but it meant no Wi-Fi, no email, no editing SpokaneFāVS.com in the morning over coffee.
I took three days off, and came back with my thoughts clearer and deeper. I didn’t know my consciousness needed healing.
I go backpacking every summer now.
Most religions teach rest is sacred.
There’s something to the Sabbath, however we choose to approach it. Rest is a way to recharge our brains and hearts. I like what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches about it: “As we rest from our usual daily activities, our minds are freed to ponder spiritual matters.”
So even though I’ll be powering through some of my to-do list while in Greece, I have found ways to find some repose. I’m leaving SpokaneFāVS in the hands of people I trust. I rented a road bike and hope to venture out on some hikes here. Best of all, though, after my class ends I’ll be taking a week vacation in another part of Europe with no work at all on my plate.
Work will always be important to me, but by depending on it entirely I’m denying myself from living in the present.
The late Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “… many people around us, they live the daily life but they’re not truly alive. They always run. They are not capable of dwelling in the present moment and touching the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now.”
I don’t need to run to work for healing anymore. I’m ready to live.
Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of SpokaneFāVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.