We’re all on some sort of journey, aren’t we? Check back here
periodically to find out more about G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s journeys
through the literary world and through life.
The point of running away is to escape. Am I right? To get away from that part of your life that’s bringing you stress?
The problem is that the actual act of running away can create a whole new set of stress triggers such as lack of shelter, loss of personal possessions, risk of running out of money, and loneliness. Why not run away without embarking on yet a new stress journey? Here are 6 healthy ways to run away without leaving home.
Take a nap
It took me years to figure out it was OKAY to take a midday nap. Napping, I’d been convinced, was a sign of weakness or laziness–or both–if you were an adult. The only people allowed to take naps were the very young, the very old, or the very sick.
Thank goodness I came to my senses, because napping is now one of my favorite pastimes. It’s not just a chance to give my body a rest. It’s a respite for my conscious mind and a chance for my subconscious to get to work. The National Sleep Foundation website lists several benefits of napping, including this:
Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Napping has an added benefit beyond running away: it can help with creativity and productivity. I discovered this back when I was in college (back in the Dark Ages) when I’d sometimes work out difficult math problems in my dreams. Since then, I’ve occasionally come up with solutions for relationship issues or even writing problems while sawing logs. Presumably this is actually when I’m in transition between sleep and wakefulness, a stage known as hypnagogia.
Whether or not I’m writing the next Great American Novel on my futon or floating past unicorns standing on idyllic river banks, I rely on nap time to help me tackle life’s obstacles.
There is (or at least once was) a ski chairlift at Squaw Valley called Solitude. It lived up to its name, for I rarely found many people on it. The runs from Solitude were smooth, beautiful, and silent; they were out of the way and I liked it that way. They let me escape from the crowds and just become a snowflake, drifting along in the mountain air. I could think about whatever I wanted to. Or I could shut off my thoughts completely. I could be myself there. I could be both alone and safe.
But most of us don’t have a beautiful ski run at our homes, so we have to find another way to create that place for safe solitude. Now that my husband and I are (pretty much) empty nesters, I’m able to have my own home office furnished with a desk, lots of bookshelves, a futon for naptime, and a giant beanbag for my four-legged publicity director. I realize not everyone has this luxury, so you might need to get creative. Consider what some people I’ve met over the years have done to set up their own private space:
a) converted a backyard shed into a writing studio;
b) decorated an outdoor courtyard with plants, weatherproof art, and spiritual totems for meditation and reading;
c) cordoned off a section of the living room with a decorative screen and bookshelves, whether for writing letters or paying bills;
d) commandeered a bay in the garage to set up easels and spread out paint supplies.
If you can’t devote any extra space to yourself, a simple Do-Not-Disturb (Except in Cases of Vomit, Blood, or Fire) sign on your bedroom door can also work wonders. The point is this: we all need time and space for ourselves. How much, and where, will vary from person to person. And what you do with that time and space is up to you as well. The best way to look at your solitude was described by writer Katrina Kenison when she wrote this:
Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight ourselves instead.
Run away vicariously
Stories are written to help us escape. Whether we dive into a classic literary novel, flip open a fluffy beach read, or study the inner workings of a true story, we can take our minds off of our own woes by spending time with characters–real or imagined–and their own trials and tribulations.
In addition to helping us forget about our problems for a while, reading the stories of others can help us process our difficulties by seeing the world through another’s eyes. Educator Jessica Wise asserts:
Stories have a unique ability to change a person’s point of view.
While she focuses on the way that stories help us look at the world on a larger scale, I maintain that reading stories also help us look at our worlds in a micro manner too. Why not pick up a book about others who have escaped or run away before deciding to pack our own bags?
a) The Great Escape (Paul Brickhill)
b) A Slave No More (David W. Blight)
c) Escape (Carolyn Jessop)
d) The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
e) Ladder of Years (Anne Tyler)
Write your own story
I don’t mean you have to write a novel or memoir; trust me: that might make you want to run away even more! But everyone has a story to tell, and writing it down can be therapeutic–even moreso than traditional talk therapy. Writing is introspective, and it’s also reflective. Once you write something down, it’s natural to take a second look at it and see things slightly differently. Or maybe you’ll just feel better by getting something off your chest.
