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Spring Breakout

Escaping the structure of the Yard for a freer state of mind

By Margaret M. Rossman

Last week, as my friends and I boarded the plane for the sunny climates of our spring break destination, we set out with a goal that few Harvard students ever manage to successfully accomplish: to relax, totally and completely.

Now, this formidable task is much harder than even the most neurotically nuanced undergraduate might anticipate. But for those of you who hope to follow our example or look to bring the elusive idea of truly chillaxin’ to your daily life, have no fear. You, too, can learn how to de-structure.

We started planning in early October for a trip that took place at the end of March—perhaps not the best example of traveling off-the-cuff. At the time we were still wrapped in Harvard mode, which meant keeping the spontaneity at bay, but at least we started out in the right mind-set. This was senior year and not the time for important sightseeing in interesting countries. Instead, the mantra was “traditional State U. Spring Break.” Food, drinks, beach, and sun—everything else was to be forgotten.

Of course, we had to do some research. Group members were each assigned one of the possible locations, which they investigated and reported back to the group at a specific meeting. And yes, there were a few European destinations included in the early rounds that didn’t quite fit the criteria listed above. But once we had a firm cost-benefit analysis of the locations in place, we chose an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas and we were ready to let loose, although our proposed escapades weren’t exactly like “Girls Gone Wild.”

Even upon arriving in the fun ’n sun, we required some built-in constraints to give us a little push. We found the true key to relaxation is to force one’s self into a situation that actively prevents worrying or outside interaction. Concerned about gluttony or over-indulgence? The all-inclusive setting makes it in your monetary interest to eat and drink more. Can’t get away from your life back at home? Overpriced Internet access and phone rates will force you to keep outside contact (and its stressful connections) to a minimum.

So with much of the isolating work done for us, we took to the beach. I can’t say that there weren’t some setbacks to this complete calm. There were some airport anxieties as some were sure we’d miss our flights or lose our luggage. We did have a schedule of when to meet for dinner and specific times set up for the night’s activities. And some of the reading material seemed a bit too intellectual (a few of the books were, dare I say it, assigned for class). But don’t judge us too harshly; I’m not sure that it’s ever entirely possible to get the “do something” nagging voice out of your system. At least there was a communal New Yorker style issue being tossed about and no one was punished too severely for being a bit late.

Advocating for this choice of spring break style doesn’t mean that we should forsake doing anything worthwhile on our time off—many a great memory has been made from slightly higher travel pursuits. But that type of vacation does not require a defense; everyone seems to be doing it. However, the desire to do and, much more importantly, think absolutely nothing is certainly a road less traveled.

What did I learn from lying in front of the ocean from 11 to 5 each day, with the sporadic bathroom and snack break? Basically, I think it was how to shut my mind down for a moment. I know that we have fun at Harvard, and we procrastinate on papers, and we go out on weekends—like our State U. friends. But rarely can we do any of these activities without fretting about what we should be doing. De-stressing one’s life only really works when one is able to mentally let go.

If it takes an isolated, low-key setting to finally get us to turn off the switch, then so be it. If even our relaxation time is occasionally organized, okay. At least we have mentally gone where we once may have feared to go.

Upon returning to Harvard, we were still left with a few days of break, and on Friday, I woke up at 12:30 p.m. For all who know me, this is no new feat; in fact, it might even be a tad early. Yet I awoke with a different response than usual. Often, I might think, “Why did I sleep so late?” or “Now I’m so behind schedule,” and then stay in an anxious state until I finally got around to doing something. But this day was different.

I stayed in bed until three, with a brief move to the microwave to cook some food, justifying my actions with the fact that I would still be on the beach at this time a day or two earlier. And for a few more hours I was able to completely relax.

This is progress. But check back with me in a few weeks at term’s end, when final papers and exams, graduation, and the real world loom. Then I’ll know how far I’ve gone down the relaxation road.

Margaret M. Rossman ’06 is an English concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears regularly.

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