I haven’t had a Starbucks in 9 days….
No, I am not on some Lent-like abstinence plan. I’ve had all sorts of coffee over the last 9 days, just no Starbucks. I’m just coming off 9 days of vacation in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where there was no Starbucks within 50 miles. My wife and I drank coffee. A lot of coffee. We paid cash, and we sat and ate pastries and read books (one aloud) and paid little attention to anything digital or with a screen. We weren’t total slugs – we conquered three high altitude hikes, played some tennis, attended a rodeo, and visited a Rocky Mountain Wildlife preserve, even watching a grizzly bear 15 feet away (enclosed!) casually eat his fruit basket-like dinner.
But no Starbucks…
Don’t get me wrong. I love Starbucks. I have the app on my cell phone which makes it seem like it’s free, and I earn points and actually get free latte’s from time to time, and it’s all good. But it is embedded in my daily life, along with many other embeddings, and the incessantness of bills to pay, people to see, errands to run, work to do, conflicts to resolve, decisions to make, and family to manage sometimes needs to give way to something else. Something quite else.
I have come to see vacation not so much as a break or as sight-seeing, but as the three R’s. Vacation, of course, is important and wonderful. Well, most of us see it as wonderful, but often opt out because we can’t afford it or work is too pressured or the kids have too many summer activities or whatever. I am not here to advocate for vacation. But I am here to advocate for the three R’s – Rest, Recreation, and Reflection, vs. merely Recovery – however we can come by them. Vacation works well for me as I have finally learned a little about how valuable that kind of a vacation can be. But vacations are not enough to build in true and lasting rest, recreation, and reflection.(1) And, without plenty of that built into my life, I will default to recovery, a dangerous (to my soul, and body) and poor substitute for the full-orbed restoration I need and can actually experience with a little intention.
Rest. This is not complicated. I’m talking about sleep, and a break. I rarely get 8 hours of sleep in the midst of my busy academic and artistic life as a professor in the Colorado Christian University School of Music. I love my work, and it energizes me most of the time, but throughout an academic calendar year, I careen from one project to the next concert to the next tour to the next recruiting event. It is nearly endless and I finish the school year, quite simply, exhausted. On this most recent vacation, I never slept less than eight hours. I napped when I needed to, and I had more than my share of involuntary naps.
Recovery. Yes, I’m going out of order here. My school year ends around May 10. I have learned, the hard way – the brutally hard way, to be honest – that it takes me until about June 10 to recover. Yes, a full month! It startles me, but it is true. And I ignore it to my peril. I have more than one friend in my life who have washed up on the shore of their middle or later years just broken down, burnt out, resentful, exhausted, even physically ill. I have my own potential for this kind of personal crash. So, I am not arguing against recovery. We probably all need it, and regularly. But stopping there is perilous, and puts an angry kind of desperation into things like vacation, and whatever attempts we make at rest, recreation, and reflection.
Recreation. During our nine days in and around Pagosa Springs, my wife Jill and I hiked at least 25 miles, mostly at high altitude. We played tennis. We also rode the coal-powered Durango train, and strolled the town a good bit. Good, vigorous exercise in the outdoors, and investigating new places and having new experiences – all of this fits into the category of recreation. We also like to camp, whitewater raft, explore big cities on foot, go to baseball games and more. I don’t know that it matters much what this looks like for me or you, but that it happens. Always on vacation, and regularly throughout the rhythms of my life.
Reflection. I love to read and to write. This is not optional for me on a vacation! On this one, I brought my journal, a book project I’ve started, a novel, a Biblical commentary, a book on the sacred application of the Enneagram, and a book on marriage to read aloud together with my wife. Oh, and my Bible! I finished none of these, but was at it for minutes or hours every day. Jill and I were in the same coffee shop at least half a dozen times, reading, chatting, reflecting. Again, I don’t think it much matters what this looks like, as long as it exists in some form that makes sense to us.
Interestingly enough, on our last hike I began ruminating aloud to Jill about at least three different projects awaiting me (one of which doesn’t take place for another 18 months!). Suddenly I was aware that space had opened within me to think creatively and energetically about my work. In a flash insight, I realized that recovery, then rest, recreation, and reflection, had done its work. And now I could return to mine.
Oh, and by the way, I am typing this on the final evening of my vacation, at the Frisco (Colorado) Starbucks, earning 7 star points in the process.
(1) I am indebted to Christopher Heuertz for the concept of Rest/Recreation/Reflection vs. Recovery, discussed in a podcast led by Michael Cusick and his “Restoring the Soul” ministry.