Vacation planning always feels like such a hopeful thing to do. We’ve been working all week to prepare to leave. Mike’s built a fabulous platform/storage box for our new-to-us vehicle. I’ve been working at my desk so I can leave with a clear conscience. At last, we’re nearly there. I’m in that halcyonic state of having only a few last minute things to do, knowing we’ll drive away in the morning with our most basic needs met. And to hell with the rest.
I view a vacation as a chance to attend to the things I love that sometimes get pushed aside in the rush and tenor of life at home. So my watercolors are coming along, and also my journal, so I will remember the most important parts of the trip. Penelope Lively’s book, Ammonites and Leaping Fish is in my bag. My guitar is packed, though my callouses have softened with neglect.
A particular state of mind is the most important thing I’ll be packing: I’ve resolved to attend this trip’s activities and places with mindfulness. I want to return home having fully experienced the journey, and with no regrets dragging me down.
Why do I almost always want that word to stand alone on the page? It’s as if stringing it together with other words takes away its impact. The word alone conjures up such moments of disengagement and sorrow. And yet how do we live without it? Opportunities for regret seem to be endless. Is it possible to set regret afire, reduce it to carbon and release it?
If a boulder of regrets weighs me down, I try to delve deep into the feeling, to notice its presence and trajectory, to practice letting go of it. Because I’m quite certain: looking back with regret is a sure formula for an unhappy, unfulfilled life. Sometimes I’m successful at letting go, sometimes not.
I was at the south rim last weekend for an afternoon workshop, which left me free to roam for a few hours in the morning. I walked along the rim for a while, to remember how small I am. I stood on the edge and watched the crowds gawk and check their cell phones. I imagined those people at the rim releasing their regrets into the abyss, and thought about how all the regrets in the world might just barely fill that vast space. Maybe wading through that sea of regrets is what makes trudging up from the river such a difficult journey for us mortals who don’t do it very often. (That, and maybe just a tiny bit of gravity.)
Bury this man there?
Here, here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form
Lightnings are loosened, stars come and go
Lofty designs must close in like effects
Leave him still loftier than the world suspects
Living and dying
In the face of eternity, regrets seem useless. They’re like retroactive worry, and coming from a family of world-class worriers, I can tell you that both worry and regret are terrible habits for enlightened living.
My wish is for this vacation not to be a break from life, but rather a reset of it: an opportunity to step back from daily routines and responsibilities, from the burden of possessions, and the seven million dandelions that have taken over the yard.
Especially when I’m away, I look forward to the rhythm of daily life coming into focus in a new place, in spite of the antsy-pants way I sometimes feel when I’m far from home. I live for those rare moments when the air and my mind are clear. I want to be bathed in the experience of a new place without my own neuroses taking hold, scattering the path with regret and worry.
Today the path seems clear, raked free of pine needles and piles of dandelions. The seeds still scatter in the wind, and will eventually make more weeds, but today I’ve gathered the rubbish into a basket, and tomorrow I’ll be on vacation. No regrets about that.