Zen and the Art of Doing Nada

by Ellen Barone

Not too long ago, I was chatting with a guest in the lobby of the Inn on the Alameda where I love to stay in Santa Fe. Perhaps some of you know her: 30-something, Pilates lean, size zero designer jeans, stylish hair cut, perfectly nice. When conversation turned to travel, as often happens in hotels, she told me that she and her husband had recently returned from an African safari. "Sure, the wildlife was awesome, but what they don't tell you," she said, "is that there's a lot of down time with nothing much to do. Four hours a day, at least," she said, "to entertain yourself with no gym, no Internet, no TV, no cell coverage."

So there I was, in my not-even-close-to-size-zero Patagonia quick-dry travel pants, snuggled in front of a flickering piñon fire, quite prepared to do absolutely nothing for the evening, wondering if I should admit to this kind stranger that my favorite part of any vacation is her dreaded down time.

In fact, I confess, one of my favorite escapes was a month spent doing nada at a friend's no gym, no Internet, no TV, no cell coverage, Mexican beach casita. I like to think of myself as an adventuresome sort, the kind of gal that says yes to rappelling down 9,000-foot mountains, yes to a 2-week camel trek across the Moroccan Sahara, yes to cycling up a rumbling Mount Etna, yes to sailing across the Atlantic, and have in fact done all of the above. But, to my ego's horror, I have come to discover that I am, in all honesty, an A-plus student of doing nothing. I can hang-ten in a hammock, watch butterflies, swing in a porch swing, listen to surf and read 17 books in one month, with the laziest of them.

Raised by Presbyterian parents who measured your worth by achievement, I grew up thinking sloth was a deadly sin. Until a few years ago, like any good addict, I hid my idleness well. I'd take the dogs for a walk in the mountains, just so I could tuck in beside the stream with a good book or my journal; I went to the gym only to go through the motions of a workout. I bicycled to the coffeehouse... not for exercise but for muffins and a mocca; I hired a personal trainer to kick my ass.

Eventually, I found learned to embrace my inner laziness and gained 40 pounds. Then waves of self-loathing hit and a closet full of clothes I couldn't wear suggested that moderation might be called for. So, today, in life, and travel, I mix it up a bit: 2 parts activity to every one part rest and relaxation, más o menos.

I still crave, and require, silence and solitude and the peace within that stillness provides. I still love to nap in the sun, listen to the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the raven's wings as I sip my morning java in my turquoise rocking chair. But now, I go for that afternoon mountain trek with the dogs for the health of it, physical and mental. I've discovered the pleasure of Yoga and a strong body. I'm even enjoying jogging again.

Today, my vacations are like a good margarita - the inspiration for a raucous night of salsa dancing, chased by a long siesta in the hammock.



Travel expert Ellen Barone did what many of us only dream of doing: at the age of 35, she traded a successful academic career for the wild blue yonder and set out to explore the world and herself. In the decade since that intrepid decision, she has turned passion into profession, journeying to more than 60 countries in search of evocative images and life-enriching adventures.

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