In the Vedas, the oldest known Indian religious texts, it says, “Go find a quiet place.” This admonition occurs in the context of what you must do to know God. It is noteworthy that what it does not say is to go to a temple, the places in which the Gods were worshiped in ancient India.
Ayurveda, which is from the youngest of the four “Vedas” (these religious texts, somewhat like the Talmud of rabbinic Judaism, address topics from religion to agriculture to marriage to music to medicine) defines itself as the science of life; it describes, among many things, how to live in a way that will prevent disease and maximize health, happiness, wellness, and longevity.
One of my Ayurvedic teachers, Robert Svoboda, describes how while in the modern world, thanks to improved sanitation, we are free of many infectious diseases that plagued us in the past (though we trade up for increased auto-mimmune disorders in the process, as the immune system has to attack something, so in lieu of bugs it attacks our own tissues) on the other hand our humanity has been stripped by automation and deadlines. To which i would add schedules that have no relationship to the world of nature, which, like it or not, we are part of.
Think:working 9-5 regardless of the season, or having to get that report done by 2 p.m. Thursday. This puts us into very fixed and linear relationships with time, as opposed to the cyclical relationship that a farmer experiences, also potentially stressful, no doubt, of having to get the rice planted urgently during the pause between the rains.
Obviously we cannot all be farmers in the 16th century, or hunter-gathers. Obviously there are trade offs. But we can be honest about the differences, and about what is lost, as well as gained by the modern way of living. What is wrong as well as what is right.
In India, even the poorest peasants take vacations. There they call them pilgrimages. They walk by foot, in solidarity with larger groups of pilgrims, to famous temples, which are generally in lovely rural areas. For us in the west, pilgrimages are a relic of the middle ages, Lourdes, Canterbury, etc. Some of us make regular pilgrimages to places like Las Vegas or the Viejas Casino. But according to the Vedas what you must do to recharge your spiritual battery is go to a quiet place, so that you yourself can become quiet.
It is interesting to me, living in the USA, the response I sometimes get when I take 3 weeks off to go on a pilgrimage to the forest, a sort of disbelief that I am willing to leave my business for so long, or jealously, or horror. “What will you do?” “You are going alone?”
But time off from work is an integral part of being human, of retaining your humanity in a world that is so filled with mechanical and plastic things. Time off from work, if spent wisely, enables you to get back into touch with your deeper self, the self that you really have to repress in some ways, in order to operate according to arbitrary notions of time that have little relationship with the natural world.
I became especially aware of how our method of time reckoning is out of sync with the natural world when i thought about how it obscures our relationship to the moon. That is why the occurrence of the new moon and full moon in our solar monthly calender keeps changing, and the holidays of lunar calenders are not fixed.
I have an old Afghani friend, Mr. Zia. He was describing to me once a lovely experience he had had on the Nile river, on a boat, under a full white moon, in which they grilled fresh river fish. It was a very fond memory. He was on vacation. He began his story, “once, when the moon was 14….” That was how this man, who is from Herat, the second city of Afghanistan, but who grew up in a much more agrarian culture reckoned time, directly in relationship with a natural movement. He did not need to look at his calender watch or check the newspaper; he just looked up at the sky.
I recently watched a middle eastern movie from the 50’s in which a woman and her two daughters are renting a little house from a kind landlord, and they don’t yet have the money to pay. He says, don’t worry, when the moon becomes full, you can bring me what money you have earned.
When you get away from automatic MTWTHFSS living, in which 24/7 everything is the same, “we never close,” …you have a chance to reset your nervous system, to quiet down, to reassess, to start replacing bad habits with better ones. If you go alone to a quiet place, you also get a chance for your anxieties and fears to bubble up to the surface so you can face them. You go into the forest to slay the dragon. You can’t slay the dragon without facing him.
Its a question of trying to create as much balance as possible. Work, rest, play, meditation, contemplation. The ratios depend on your personality. Some people are warriors, some are philosophers, some are workers, some are merchants. But in the best of worlds, even the warriors are capable of a little philosophy (in fact everyone has a philosophy of living, they may just not stop to consider that they do or what it is), and the philosophers keep a sword on the wall above the fireplace.
When I was in Forks, a logging town on a plain in the Olympic Peninsula recently, this woman I was having a conversation with, Mrs. Olsen, who is not “book learned,” from a farming and logging family, said to me, “well, everything always changes, nothing stays the same,” as she laughed. I smiled and replied, “well, I guess you are a Buddhist then.” And there it is. I grew up in a well educated urban family, and that simple truth I had to travel far to learn. Did Mrs. Olsen make this wise observation from living out in the rurals, as they say in Belize?
One of the biggest challenges for us humans is to recognize that things do always change, and to recognize that love is bigger than fear. And by that i mean that negative responses to our fear of change (and the possibility for loss that change implies..of course it also involves gain, if you choose to see it that way) involve disease-forming hardness, anger, rigidity. But Love is a softener. Cultivating love for ourselves and others helps us flow better with change. But that is a larger subject for another time.
Anyone can and should, according to Ayurveda, continually step back from their life and look at the picture being painted, the changes taking place, just as a painter steps back from his creation to get a perspective beyond the details she is lost in. Its your painting. How do you want it to look?
Time away from your normal distractions of work and media (don’t bring you smart phone, i-pad, etc) creates a clear open space that can serve as a corrective to determine what is worth holding on to, what is wise to let go off, etc. That is an integral part of medicine and healing.