Tomorrow I am going to a cottage in the Lake District for two weeks of renewal. I like this term renewal. My dictionary gives one definition of renew as “give fresh life or strength to”. At the monastery we use the term to refer to any periods of time when we are free of our usual duties and can choose how to spend our time. The term was chosen, I believe, to point to how such time is to be most wisely used. It encourages one to tune it to what this bodymind needs to do to refresh itself. It could be almost anything, from a good long walk (plenty of opportunity for that where I’m going!) to occupying oneself with an art or craft that gives a focus and exercises a skill, or reading, gardening, even sleeping if that is what is really needed.
I used to wonder sometimes what it is that makes work different from any other activity. I read recently that a survey that was designed to discover under what conditions optimal experiences occurred – optimal experience being the times that people felt most happy, satisfied, creative, concentrated – discovered that although people reported the desire to spend less time at work and more time in leisure activities, most of their optimal experiences occurred at work. The researchers made two conclusions. One is that people are so immersed in the cultural stereotype of work as an imposition and limitation on their freedom that they don’t pay attention to the evidence of their senses. The second conclusion was that leisure activities, in reality, often consisted of collapsing in front of the TV for hours on end, providing no opportunity for using skills that are creative and satisfying.
So if we are approaching work as, for example, something distasteful that is to be gotten through, it may well be our own concept of work that is making the experience less than satisfactory. And when we do get free time to choose what we will do, we would do well to put some effort into making it a time of renewal by engaging in an activity that inspires and refreshes us, rather than dropping onto the couch and switching off into mindless distraction.
Back in a fortnight!