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The Joy and Power of Running Away

November 28, 2010

Little RunawayWhat comes to mind when you hear the term ‘running away’? The child packing his or her belongings in a rucksack and heading off down the street after a disagreement over bedtimes? The teenager seeking an escape from (seemingly) over protective parents and their ‘tough love’ approach? The battered woman – perhaps accompanied by her children – escaping from an abusive marriage?  The desperate mid-lifer who ‘chucks it all’ for one last big adventure in the hope of discovering what’s missing from his or her life? 

For me, ‘running away’ means escaping from the hectic madness of everyday life in order to reconnect with my true self – basically ‘running toward’ something better:   release, respite, renewal, rejuvenation. 

The first time (in my adult life) that I ‘ran away’ it was to escape the testosterone-charged environment of a rebellious teenage boy and his father as they tried to establish the terms under which we all might live in relative peace and harmony.  As the outsider (i.e., stepmother), I needed to stay out it.  So I took the rather outrageous (for me) step of planning a one-week get-away to somewhere (within driving distance) that I’d never been, but had always wanted to visit.  And then – despite my inner reservations (“What am I doing?”) and the bewilderment of my husband (“What do you mean, you’re going alone?”), I packed my bags and left! 

And I discovered that when I let go of who I was (‘mother’, ‘sister’, ‘daughter’, ‘wife’, ‘teacher’), I became (for the first time in a long time) who I was meant to be (‘me’). It was a remarkable awakening.

Heading Out / Running AwayNow, I have never been the ‘adventurous’ type and the thought of getting lost gives me palpitations (I hate driving to, in, or around places I am unfamiliar with).  So the idea of driving by myself (in my new red sports car, which did add to the ‘fun’ factor, I must admit) several hundred miles (in a relatively straight line, on secondary highways with no real chance of getting lost – but with my MapQuest map and turn-by-turn instructions printed out and within reach) WAS a little nerve-wracking at first.  But I made it to my first destination without incident, found my hotel, checked in, carried my bags up to my room, and got through the first wave of panic by doing some deep breathing exercises, and realized – ‘I can do this!’  It was exhilarating!

I spent three days exploring my first destination (great shops and restaurants, a fabulous beach, friendly people) and three more at the second (another several hundred miles north).  Yes, people looked at me strangely when I checked into hotels by myself, arrived unescorted at restaurants, and trekked through nature reserves alone.  But the power of ‘one’ was quite intoxicating – I didn’t have to arrange my schedule to suit anyone else, I didn’t have to talk if I didn’t want to, I could eat, sleep, walk, shop, or read whenever, however, and for as long as I liked, and I answered to no one but myself!  It was a little unnerving at first (because it was so extraordinarily different from what I was used to), but it was very freeing.

Since then I have ‘run away’ several times. Every year, I pick a different place to go (for different reasons), and I explore them as I wish (I should note here that my husband is no longer perplexed by my annual retreats; by his own admission, he doesn’t particularly like to travel and he finds the idea of sitting on a beach, hiking through the woods, or poking around in antique shops exceedingly boring. And with me away, he can tinker in the garage to his heart’s content, and eat junk food for dinner every night!  He does, however, still worry about me going to strange places on my own – God bless him!)  On my travels, I have met some wonderful people (almost always couples, or women travelling in groups, interestingly enough), had some fabulous experiences (and a few harrowing ones, when I got lost here or there) and seen some wonderful sights.  I have also discovered an awful lot about myself – things I probably knew when I was young, but had lost sight of (or just lost) as I ‘grew up’ and took on the responsibilities of employment, marriage, motherhood, the care of others, and life in general.

What my ‘escapes’ have taught me is that personal time and space – away from the demanding day-to-day activities that seem to simply take over – is absolutely essential to living a full life.  Without it, we (women especially, as we are the primary care-givers, organizers, and ‘doers’ in families, but I expect some men as well) get so caught up in the minutiae of our daily lives, and the roles we play in it, that we lose sight of who we really are and why we are here (for example, I came to realize that I was not put on this earth solely to take care of others, feed my boss’s ego, teach college students how to manage in the real world, or clean the litter box).  Personally, I believe everyone should ‘run away’ once in a while.

Exploring NatureNow, I do recognize that not everyone can find an entire week to escape alone, but I strongly recommend taking at least one weekend each year (of the 52 available) to go somewhere (even a hotel in a nearby town or city that you aren’t overly familiar with) by yourself.  Do not schedule activities; simply give yourself over to the idea of quiet time for yourself. If you feel like wandering through local shops, do so – but NOT with the idea of ‘shopping’ (and certainly NEVER for anyone other than yourself).  Pay attention to things that draw your attention and ask ‘Why?’  Buy yourself a little bauble or a book that you wouldn’t normally pick up (‘just because’).  Explore attractions (or – based on where go – trails, gardens, nature reserves, beaches, etc.) that you wouldn’t normally visit.  If you never go to the theatre (museum, art gallery), go now.  If you are a ‘quick shower not a bath’ person, indulge in a long hot soak.  Go to a spa (if you can afford it).  Pack a book you’ve been meaning to read, and just sit and enjoy hours of uninterrupted time to truly absorb the words.  In other words – take time for YOU.

Once you get past the ‘I should be home doing X’ or the ‘I wonder if they miss me yet’? feelings (do NOT take your cell phone or laptop with you; do NOT give in to the urge to call home ‘Just to check on things’), you will discover thoughts and feelings that you’d long suppressed bubbling to the surface. As you sit quietly and reflect on who you are and where your life is headed, you’ll learn things about yourself you didn’t know (or have forgotten).  It’s quite a remarkable discovery.  In running away, you will find yourself.

A Walk along the LakeIf you can’t manage to squeeze even a single weekend out of your life, go to a local beach, park, cemetery, library, museum, art gallery, church – or anywhere else where it is relatively quiet (and away from the pull of responsibilities associated with home or office) – and ‘do nothing’ for at least a couple of hours a week.  Spend time with the most important person in your life – you! 

NOTE: I should warn you that by ‘running away’ (even for a few hours a week), you may be called ‘selfish’ (caring supremely or unduly for one’s self … in disregard or at the expense of others) by family or friendsIf this happens, keep in mind that most of us spend so much time being selfless (having little or no concern for oneself) that we lose sight of our own needs.  There has to be a ‘middle ground’ somewhere, because taking care of, honouring, and wholly understanding yourself is – without a doubt – absolutely essential for living the life you were intended to live (and it is ironic that the people who play the ‘selfish’ card are usually the ones who [selfishly] only want you to stick around so that you can take care of them and their needs).  My solution to this problem?  Say “Yes, I am.  I am taking some time for me because I deserve it.”  And then don’t explain any further (or get into an argument about it).

So – what are you waiting for?  Right now, look at your (probably very busy) schedule and block out some time for yourself.  Plan to ‘run away’ this week. Indulge in a little ‘me’ time. Find yourself.  And, if at all possible, think about how, when, or where you would go if you could ‘run away’ for a little bit longer.  Remember: you deserve it.  Because when you come back home, you’ll be a better person for having taken the journey and made the discovery.  Do it for yourself – make sure you are who you were meant to be before, or by the time you reach … the other side of 55.

Diane Ackerman on Life

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