Don’t take my word for it. Numerous scientific studies, including those conducted by James Pennebaker (a pioneer in narrative therapy) have shown that writing can decrease stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, and reduce pain or other symptoms of chronic illnesses. Social worker and poetry therapist Sherry Reiter said writing is:
“a way of creatively clearing one’s way through the brushfire and discovering a path forward.”
I love this.
I’m frequently asked, in my writing workshops, how to get started with writing for self-therapy. One answer is simply to just start writing about anything. There is only one rule: no judgment about topic or even grammar. I’ve found that we write what we need to write if we give our inner selves enough time to explore. You can write about something (or someone) that is bothering you. You can write about something you’re worried about. You can write about a memory that haunts you or a mistake you’ve made. But you don’t have to write out your negative emotions. You can also write about the positive: something you’re looking forward to, a dream you have, a fond experience from the past. Regardless of which way you go, I always recommend trying to end on a positive note–an intention, an affirmation, or something you’re grateful for.
Commune with nature
When I lived on the 30th floor of a high rise in an urban area for a couple of years, I came down with ALNS: Acute Loss of Nature Syndrome. Too much concrete and asphalt, not enough greenery. ALNS symptoms included feeling stressed, grumpy, claustrophobic, and a chronic desire to run away. Sound familiar?
It wasn’t easy to cure, but the symptoms subsided dramatically whenever I went to Hawaii and pondered tropical sunsets over the Pacific or went hiking on the Olympic peninsula in the mountains or otherwise placed myself as far away from civilization, surrounded by nature, as possible.
When we connect with the natural world, we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend to-do lists, technology, and other manmade obstacles to the self. We find authenticity, innocence, and beauty not always found in the midst of our daily lives. And, by tuning in to the true size of our universe when we are outdoors, we discover freedom.
Here’s what the phenomenal Wendell Berry wrote in his poem, The Peace of Wild Things:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Of course this could be a bit of a cheat when I include this in the list of how to run away without leaving home. Most of us don’t live where wood drakes rest or great herons feed. But we all have windows or doors we can open to let the outdoor air in. Or we have (or can acquire) houseplants that exhale oxygen and thrive with our tender loving care. My point here is that spending time in or with nature, however possible, can be a lovely and effective antidote to the need to escape.
Practice yoga or meditation
If you don’t already practice yoga or meditation, you might think this idea is a bunch of hooey. But did you know there are a number of scientific studies that have proven physical and mental health benefits of these practices? One such study, the Quantification of Outcome Measures for MindBody Interventions, used neuro-imaging and genomics technology to measure physiological changes and found that mindbody techniques can switch on and off those genes that are associated with stress and immunity.
Putting it more simply: yoga is grounding, and let’s face it: that gnawing desire to run away is often a sign that we’re feeling off kilter and unstable. In other words, we want to run away when we’re not grounded. In yoga, we can find our foundations through the root chakra, which starts at the base of our torso and extends through the legs and feet. Which means we find grounding in sitting poses, like half lotus or easy sitting pose, and in basic standing poses such as mountain pose and the warriors. And then of course there’s my all-time favorite yoga pose, savasana. Also known as corpse pose, it grounds your entire body. You don’t need to be an advanced yogini who can wrap her legs around her neck three times to get the grounding benefit of yoga. (I’m certainly not!) In fact, the simplest poses are sometimes the most restorative and can be practiced by anyone, no matter her age or fitness level.
Meditation is also grounding, and it helps us let go. Meditation can be as simple as sitting and breathing without distraction. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this in his book How to Sit:
Many of us have so many anxieties and projects that weigh heavily on us. We carry our past sorrows and anger and they become a kind of baggage that makes life heavy. Sitting meditation is a way to practice letting go of the things we carry needlessly. These things are nothing but obstacles to our happiness. Ease in our sitting and ease in our breathing nourishes the body and mind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I usually practice several of these anti-runaway steps daily, having found them mandatory for my own sanity (and probably for the mental health of anyone living with me too). I haven’t wanted to run away for quite some time.
But as with anything in life, there is always room for improvement, and I have been wanting to bring more meditation into my life. So…I am now officially Going Public with My Pledge to Self. I intend to meditate for 15 minutes every day! Starting…tomorrow!