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The International Writers Magazine
: On top of Greylock- Discovering yourself

The Art of Active Relaxation
Eric D. Lehman

This summer I spent three consecutive vacation days in my apartment. My plan was to finish writing a book I had been fooling with all spring. But instead I sat in front of the television, watching shows I had already seen, and in front of the computer, playing a game that I had already completed. I checked my email four or five times a day, made trips back and forth to the kitchen, and achieved nothing. I didn’t even read one of the novels or travel books that I had been stacking up for the summer. No, the most I accomplished was to wash my laundry. Here I was, blessed with solitude and freedom, and I squandered it on blind and pointless reruns.

So, knowing my weakness, I packed the car full of gear and vowed to spend the next three days relaxing in a more productive manner. I picked three spots on my New England map that had been calling me and acted. First was Macedonia Brook State Park in far western Connecticut. I had meant to bivouac there many times and never had. So, I went and grabbed a premier campsite, hiked a ridgeline with views across the state, fished the small but swarming brook, read, wrote a chapter in the book I had put off, and practiced camp skills like hatchetwork, tree identification, and fire building.

The next day I drove through western Connecticut and eastern New York, exploring charming country roads. I listened to John Muir’s Travels in Alaska on audiotape. Reaching Mount Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts, I finished Henry Miller’s Colossus of Maroussi, lethargically begun during my non-productive days. I met new people and formed new connections, talking for several hours with an experienced thru-hiker, learning lore that would help me on my own backpacking adventures. I made it halfway through another book, Admiral Byrd’s Alone, and wrote two essays on top of the mountain while the wind whistled and clouds blew past. I had wildlife encounters with red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, toads, a strangely quick lizard, a garter snake, brook trout, grackles, orioles, scarlet tanagers, two types of ducks, Canadian geese, bullfrogs, a black animal that could have been a fisher or pine martin, and an enormous moose which I almost hit with my car going up Greylock.

On day three I woke up, climbed the unusual lighthouse tower for views of five states, drove through Massachusetts scouting for towns where my parents could retire, ate lunch on a rock by the upper Farmington River, hiked three miles along another river in Granville State Forest, often jumping from rock to rock, checked into a camping cabin nearby, did preparatory chores, took another walk, cooked dinner, built a gorgeous fire for roasting potatoes, split a log with my hatchet, boiled tea, read more of Alone, learning to make every action precise, zen, perfect. Nothing was done with haste or undue agitation. Actions that seemed meaningless at home like washing dishes or arranging bedding somehow took on vital and important significance.

I wrote and read while my fire blazed. All the while, the bulrushes in the pond in front of my cabin jabbered and grunted, alive with frogs, crows, and smallmouth bass. A proud mother mallard paraded her three ducklings around the campground. Then, I ate roasted potatoes with paprika and nestled into my sleeping bag. The next morning I boiled tea, ate instant oatmeal, and left for home. It may seem that all this was hard work. Not at all. These three days were easeful holiday, not grueling work. Most of the time was spent sitting or lying down, enjoying peaceful solitude.

I tried to take this insight back with me to my tiny apartment, accomplishing and achieving small and clear goals purposefully. I found that I could use solitude and freedom to gain strength, rather than to stagnate. And though I am sure to backslide often and waste time with empty input and wanton consuming, I hope I can remember to actively relax whenever time allows it. Because if I don’t, I know that when I die I will look back on my too-short days of leisure with despondency and regret.

© Prof Eric Lehman December 2004
Eric is an English professor at the University of Bridgeport and has traveled extensively throughout the world.  He has been previously published by various web journals, such as August Cutter, Niederngasse, Simply Haiku, and of course Hackwriters.
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