I just had one of the most relaxing Sunday afternoons of my life. It was very simple; I walked around for a bit, I stopped, and I read for a while. Once at a coffee shop while I had lunch, once on campus, once in the park, and once in another coffee shop while sipping on a frappaccino. And each time, I'd rotate between reading a chapter in one of four books: Brian Staveley's The Providence of Fire (high fantasy fare--also, incidentally, a great title); Darowski's The Ages of the X-Men (an edited essay collection discussing the X-Men chronologically); Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (my first foray into classic literature in a LONG time); and Enevold and MacCallum-Stewart's Game Love (an edited essay collection on play and affection in games).
All of the books were satisfying. The Providence of Fire had various maneuverings and fights, and The Brothers Karamazov had the first but not the second; in general, BK has proven to be a book that's not really about anything but a very close look at the lives of the title characters. The bit I read today covered a long monologue from Ivan about an imaginary confrontation with God to Alyosha returning to the monastery. Ages of the X-Men had four essays about various aspects of the X-Men early years--the cultural understanding of mutants in America leading up to the X-Men's debut, the way the 60s comics depicted Cold War negotiiations and promoted the commune (two separate essays there), and the way the 70s Claremont-relaunch was driven initially by market concerns. I read an essay from each of Game Love's sections, which meant one from Waern on how players express love for NPCs in Dragon Age: Origins, one from Brown on interviews from erotic role-players in World of Warcraft, one from Lenio taking an exceptionally ontological view of what it means to love an NPC, and finally, a rather lengthy essay criticizing the way sustained videogame play is framed in terms of addiction, whether that's in terms of cognitive science, psychology, or holistically as compensation for a lack in the player's lives.
But to be honest, very little of the above had any impact on why I found the day so relaxing. The content of the books didn't matter. The exact locations didn't matter. The rigidity of the formula--four readings, four locations, repeat--didn't matter. What matters is that I sat in a public space for a while and read a book. And that act, in whatever variation it might unfold, is like a cup of tea straight to my soul.
Reading alone at home doesn't put me in that state; neither does reading on the bus, or playing videogames, in public or private. Neither does walking through a place, or talking with someone else on a park bench or hanging out at a coffee shop. Don't get me wrong; I like all of those things, quite a bit. But none of those are relaxing in the same way that today was. If I had to put it into words, I enjoy being in one place while the world flows around me, and the world and I are content to let each other be. I have a hunch that this would be my ideal vacation too--go to somewhere exotic and, instead of seeing the sights or doing adventurous stuff, simply sitting in a corner and watch a different part of the world unfold without worrying about a deadline or whether I should be doing something else.
I've known this about myself for quite some time, and in the spring especially, I like to stop in the park on a bench on the way home from work and indulge for a half hour or so; spending basically a full day at it like today is nice but not necessary. And it always puts me in a good mood for the evening.
I'm curious, though, if it extends the other way. If I get up in the morning and spend a half hour on a park bench before I reach work, will that tranquility be instilled into the whole day? Will it give me at least a morning boost? Or would morning crankiness and work grind chip away at my zen?
Might be worth finding out.
What's your secret to tranquility?