Monday, May 10, 2010


I’m about to disappear for a couple of weeks, on vacation. I’m “vacating,” temporarily leaving. Call it resting, relaxing, or just plain hanging out: it’s the most undervalued of therapies, effective during sickness and especially as prevention. Maybe you, like many, have said, “I don’t have time to be sick.” Ironically, that philosophy ensures gradual depletion and eventual sickness.

Frankly, we’re a work-oriented culture. Our reluctance to take it easy so saturates us that we don’t notice its presence. We commonly talk about relaxing as “kicking back,” hardly a tranquil metaphor.

The obsessive-work message is subtle but ubiquitous. Here’s one fascinating example: I learned in medical school that the function of a muscle is to contract. Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? What else would you expect a muscle to do, spit? The plain fact is, though, that a muscle can’t contract unless it first relaxes. A muscle that only contracts is like a coin with heads and no tails. I learned a lot about muscular contraction, then, and virtually nothing about relaxation. In fact, muscle relaxation was hardly studied at all in laboratories until Eastern disciplines began to popularize it a couple of decades ago.

Old habits persist, though. Too many of us work and work without balance. As a friend from Bangalore told me, “You Westerners have a lot of know-how. Not so much know-why, though.” I plead guilty. I love physical work, and do it to excess. I can dig holes or pour concrete or hammer boards until I literally can’t move. My wife tried to set me straight on this when she said, “You think workaholics don’t like what they do. Fact is, they do like it, as much as addicts like their drug.” I try to keep that in mind when I pick up my shovel.

1 comment:

  1. Your wife is wise, indeed. And the muscle metaphor, salient.

    Perhaps you've heard this from Europeans: "Americans have a word for vacation: 'illness.'" So glad you value your and Ronnie's health enough to vacate for a while!

    Will miss your posts but look forward to hearing what rises from the well of relaxation.