A version of this article was featured in my school paper, the CMC Forum: http://cmcforum.com/life/11132013-letters-to-home-take-a-break
My girlfriend says that when we go hiking together she can’t stand the number of breaks I take. I seem to speed ahead – leaving everyone else in the dust – only to pause after 15 minutes to take in the view. Her comment made me reflect. I realized that far from being some cardiovascular weakness, my pauses are one aspect of what might be described as my life strategy. See, I’m a huge believer in the 5-minute break: the time-out, the breather, whatever. These breaks come in many forms and sizes too: the 5-minutes breaks I take during a hike, the 90 minutes I take to workout every day, the gap year I took after high school, or even the four months I’m currently spending in India. Each of these represents some sort of respite from my regular scheduled life and each is equally crucial to my staying sane, motivated, grounded, and inspired.
The examples I provided pretty obviously fall into two categories: I’ll call them macro-breaks and micro-breaks for the purpose of this article. Macro-breaks are intense, often life altering moments that usual require the physical need to step away- this may come in the form of study abroad, a trip with some friends, or even a decision to totally detach ourselves from our current circumstances. Micro-breaks are breaks in the day- small moments to reflect that only require mental distance[i].
I have taken a few, intensive macro-breaks in my life. These phases, due to their nature, almost always involve reflection. For me a lot of this reflection has come afterwards as I come to understand the true impact they have had on my life. My first macro-break as an independent-thinking, somewhat-conscious young-adult was a 10-day Vision Quest my Senior year (of HS). I spent three days alone without any food and nothing to do but write. This experience was really my first introduction to the power of reflection. In many ways it also influenced one of the most important decisions I ever made: to take a year off from formal schooling. I actually made this decision while attending CMC’s newly admitted student day. Although I couldn’t have been more excited about starting college (especially at CMC,) I wasn’t sure I was totally ready-so I called timeout. My year off turned out to be awesome for me. I definitely needed the respite from structured education; I had some extraordinary growth experiences and it definitely helped me have a better understanding of what I wanted to do in college. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to have an experience like it again but it reinforced the importance of stepping away to challenge myself in new ways.
The most recent macro-break I’ve embarked on is the one I’m currently experiencing. I underestimated this before I left, but leaving CMC right in the middle of my time there was enormous. I feel so connected with the CMC community that dropping everything and taking off for a foreign land was initially wrenching, and I seriously questioned whether it was the right decision. However, the break from normal classes, from the activities that I love, even from the people I love, has given me a great perspective on what I value and appreciate about them, as well as on what I want to change when I come back.
Perhaps one of the most important things I have learned during my current macro-break is the true importance of micro-breaks. My time here has contained innumerable incredible experiences; a quick scroll through my blog or Facebook album will reinforce this reality. But the days have also been immensely challenging. I’ve learned to be honest with myself about how exhausting the experience is every day. Without forcing myself to head away from my group to sit by myself, or hit the gym for a workout, it can be hard to maintain the energy and focus I need to really absorb what’s going on around me.
Micro-breaks, although shorter and usually less intensive than macro-breaks, are just as important to me. Finding these little breaks throughout the day to reflect, to check-in with myself, or just escape the craziness of my day are crucial to my ability to stay focused. Sports have historically represented this in my life, although with the glory days of high school over, I’ve turned to working out. It sounds stupid to some but working out for me is exactly the kind of break in my day that I’m talking about. Plugging in my headphones, following a routine, literally picking heavy things up and putting them back down, is incredibly, well, meditative for me.
Similarly, I’ve also found a lot of value in daily mediation. Last semester I really picked up my meditation game by spending 10 minutes every morning before my roommate woke up, sitting on my bed with my headphones listening to a mindfulness podcast. I’ve tried to find these moments spontaneously as well: through small trips to the village or the occasional long bike ride. Each break takes some time away from schoolwork but I’ve found that they more than make up for it by helping my focus and productivity.
Our constant responsibilities often lead us to believe that either we don’t have time, or we’re being lazy and selfish when we find the time to take a break. And this isn’t to say that breaks are always a good decision- the intent in taking a break should be to enhance the experience we are currently having, not to detract from it. In order to really connect with things on a deeper level, or to enjoy some of the most important moments in life, we need to be present- and sometimes a break can help with that. It’s also clear that most people don’t need to take as drastic measures as I do. A break for you may mean catching some waves early on a Friday morning, a bike ride to the village, or an ice-cold beer on a weekday. Maybe it’s volleyball practice, or Shades practice, or some time on top of Kravis reading an un-assigned novel. Maybe it’s a trip to Mount Baldy, or even a semester off.
Whatever your choice, getting the full benefit requires one key thing – mindfulness. Being aware of the pause we’re granting ourselves is crucial to fully enjoying and benefiting from it. Being purposeful, instead of hasty, gracious instead of guilty about the breaks in our day only make the more stressful times that much more focused and meaningful. We all deserve a break or two, it’s too sunny outside and we’re too young for that not to be true. Maybe we all don’t have to run off to India and grow out our hair, but I think these breaks are a crucial element to staying sane in College.
Over and out from India!
[i] I think it’s important to note that I have been extremely fortunate to have these moments in my life. I understand that it is an incredibly privileged aspect of my life.