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Daily Zen

The Buddhist Recipe to Prolong the Holidays in Your Head

Remind yourself that vacation is within reach, even as you stretch your budget for back to school supplies. But before tossing the baby out with the bath water, please grant me the benefit of the doubt — at least until the end of this article — and let me offer you, if you’ll accept, a quick read.

Vacation is above all else a state of mind… And yet, for most of us, the door to freedom opens once the door to the office closes. The first night of the long-awaited vacation is a magical moment! We would almost throw our briefcases up in the air, hug a streetlight, and tap dance our way down the street.

A vacation means that freedom is ours after weeks of exhausting work, obligations, and responsibilities. Freedom, set to the sound of rolling waves, seems to be the fruit of these hours of idleness. The hidden Easter egg, the winning lottery numbers, the ultimate sensation capable of recharging our batteries. Freedom: the incredible joy of having long hours ahead of us before going back to work… is the best!

Of course, the setting plays a big part: you’ll notice that it’s easier to feel free with your feet propped up while sipping on a martini than on a crowded subway platform waiting for the L train. But is that an immutable fact? Do you really think that your internal freedom still depends on external conditions? (If so, allow yourself the risk of changing your mind and keep reading…)

“I’m free! Like a river…” sang Stevie Wonder before being sponsored by a bank. For the flow of the river reflects our putative freedom: either we float along with the current like an autumn leaf, or we remain like a stone at the bottom of the stream, with little chance of being exposed to sunlight. In order to remain free, it’s indeed necessary to let go and go along with the of time passing. That’s what we feel during vacation: that feeling of letting go, born from the ultimate meeting of being and time (thanks, Heidegger).

But once again, sitting there, nestled in a lounge chair, it’s easy: time can take its time, the hours are long and no obligations rear their ugly heads, except maybe that of refilling the ice-cube tray in the freezer. But what do you do once you’ve returned from Ko Samui or Niagara Falls?

Here’s the recipe for what the Buddhist masters call the “Inconceivable Emancipation”: the ultimate way to feel free under any circumstances. All it takes is to accept the life you’re living. To receive, with the same spirit, both pleasure and displeasure. To be with, rather than against. And to realize with time that, in the coinciding of things, the stream and the leaf are completely emancipated and free!

That’s the theory. Now, we can move on to the recipe for taking action. You must first let go of some of the thoughts that run through your mind. In that way, the mind becomes emancipated and free to adopt the state of mind it will have chosen: that of a lifelong vacation.

Here are some suggestions, feel free to add some of your own:

Mental cleaning: Close your eyes for five minutes and “delicately dust off” the contents of your brain. When a thought appears, slide it to the side, gently, saving it for later (or never). This is a sort of spring cleaning to be done several times a day. The key to this exercise is to treat all passing thoughts with tenderness.

The lounge chair: Caught up in your activities, the outside world has disappeared… Stop! Take a deep breath and open your eyes to contemplate the horizon. Whatever the landscape in front of you, stare into the distance. By decentering yourself in this way, the energy changes completely and you regain the space of internal freedom. The key to this exercise is the change of perspective.

One thing at a time: Do one thing at a time, like preparing a meal, walking, taking a bath. But do it fully, while experiencing the motions, the scents, the contact your feet make with the floor… And regain the simplicity of the moment. The key to this exercise is approaching it with a child’s curiosity.

All of these are exercises for the mind, that allow it to return to the “here and now” and to regain the ideal destination for an “internal vacation.”

Bon voyage!

This post originally appeared on HuffPost France and was translated into English.

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