The art of stopping

It’s been a while since I posted and here’s why.

I’ve been on holiday.

Again? the regular readers among you might say.

Yes I know. So far this year I’ve been to York, Edinburgh and Oxford, spending a few days in each and discovering lots of lovely things to see and do.

But this was a different sort of holiday. It was a holiday with the sole purpose of stopping.

It’s been fifteen years since I learnt how to stop. Until then, I thought holidays were for doing – visiting new places, seeing new things, eating new food and learning new stuff. They weren’t for stopping. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t fill their time off with loads of stuff to do. But in 2003, after a fraught and exhausting year – and bolstered by a redundancy payout – I fled to a resort on Koh Samui for ten days.

For the first few days, I did little more than park myself on a sun-bed and alternate between reading, dozing and gazing absent-mindedly out to sea. My mind started to empty and my body stilled. By day three, something unusual had started to emerge – boredom.

I am an inquisitive person. I love ideas and learning and I’m always off to meet new people, listen to new ideas and think about all of the ‘what-ifs’ in life. As a result I’m rarely bored. But for the first time in my life I could not summon the energy to deal with anything new. Just the thought of exploring beyond the hotel felt completely overwhelming. So I stayed where I was, wrapped in the island’s pre-monsoonal September lethargy, mentally antsy but too tired to do anything about it.

By day five, stripped of all but the most essential social contact and stimulation, I slipped quietly into this feeling of incredible peace. My mind stopped chattering quite so loudly, the tension melted from my limbs and shoulders and I started to notice things. The warm breeze brushing my skin as I lay on the lounger. The sand crunching between my toes as I walked towards the sea foam rippling along the shore. The water sluicing through my hair as I plunged under and then broke back through the surface, tasting the salt on my lips.

Everything felt still and serene. Boredom had given way. Suddenly I understood – this was stopping, this was why those people did what they did – and for the remaining five days, I slept like a child – long, deep and restorative – for the first time in my adult life.

And so this holiday – some fifteen years later and one of many since – was about stopping, finding some stillness and surrendering to my favourite things – the feeling of sun on my skin, lots and lots of reading and some epic sleeping. No going out. No ‘discovering’ the city. Actively avoiding any engagement with those people who assume that being on your own means you’re up for a chat. Nothing remotely effortful or stimulating. Just me and my trusty Kindle.

I spent eight days and eight night in Muscat, or more specifically at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Muscat.

After a seven hour flight from London, during which I managed to watch the entire season of Big Little Lies (indulgence number one – done!), I checked into the hotel, unpacked my cabin bag – after all bikinis, sarongs, a pair of flip flops and a few things to wear to breakfast and dinner do not take up much room – and headed to the rooftop pool.

Panorama from rooftop pool 1

I spent every day there…

Muscat poolside

I read. A lot. I caught up on two issues of New Scientist magazine, lingered among the pages of the latest issue of 1843 and devoured seven books.

Muscat books

Each day I snoozed, ate lunch by the pool and went for a few gentle swims with the call to prayer wailing soulfully across the city in the background at midday and then again around mid-afternoon.

Late afternoon, feeling sun-kissed and sublimely relaxed, I returned to my room to shower, check emails, post (smugly, I must admit) on social media and linger for a while over the view.

Muscat sunsets

Dinner was either at the Taybat buffet (there was lots of variety so it was easy – and effortless! – to eat six of the eight dinners here) or at its a la carte seafood restaurant.

Muscat Fish Restaurant

Essentially it was about lots of delicious food with some happy Kindle-time between courses…and no alcohol. (The hotel is ‘dry’.)

When I got back to my room, I’d jump into the big comfy bed…

King Room 1

…and watch a couple of episodes of my ‘downloaded from Netflix’ box set, Thirteen Reasons Why. (I recently read the book – both it and the TV series were great!)

When that was all over – sooner than anticipated due to some profligate binge-watching – I then moved on to discover just how addictive US series Elementary – starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui – could be.

I did this for eight days and eight nights.

And then early on Sunday morning, I headed back to the airport for my flight home.

Muscat going home

It’s taken me a few days to feel hungry and sleepy at the right times again (Muscat is three hours ahead of London so I’ve been waking up at 5am) but I can safely say that the stopping has worked. I feel super alert, completely rejuvenated and full of energy – ready to tackle whatever’s coming next.

Here’s also hoping I’ve soaked up enough vitamin D to ward off any feelings of SAD-ness over the winter months…