With the holidays and end of year upon us, everyone wants a break. We’re tired. 2017 was a difficult, intense year for many of us personally and as Americans, collectively as well.
When I think of taking a break, I imagine taking time off, lying on a beach, recuperating, rejuvenating, recharging. Most of us want a break from the hard work or mind numbing daily activities that occupy much of our time. We want a break from the stress we feel, the problems we face, the routine of our commute. We want to shake things up or hit the reset button. Anything so we can return to the inevitable challenges of our lives renewed.
A break in this sense represents primarily an escape from reality during which we can trick ourselves into letting go of that which dogs us. It’s temporary, it’s indulgent, it’s awesome. We all need breaks to provide a much-needed respite from our too hectic lives. We all need breaks to refuel.
But while taking a week off is reparative in the short term, inevitably we all must return to our daily lives. Before too long, most of us are once again neck deep in the stress, boredom, anxiety or stuckness that we briefly escaped while on vacation and we again long for the next opportunity to take a break.
If we believe that it is primarily the circumstances of our lives that cause stress, anxiety or boredom, it makes sense that changing our outer circumstances is the logical way to feel better. The only problem is, most of us only get a week or two a year to take a break; not nearly enough time to make a meaningful difference in our lived experience day in and day out.
What most of us are seeking is an enduring sense of comfort, peace of mind, safety and security. We’re seeking freedom from what we perceive as the cause of our suffering. We work very hard to earn enough money to live comfortably and we consciously and unconsciously do what it takes to feel safe and secure. “Give me a break!” is a common refrain when life is challenging and disruptive. We kick into overdrive to solve or avoid the external problem, as if it controls our ability to be happy and fulfilled.
However, when we only focus on external stressors and blame circumstances for our discontent, we mistakenly disempower ourselves. We fail to understand that how we interpret and experience the events of our lives is a choice. We fail to see that our suffering is not so much a product of the demanding boss, nagging spouse, loud neighbors, or repetitive morning commute, as a result of our demanding, nagging, loud or repetitive thoughts and beliefs.
What if your happiness and wellbeing wasn’t so dependent on the outer circumstances of your life, but rather on the quality of your inner life? What if taking a break wasn’t about temporarily exiting the daily routine of your life, but about developing the capacity to exit the captivity of your imprisoned mind?
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
In the Oscar nominated film, Room, based on the book by Emma Donoghue, a boy is born to his mother in the captivity of a one-room backyard shed, where he is raised. The boy, never having experienced an existence outside of the room into which he was born, has no capacity to understand what life is like outside of “Room.” The mother, try as she may, cannot describe to the boy the world beyond “Room” in a way that makes sense to him. “Room” (as they call the shed) is the only world the boy has ever known until, of course, he escapes and discovers for himself the enormity and aliveness of the world beyond Room; the world his mother had tried to describe, but that he simply had been unable to imagine until he encountered it for himself.
Such is the case for all of us, as well. We are all born into unique life circumstances. As we grow and develop within that world, we unconsciously create in our minds a Room of our own. It consists of our thoughts, beliefs, identity, as well as our sense of self and others in the external world. The Room in our mind is the filter through which we see and experience ourselves and everything in the world. It was created so early in life, we fail to realize that it is a mental construct in which we live. Just like “Room” for the boy in the film, the Room in our mind mistakenly represents the entire world. We have virtually no capacity to understand life outside of the Room in our mind until we decide to exit and see for ourselves.
For many of us, the desire to exit the Room in our mind doesn’t come up because we’re content there. For others of us, exiting – or even escaping – the Room in our mind is an important and extremely liberating pursuit when we are imprisoned there by unhelpful, critical, fearful or limiting thoughts and beliefs.
The work of therapy or self-help is often about rearranging the furniture in the Room of our mind. It doesn’t occur to us to simply exit the room because we don’t realize there is a vast world that we can discover and live more freely. It feels extremely scary to leave the safety of our Room. Many of us will choose to stay put, even when we’re unhappy, because the familiarity feels safe.
However, if you really want to be free of your dependency on external life circumstances for happiness, and you want a break that lasts much longer than a week or two, I invite you to find a mindfulness-based therapist or practice so that you may learn to exit the Room of your mind and be free. You’ll be very glad you did.