A recommendation: begin your next vacation by visiting a Japanese garden. The result will be almost instantaneous refreshment and restoration.
Yesterday the friends we are visiting in Florida took us to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delroy Beach, and whatever stress came with us from home seemed to find immediate relief. Between the slow strolling on the paths from one carefully composed landscape of water and trees to observing a heron making his way slowly and methodically along the shore, doing his version of T'ai Chi, our breathing, our minds also slowed.
As I observed the heron, I remembered the Great Blue who sometimes visited the pond behind our barn at our Ohio home. I couldn't see it from the house, but it would hear me when I opened the back door. When I walked to the garden or the garage, I would hear a sound not unlike the whipping of sheets drying on a country clothesline. Not an easy lift off--that big awkward body.
In Chinese culture, the heron stands for strength, purity, patience, and long life, and that all makes sense to me, especially as I stood on the bridge in the Japanese gardens, but my heron on the farm reminded me that my lift offs are not always graceful or easy either, but eventually I fly, I soar.
Walking through those lovely gardens, where everything has been designed to provide attractive views and a feeling of both timelessness and the passing of time (One of those paradoxes we are susceptible in our wisdom years!), I released sighs of compassion for a friend whose father is dying and for others in my life facing difficult steps in their lives.
I thought how important it is to know at such times and really, all times in our lives what calms us. Are there places and landscapes that help us remember to breathe? Which spiritual practices move us into inner calm? Yoga. T'ai Chi. Centering prayer or mindful meditation. A walk in your neighborhood or nearby park. A few moments on your deck or porch. If water is important to you and you can't be near water, would looking at a picture from a time you spent on or near water help or how about closing your eyes and visualizing waves coming into shore on your favorite beach? Can a view of snow falling become a contemplative one for you?
A Japanese garden is not always within reach, but the serenity of such a place is as close as our heart beat.