When I was a child my grandparents had a farm in Caddo Gap, Arkansas. Going to visit them there was like enjoying a preview of heaven. Every moment was slow and relaxed and fun. It was a simple time devoid of schedules and complexities. It felt as though there were no worries there. Those visits were an adventure that relied on imagination. The only cost of being there was the gasoline that we used in traveling from our home in Houston, Texas.
Grandma and Grandpa’s house had no air conditioning even though the summer days were often quite hot with temperatures inching toward one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. They relied on cross breezes from open windows and floor fans that helped to boost the currents of air. We often spent lazy afternoons sitting on the screened in porch sipping on fresh squeezed lemonade or cold bottles of Orange Crush while watching the birds and butterflies flitting through the vegetable garden that served as my grandparents’ source of produce. We’d listen to the cow mooing lazily from her spot under a shade tree and laugh at the antics of the chickens being herded to cool perches by the rooster. Even the collie, Lady, took a nap when the sun rose high into the sky.
We listened to my grandfather telling stories of his own youth and watched my grandmother’s nimble fingers embroidering linens or sewing tiny stitches to join blocks of cloth into a lovely quilt that would keep someone warm on cold winter days. We enjoyed learning about the Arkansas locals and laughed at stories of animals and their tomfoolery. Not even a visit to Disneyland would have felt more delightful than those glorious times.
I suppose I learned then that relaxing has nothing to do with spending money. It is the art of purposefully stopping to quiet the stresses on the body and the mind. It is letting go of anxieties for a time and listening to the sounds of nature and the beating of our own hearts. Sometimes it can be achieved through laughing and talking with others. Often it is more likely to be achieved alone with a steaming cup of coffee or tea and a willingness to quiet the mind.
I was asked what I would do if I had two hours to relax and only one hundred dollars to spend for the task. I had to laugh at the thought of needing to plan or have money in order to unwind. I found myself thinking that our tendency to ritualize and schedule breaks for ourselves is part of the reason that so many of us are stressed and unable to enjoy healing time alone. Even as we have been urged to celebrate our holidays with only our households we tend to panic as though being isolated even for a time is a kind of punishment. We seem unable to use that time as a great gift to both our physical and mental health.
I have been observing for many years now that we have become a society in need of constant entertainment. We schedule every minute of our lives as well as those of our children. Each milestone has become more and more elaborate. Children have birthday parties that are worthy of royalty. Weddings cost tens of thousands of dollars. People embark on expensive vacations multiple times a year. We worry when the calendars for our weekends are blank. We are engaged in pressure to keep up with an ever more expensive, time consuming and elaborate way of doing things.
Since Covid-19 restricted us I have seen more children playing for hours in their yards. I hear their laughter as they invent their own entertainment. My neighbors sit on their porches or lawns waving to one another and shouting greetings. We borrow tools from each other rather than rushing to a store to purchase our own. It has been a joyful time much like those summers in Caddo Gap. In the past many months relaxing has meant just sitting for a time observing the birds visiting the feeder or laughing at the antics of the geckos racing across the lawn. Balls and water hoses and bicycles have replaced gaming systems as the toys of choice and laughter regularly fills the air.
This has no doubt been a difficult year. Virtually everyone has been affected by the unfolding events in one way or another. We have been forced to change the way we live in sometimes painful ways. In spite of all the horrors or maybe because of them we have found ways of finding joy in the smallest of things. It’s amazing how much more delicious a mug of hot chocolate seems to taste of late than it did in the past. We have relearned how to delight in simplicity. We have realized how little we actually need to be happy. We have begun to better understand what is most important in our lives.
Often times it is in the midst of tragedy that we discover how best to relax and enjoy a moment. We realize that we need not always have total control over our lives to be happy. The serendipity of just listening to rain can be more lovely than a carefully planned excursion. Relaxing is a state of mind and amazingly it is absolutely free.