THE ART OF RELAXATION
19 October 2016
THE ART OF RELAXATION
(or: Be careful what you wish for)
The Latin poet Horace starts his first book of satires with one that refers ironically to the fact that nobody is ever happy with their fate. He uses examples from the working world: the soldier envies the merchant his seemingly safer life whereas the merchant, while his ship is tossed around by gales, envies the soldier his adventures and the alternative of either a quick death or glory. The city-dwelling lawyer envies the farmer his seemingly idyllic rural existence; the farmer wants to dwell in the city and enjoy the urban amenities. And yet, Horace says, if some God magically granted us to swap ours for another fate, we would decline.
In a variation of the theme I could add: when we are working, we long for nothing more than time. Time to travel, time to go for walks, time to read, time to write. And yet, paradoxically, when we are not working and finally have all the time we ever asked for and more, we are restless and long for the structure that work used to give to our day and the purpose and fulfilment it afforded us. At least this is true for those of us who genuinely enjoy what we are doing and for whom the job is an intrinsically rewarding vocation.
Enjoyment of holidays has a lot to do with their transitory nature: we know that they will come to an end and therefore try to make the most of them. If no end is in sight – whether we have retired for good or are on an employment break the length of which we cannot necessarily control - , the finality or uncertainty may well hamper the enjoyment of the free time we have.
It takes discipline to switch off properly and tune in to yourself. Active relaxation is an art, especially in our day and age when we are constantly connected to our work. At work we may be bogged down by having to field 200 emails per day and more, and we sigh and feel like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill in a futile effort to accomplish his task, because for every email answered we find ten new ones in our inbox and we are still on our laptops or iPhones at midnight responding to the most urgent ones. And yet: if the emails suddenly stop, it feels strange. It is a well-known fact that work does not only give us a purpose and a sense of fulfilment, but also a sense of social belonging - to an institution, a group of colleagues, a professional network.
Nonetheless, and whatever the circumstances are, we need to practise self-sufficiency and the art of relaxing and switching off. Different people have different methods. Personally, I am not good at imposed meditation: when some self-appointed guru tells me to relax or think of an island and palm trees, I usually feel quite rebellious and deliberately think of other things, which is rather counterproductive!
I do, however, enjoy listening to music, especially classical music or good old blues from the Mississippi Delta. Active listening does not mean having the soundtrack playing in the background while you distract yourself with other things; it means concentrating completely on the music and zoning out of any distractions.
And the other thing I love doing is going for a walk and very consciously taking note of even the smallest details: smiling at the people I encounter, admiring the flowers by the roadside or the harbour shore and losing myself in a good book on a bench with splendid views, so that I can pause between chapters and take in the wonderful panoramas that nature affords. Sydney is a beautiful city, and this week, on a blissfully warm and sunny spring day, I felt particularly lucky to be alive when I went for my ‘local’ walk, which is right on my doorstep. I have done this walk many times – it still amazes me that I can step out of my front door and stroll down the road to find myself in this little paradise.
The pictures below try to capture the beauty of Cremorne Reserve. It is hard to believe that in the mid-19th century this peaceful haven at Cremorne Point was the scene of a rowdy amusement park, complete with shooting gallery and carousels! Yesterday, when I walked along Mosman Bay and the Cremorne Foreshore, deep in solitary thought, I only had a few cockatoos and magpies for company, and the only sounds, apart from the screeches of the cockatoos, came from the Harbour ferries and the waves that gently tickled the shore.
I hope my readers will enjoy these views with me!
First glimpses of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge over the rooftops of Cremorne.
The descent to the shoreline – like a proper urban jungle!
Mosman Bay - not a bad place to rest my aging, achy breaky knees!
Approaching Cremorne Wharf.
Not that I wanted to rip out a palm tree and take it home, but just as well to be reminded of the rules!
Neutral Bay and a bench with a view
Ferry from Cremorne to the City.