06/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Vacations Just Don't Work

When you're exhausted from working, overwhelmed and burnt-out, little visions come visiting. Visions of distant beaches, cabin hide-aways, foreign adventures. Especially now that summer has arrived, even here in Oregon where I'm writing, it's easy to start dreaming of that far-away land.


And so, off you go, on vacation. And, when you come back, by noon on Monday you're as exhausted as you were when you left. Did you take the wrong vacation? Or is there something wrong with vacations?

Vacations only solve one of two problems.

If you are crispy from working in your business, then you probably have two problems going on.

The first problem: physical and mental fatigue. You've probably worked long hours, doing too much, just plumb worn out.

For this, you need rest. Sitting around, doing nothing, taking naps, lounging. It's scary to contemplate when your to-do list is screaming at you, but it's absolutely necessary.

What does resting do? Resting empties you out. When you're exhausted, it feels as if you are empty, but the truth is you're full.

You may be empty of juice, but that's because you've been doing so much that your being has become full of all the doing-ness. Rest isn't recharging your batteries -- it's dumping out all the stuff you've been piling in there, like to-do lists, worries and responsibilities, and unresolved commitments.

But, when you come back from vacation, it's all waiting for you as soon as you enter your office. It only takes a few hours before you've filled your heart with the same lists, worries, and commitments.

Suddenly, you're full again. And... exhausted to be carrying it all, even though you've been back from vacation for exactly 180 minutes. Because you haven't handled the second problem.

The second problem: Lack of Connection

What keeps you from getting filled up again? By being full already.

Nature loves a vacuum, and fills it up. To avoid filling it up with all the stuff waiting for you in the office, you need to fill your heart with something else. With Connection.

Your heart's connection to Source has been blocked by all that stuff. If you fill yourself up with spiritual practices, then all that stuff can come pounding at you, but the door is already closed. "Sorry, you'll have to take the next elevator."

Ahhh... finally, true peace. Even though you're hundreds of miles from the beach.

Live in your heart's world, not your stuff's world.

In Sufism, the word for heart is 'qalb' which means 'to turn.' This is because the spiritual heart is always turning between the world of Source and the material world.

Your job isn't to get everything done in the material world so you can finally rest. Your job is to keep your heart turned towards Source as much as possible.

This keeps you living in your heart's world, not in your stuff's world.

But does that mean I don't get any work done?

Sure you'll get work done. In fact, you'll get more of the right work done, and less of the wrong work done. Because you won't be digging yourself out of a hole, instead you'll have a clear perspective.

So how do you access this magical happy heart space that protects you from overwhelm? And, does this mean no more vacations? I think you'll want to keep reading:

Keys to Spiritual Retreat

• Is your vacation a running away, or running towards?

Sometimes a vacation is just trying to 'get away from it all.' Other times it's because you want to take an adventure and go somewhere you haven't been before.

If you are just trying to 'get away from it all,' then I'm guessing you are dealing with the two problems I discussed above. Try creating a mini-vacation where you take off two days in a row to do absolutely nothing, even if it's around your house, or a weekend get-away.

This will relieve your exhaustion, and give you a sense spaciousness. Then you can save your funds, and your time, for adventure vacations that really take you somewhere you want to go.

• Take on a fill-you-up spiritual practice.

For what I've been discussing here, I recommend taking on a spiritual practice that connects you and fills your heart. I say this because some spiritual practices are meant to be emptying practices, which are great.

But the filling up, such as the ancient Sufi practice I teach called Remembrance, is critical so that there is no void that can suddenly be filled with stuff.

A key way to tell if your spiritual practice works or not is: does it have a carry-over effect into your worklife? Sometimes folks have spiritual practices where they feel great sitting on the meditation cushion, but as soon as they walk in their office, bam, it's the same as coming back from vacation.

If you haven't already (or even if you have) use the Remembrance Challenge to fill yourself up.

And that's just my way. If you have a favorite spiritual practice, meditation resource, or something else that keeps you connected in the workplace, I invite you to share it in the comments below.

• Take a spiritual retreat.

There are places where you can go and be guided by spiritual teachers, who will have you spending your days in spiritual practices. The carry-over effects of these kinds of retreats are amazing, and I recommend them highly.

Keys to look for? You'll want a retreat center that has teachers available for daily check-ins, to guide you through the internal terrain of your heart. Spiritual practices can bring up a lot of old emotions, like doing a spring cleaning of your basement.

I don't recommend cleaning out either your basement, or your heart, on your own.

If you don't have your own spiritual retreat resources, here's one from my Sufi lineage, called The Farm of Peace.

And, again, that's just what I know. If you have a favorite spiritual retreat resource, where there's real help and guidance available, where you come home nourished and changed, please post it in the comments below.

You can come back from vacation without feeling exhausted immediately if you take the risk to remedy your depletion with down time and your missing heart connection with a spiritual practice. And you might be surprised to find that with down time and spiritual connection, even your work can begin to feel like a vacation.

So, what are your favorite spiritual resources that help you stay connected at work?