The sands of time.

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I am sitting on a powdery beach in Southern Mexico, feeling many things. The breeze in my face, the sun on my feet, a slight sense of guilty residue in my heart. My monkey bays at me, telling me that I no longer have the right to a vacation, not after this crazy plunge I’ve taken.
My body seemed to agree.
I was really sick for the last couple of days. It came upon me on Saturday at lunch time, a queazy, bloated feeling that had me bent over the porcelain by the end of the day. A sleepless night, then up at 4 a.m to catch an early flight. After a long drive down the Mayan Riviera, we reached this beach. I was green, pale, silent, and my traveling companions were more worried about me than they were willing to say at the time. But I am from hardy, working stock, and I greeted this morning with a renewed constitution and a smile.
It’s odd how often I am sick and injured on vacations. I have almost never missed a day of work and yet I invariably end up at remote chemists on tropic isles, at Italian emergency rooms, in ocean liner infirmaries. My body is a company man, and decides that the only right time to fall apart is only when it’s off the clock.
My mind is also trained to work pretty much non-stop, so vacationing can be a much -needed challenge. It takes at least two or three days for me to stop, to disconnect for emails, from the newspaper, from the meal schedules, and to let myself float away. On arrival, I spend time scheming by the pool, thinking how wonderful it is that I have this opportunity to make big plans, to re structure my office, or to make a long-term strategies. Then one day, the switch flicks and I drop it all, just vegging, listening to the pop music on the pool speaker, playing beach volleyball, having my hair braided. I think it must correlate to my sun tan lotion. As I let my SPF go down, so descends my death grip on the “reality” back home. I begin to unwind. I began to wake up and see where I am.
I am still in “on” mode this morning, my malady notwithstanding. I remind myself that despite my blazing announcement that I now have the freedom to create 24/7, I haven’t done much on my blog. Yes, it’s been a week and a half, but the monkey is impatient. And he’s not on vacation yet either. Where are all my wonderful creations? Or shouldn’t I really be busy freelancing?
Here is the lesson I draw from this internal debate:
I need to be here now. It’s wonderful that Here and Now are 78 degrees with a tropical breeze. But I need to be present always, all places. Sometimes here and now are not so nice. A crowded subway platform. A boring conference room. A hushed back room in a funeral home, smelling slightly of lavender talc and ammonia.
Regardless, I must be here now. There is nothing else. The past is just an illusion, a mental construct I drag along with me. Sometimes it seems better than now, sometimes worse, but it is irrelevant either way. The chunks I blew last Saturday are long flushed. The green pallor is gone. I can be grateful about that but that is all. I can pick at the scabs of my past decisions but regret is a waste of the present too. All that matters is now. What I am doing with this moment. With the potential that is here. To enjoy this, to be happy here, to accept what is.
And as for the future, it never arrives. All tomorrow ever is is my fantasies about what might be when it actually is. It’s not concrete or knowable and wasting now constructing plans on these prognostications is just sculpting with clouds.
On vacation, after I get over the hump, I have that realization each time. That I must enjoy this expensive day to the max, avoid getting sunburnt, have a couple pinås, eat some fresh fish, and chill the hell out. Leave the world of back home back there and back then.
And that’s really all that matters every day when I am back home too. To inhale deep, to avoid the chimp, to be in my skin, to deal with what’s happening and make it neither greater than it is with mental constructions nor lesser with denial.
Life is what is. And that’s just exactly how it should be.
That’s the lesson I learned when I first started to draw. And which I need to remind my self of all that time. That being grounded in reality, seeing what’s in front of me, warts and all, is the only way I can be happy and adjusted. That I have to keep re-realizing what art has done for me. It has shown me the beauty all around me and that it exists even in apparent ugliness and pain. If I draw it like I want it to be, it doesn’t satisfy my need for truth and connection. But if I see it as it is, here and now, I join with it, and I feel at peace.
That’s enough thinking for now. I’m off to draw those coconuts above my lounge chair. Then it’s siesta time. I dream an awful lot on vacation. Do you?

58 thoughts on “The sands of time.

  1. I only wish i had the guts to do what you are doing, and so I am living my dream life vicariously through you. I am sure it will all come together soon and that monkey will leave you alone.

    BTW, do I feel another book coming on? No pressure. ;-)

  2. Your “sick on vacation” musings had me smiling. I spent a recent art retreat in Taos flat in bed struggling with altitude sickness. My husband just had to bale out of an offshore sailing race on Lake Superior due to an ailing hip. Other than vacation times, we’re healthy as all get out! But it also must be the time for thinking about letting go, getting the monkey off our backs and just doing….I’ve spent the day berating myself for not doing all the things I could do, knowing I’m avoiding some of them because I’m sure I won’t do them “good enough”, and yet feeling my spirit yearn to create….why the heck do I fight that??

