Last week I took a vacation – a complete vacation from any type of work. For seven whole days, I didn’t write blog posts, character sketches, or scenes; I didn’t work on getting ready for the fall semester; I didn’t read any books on improving my writing craft; I didn’t even sew a single stitch. I did, however, feel a little bit guilty.
Well, I felt guilt for about . . . two days. And then, I made the decision to let that go too.
I love words, so when I got home I looked up the etymology of the word “vacation.” What I found alarmed me a bit. The root word “vac” means empty, as in vacuous, vacuum, vacant. The suffix -tion means the quality or state of, or the suffix -ation means the process of the kind indicated by the root. Accordingly, a vacation would mean the “state of being empty” or “the process of becoming or being empty.”
Without our work are we somehow “empty”? Vacant? Vacuous?
Yuck – I certainly hope not! I didn’t feel empty on my vacation. I pretty much felt the opposite.
I decided to look a little further. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, The word comes from the Old French “vacation” and from the Latin “vacationem” and means “leisure, a being free from duty” or “empty, free, or at leisure.” This is better, but the word “empty” still appeared. I find it fascinating that since the first recorded usages of this word in the late 14th century, the idea of not having work leaves one empty or even free. Is work so often so awful?
I hadn’t planned on writing about this in my blog because I wasn’t sure what to say. It is a bit of a conundrum because, sadly, more often than not, it is work that creates feelings of emptiness, not our vacation from it. We need our vacation to re-fill, recharge which is exactly what my vacation did for me. It was not empty or vacuous.
This morning, just before I began writing in my journal, I opened up the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. It’s a book of mystical poetry written in China over 2000 years ago. The poem I opened to, completely randomly, #16, began with this:
“Attain to utmost Emptiness.
Cling single-heartedly to interior peace.”
According to the Tao, emptiness is not a vacuous lonely space. It is peace, and we should strive to achieve it. That’s what my vacation brought me. I didn’t feel empty, or even, really at leisure at times. I was busy, but I was . . . at peace. Thank you Lao Tsu. I needed that thought today. In that sense, vacation means “the process of finding peace” or “the state of being at peace” – much better!
Now I’m back to work writing, feeling recharged, and peaceful.