On the first night of my two-week solitary retreat away from family, friends and the dog, my sister called to wish me well.
“What are you planning to do on your first day?” she asked.
“I’m thinking I’ll take sunrise photos at 7,” I said. “I’ll cook a hot breakfast at 8, go for a beach walk at 9 and meditate at 10. At 11, I’ll study Thich Nhat Hanh. At 12, I’ll make a healthy lunch. I’ll eat mindfully at 1, do some writing at 2, take photos of beach life at 3, practice yoga at 4, and after that, I’ll start a four-course dinner designed to support optimal health and well-being.”
“I thought you went there to rest,” my sister said.
“This is rest,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
I hung up the phone and realized that my sister was right. My friend generously offered me this beach getaway because she knew I needed a break from my 24/7 calendar-driven life. The schedule I laid out for my sister sounded like the same calendar, only with shells.
I called my sister back.
“Maybe I could watch just a few episodes of ‘Friends’?” I said.
Her answer was an emphatic “Yes!”
It’s not as if I haven’t done anything meaningful during the seven days I’ve been here thus far. I’ve walked on the beach and taken hundreds of contemplative photos of shells, birds and sunrises. I’ve practiced yoga, cooked whole, healthy foods and meditated on the beach. I’ve read the great philosophers; journaled about gratitude; and basked in meaningful, one-on-one phone conversations with each of my family members while gazing at the sea. I have managed, even, to quiet and calm myself enough to make it through the night without running into the dark screaming, “Help me! I’m alone!”
I have also engaged in what my teen-aged son calls “binge-watching.”
For the first time ever in the history of me, I have gorged on “Friends,” “The Waltons” and “Downton Abbey” without worrying that (a) one of my children is going to role-model my sluglike behavior; (b) my husband is going to quip that maybe I should marry my laptop; or, worst of all, (c) I’m going to label myself unproductive.
I indeed meditated on the beach on that first day, where I listened for my soul’s deepest leanings. And while part of my soul leaned toward earnest self-discovery and opportunities for reflection and regeneration, I also leaned toward the comfy overstuffed chair in the front room and the ottoman where I could put my laptop and watch Ross and Rachel of “Friends” fall in and out of love over and over again.
Here I am at the sea, provocateur of inspiration, opportunity and Hemingway. And I am vegging out on back-to-back episodes of John Boy saying good-night to Mary Ellen.
Because, finally, I can.
Because, I have discovered, when you’re a 24/7, calendar-driven woman who doesn’t even know how to read fiction without a highlighter, vegging out is part of restoration and recovery, too.
In her best-selling memoir “Gift From the Sea,” mother of five and author Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes about her experiences in a beachside house where she has gone to be alone after so many years of being so many things to so many people.
“At first, one’s tired body takes over completely,” she writes about her first week. “As on shipboard, one descends into deck-chair apathy.”
Sometime in the second week, Lindbergh says, the mind comes to life. And the treasures of the sea begin to make themselves known.
“One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea,” she says.
Learning how not to be productive every waking minute of my life turns out to be one of the gifts of my seaside experience. I came here with thoughts of being more mindful. Instead, I discovered what it means to be mindless. I came here to find out how my cup could fill anew as my children continue to grow up and away. I learned that sometimes the cup needs emptying, too.
Having said all that, I have a distinct feeling this upcoming Week 2 will be a bit different.
First of all, the weather is finally supposed to be sunny and warm more days than it’s cloudy and cold.
Secondly, the deadline for going home with my filled cup is looming closer.
And thirdly, I’m getting sick of waiting for Rachel and Ross.
For heaven’s sake, will they ever make it official?