    I’m sure that you have made the right choice, Danny. Change takes time, although we are all too impatient to just let it happen. You will find your way, and it’s going to be exciting, and challenging and life changing and inspiring and….so many things. Your new path will unfold and it’s OK to let yourself relax into it, one little step at a time. So keep that sunscreen coming, enjoy the warm sand on your feet, and know that we are all out here rooting for you – and so envious of the courage it took to take the leap that you did.

  3. WOW There is a lot going on in the mind of Danny Gregory while he is trying to let go of the monkey, disengage from the hustle and bustle and decompress enough to BE HERE NOW.
    Glad you are feeling better. Can’t wait to see your illustrations of this trip. And I totally agree the only reality is what is in front of us at any given moment. Glad to be reminded of that in your always honest and wryly humorous words. Adios mi amigo. xox

  4. Two recommendations:
    1. Eckart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.” You will like it, I think. Gurdjieff and Ram Dass aren’t too shabby either.
    2.Noooooooo unbottled water or ice cubes – anywhere … the local flora fights with your own native flora. Often they don’t play nicely together. I was doing fine on a Mazatlan vacation long ago until I slipped and drank a White Russian with local cubes … and that’s all she wrote.

  5. Vacation is a wonderful time to dream. For me, I’ve tried to take Roger Rosenblatt’s advice in his “Rules for Aging” book where he says something to the effect that you need to check your brain before you go on vacation like in the old Wild West, cowboys had to hand in their guns when arriving at a town… there are some dangerous thoughts that are thought during vacation, of tossing everything aside and settling down in Key West, for example. Also… I loved your line “It has shown me the beauty all around me and that it exists even in apparent ugliness in pain.” Beautifully said. Occasionally, I get these moments of calm, even in times of stress, that I simply stop and appreciate the striking beauty in the things I see every single day.

  6. As a freelance calligrapher I can relate to your words…guilt follows me when am not at my table or computer trying to learn more, practice, and find new clients. I keep telling mtself to re-group and that it’s my responsibility to keep things going..not always easy!

  7. When I go for a break it is the same issue with silencing the everyday and letting the vacation day take over. Using a new medium helps a lot, or at least a medium that I do not use regularly….gouache travels well! No more than 15 minutes per drawing….and maybe it is okay to NOT draw at all? Maybe it is time to simply ” BE”? Those times are important too….

  8. Hope you’re feeling better Danny – it’s not nice when you’re a stoic person. I do let myself enjoy being in a place more now that I’m back to drawing as a practice rather than as something I allow myself to do because I ‘have time when I’m on holiday’. We came back to Oz after years living in the UK and went down to the coast one day no long after – as you do – and the weirdest thing happened. I could actually see and my brain wasn’t trying to process the usual spam of the ‘next thing’ to do the whole time (what to get for lunch, where the kids were, what I should do about what my boss had said the day before, when I should start writing my first novel etc) – it was such a revelation that I could just let go of all that noise at just enjoy being.
    So nice to find your blog and your work etc and look forward to seeing your holiday sketch book too – but can’t stay – have to do some quick drawing before bedtime :>

  9. “…my body is a company man…” Love this! I may have to steal that line as I, too, struggled with retirement. This story should win an award. It speaks to so many of us on so many different levels. Bravo!

  10. Yes, definitely be here now. I am a Zen Buddhist and have been retired for 6 years now. I get to pursue whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. Yet I still find it hard to make time to do the things I really want to do. So I know it is an internal matter, not external. It could be I just have too many interests which makes for not enough time. Or maybe I was more focused when I worked full-time and was always a human “doing” rather than a human “being.”

  11. “Then one day, the switch flicks and I drop it all…” – this so beautiful and right! Very well said! :) We call it “tha vacation symptom”: the first two or three days are adjustment days – time to disconnect from the routine and to connect with the new place. Then ypu start enjoying the vacation (or go sick, but stilll). Then, exactly when you are enjoyning it the most, time comes for a return to the old and may be (in most cases dull) routine. That pays the bills. So sad! A wise person once said: “If you enjoy your work, if you have a real passion in what you do, if you live for your work and not from your work, then you will never have to work in your life. So, escaping from work, from time to time, in order to enjoy life is a human fallibility. Animals and plants don’t do that! They enjoy life the fullest! Yes, of course they eat each other, they are cruel to each other, but don’t we, humans? The only thing that separates us from them is our brain. Our dictator, By using it, we have created a world where we allow ourselves to be alive and to enjoy life only on weekend, only in the exact time for vacation during the year. Great news, however! Life goes on on Monday, it goes on in November. The question is: Can e enjoy it? Do we allow ourselves to enjoy it? Evene if we have to work (in order to pay the bills)? Rememeber about plants, and birds, and animals, and insects! have a look at the Sea, the Clouds, the Rivers… They enjoy life during the whole time. They simply are. They have nothing to do, in order to be. So, just be! Wherever you go, whatever you do – be! Not a company man, but the real You that is far “behind the scene” and lives (to the fullest) in everyone of us…

