Last month I bought a 30-day trial to a new drop-in meditation den in an effort to relax a little more. It was a difficult winter. I needed to – as the kids don’t say – take a chill pill.
The meditation classes were lovely, as was the dimly-lit, delicious-smelling space. They had really fancy pillows for your legs and back. It was right next to a cold-pressed juice spot, three doors down from a coffee shop and five from a wine bar with a killer happy hour. I even joined at the same time as my friend Julie making it a delightful social outing for us both – or what would have been if I went more than three times in 30 days…
The location was a little too far. The parking was tricky. I had trouble scheduling the sessions in with other work and play. And, and maybe most importantly, I didn’t enjoy the practice. It stressed me out.
Relaxation and I have a challenging relationship. We’re kind of like unrequited lovers if one has desperately wanted the other for decades but has not a single concept of how to make it work and the other is relaxation.
To be clear, I do lots of things to try and relax. Yoga of every variety under the Class Pass sun. Deepak Chopra and Oprah meditation podcasts (here’s my story on how those usually go….) HGTV viewing marathons. Mani/pedis – and at the same time so you can’t even sit there and scroll through your phone!
But am I really relaxing during all this relaxing?
If 30 minutes away from my typical pace of 120 miles per 30 minutes is relaxing then yes.
The problem is that it’s not relaxing in a way that I actually find calming, soothing or re-energizing. I’m just picking things off a 10 Ways To Relax in 30 Minutes! listicle (which exists but I can’t link to it here out of principal). I’m not A. figuring out what is relaxing to me, specifically and/or B. allowing myself to relax when my body is telling me I need it, not when I’m slotting it into an otherwise jam-packed day.
What would you want to do with a totally free day? my therapist recently asked.
I don’t even know, I said.
I have about as complicated a relationship with productivity as I do relaxation. Everything is done in the pursuit of some kind of output, even relaxing. I’m not trying to find calm because my body wants it; I’m relaxing because I’ve pushed myself to a place where if I don’t find a way to relax, I’ll collapse – my body needs it. Relaxation isn’t joy; it’s another form of work – done so I can do more work.
So what’s the fix?
Trick question. There isn’t one fix. That’s the whole point of this post! But here’s something to start with:
I can discover what brings me joy.
I know that makes me sound like the cover of a Real Simple magazine, but it’s legit. Think of it this way: things that bring me joy make my body feel and focus on that joy so I’m pulled away from the churning of my otherwise productivity obsessed day. Case in point: I love to read. Usually, though, I make myself read something as part of another project – a book about TV writing, a novel I might want to emulate my own against, a series of articles about how to be better at meditating.
But if I could read something just for fun, what would it be? I didn’t even know when first asked the question. I couldn’t even identify something I wanted just for enjoyment sake. And so I walked to Barnes & Noble on Monday (because I love to walk as much as I love to read) and browsed around until I settled on a book that I wanted to read. And get this – it’s a book I’ve already read TWICE. What a total and complete waste of time, right??
Except that for the past three days, every time I’ve sat down to read a chapter of this book – The Secret History by Donna Tart – I have felt totally delighted and very relaxed.
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