  12. I love your writing, Danny. Beautiful style, like listening to thoughts, not proclamations. I used a Sharpie to write “every day matters” on my sketch tote, even imitated your handwriting from the cover of the book. That satchel catches my eye at the oddest times, when I am trying to do too much, or hesitating about a trip to the gym. I can almost hear it whispering, lovingly, “Do what you want, hon, but remember, every day matters. And even the everyday matters matter :-)
    Bobbie Herron

  13. Danny, the “monkey” is a reminder that there is more than the “monkey” out there and the fact that there is an adversary to our plans/desires/motives/actions/ is a reminder that truth is not always what we think it is – and – although I agree that the truth can be found in the here and now, and inspires you to continue your work – The true Truth is more than what we think it to be -

  14. Love this post. I, too, am on a tropical vacation right now and trying very hard to be present and shut out thoughts of my rough recent past, and also fears about the future that I live with every day. It is so much easier when you have a beautiful view and ocean and sunshine to look out at. I wish I could take the calm I feel here back home with me. Although it can be difficult sometimes… especially on a crowded subway platform where I am often at my least relaxed :) Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip, in good health!
    -Steph

  15. Have a great vacation! I had two weeks in Arizona in May, four days alone at the Grand Canyon — with NO bloody laptop. I’m a FT freelance writer so no paid vacations for me….just working like a maniac to be able to buy some downtime. Not touching a computer for five days felt like a month off.

  16. Having just returned from a Costa Rican vacation in which I was so in the now, I absolutely get what you are saying. I used to be the person who couldn’t switch off–and when I did, for a vacation or brief rest, that’s when my body realized how tired it was and got sick. Put that monkey in its cage and tell it vacations are a no-fly zone. Enjoy:)

  17. Great writing style. I absolutely loved this. I sometimes struggle with being in the here and now as well. It’s really hard to do when there’s so much pressure and stress. But, if we spend our entire lives trying to relive the past or dreaming of a distant future, then we never truly live.

  18. Am a person who suffers from the need to be connected at all times – whether on vacation or not (perhaps a disorder of sorts) and i know to get rid of the demon is a chore but once we do, it is bliss, heaven maybe and that’s when we realise is where we belong. loved your post, the way you have etched out the emotions, its just fantastic. “regret is a waste of the present too.” – brilliant work!
    congratulations and good luck with the paintings. oh, can we get a drawing of your braided hair….would be lovely ;)

  19. This resonated with me. I struggle to ignore the embarassing moments of the past that pop into my head. I relive them, try to mentally change them, think about what I could have done and what could have been. Likewise I fret about the future that I can’t change because it doesn’t yet exist. Thank you for reminding me to stay in the present and strive to always achieve that inner peace that comes from a mental vacation, where your only concern is the beautiful moment in front of you.

  20. Well only few weeks back I came back from a two weeks vacation & it took me almost two days to attach back to work! It has never been the problem for me the other way around.
    True in the era of easy global connectivity you are only a click away from your office desk but I only absorb limited information (at my will) only because I don’t get major surprises coming back to work.
    And yeah vacation is always in my thoughts, when not on one, thinking about one & when on one thinking about a next! :)

  21. What a poignant post. Thank you for that reminder…I’ve been hearing that word on the street alot lately – about being present in the moment. Your concept of regret is only wasting the present strikes a chord. I’ll hang on to that.

  22. @ “To inhale deep, to avoid the chimp, to be in my skin, to deal with what’s happening and make it neither greater than it is with mental constructions nor lesser with denial.
    Life is what is. And that’s just exactly how it should be….” You said a mouthful & captured exactly what I attempt to do with each day/each moment! I think that is called living IN the moment..And it takes a conscious effort..Love the flow of your writing; it has a poetic flow..And poetry is my first love of writing & expression..Reflecting is good and I do it often also..Refreshing honest tone to your words..Enjoyed reading & will re-blog this to share with my readers..2 thumbs UP

  23. I can relate a lot, especially since I moved this year to live somewhere that people go on vacation: Hawaii! I chronicle the joys, challenges and reflections at jubilantmango.wordpress.com Check it out for distant empathy and comraderie!

  24. To live with art here and now. I at 37, plan to chuck everything I have made in two months and go by the beach and live with the art. You are an inspiration. Yes, I can do it too. Thanks.

  25. Just stumbled on this, I don’t know if I can relate, I’m a last year student and I also feel the pressure. Sometimes I just want to leave everything and hide under my blanket. I love your writing style by the way :)

  26. I love your way with words! I don’t even know some of them, need to exand my vocabulary :D

    My new favourite sentence is “Regret is waste of the present.”

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