Sometimes events and occasions are so grand, we almost miss them. Whatever milestone achievement, celebration or marker we are recognizing when we make plans to designate a given day for it, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves and others. Think wedding. Think graduation. Think retirement party. Think birthdays.
But what is it about certain days that feel so grounding? Is it the love and laughter? Is it the pomp and circumstance? Is it the festivities, or the people there? What makes it so special?
One of my best days ever was spent in the South of Spain. I was visiting with a host family I’d lived with the prior summer in Cadiz. On a Saturday afternoon, one of their daughters told my friend with whom I was traveling, and me, that we were going to a picnic the next day. We needed to get the shopping and food prep done and get to bed early so we were rested.
Why would we need to rest for a picnic? Wasn’t that a pretty loose event? Wasn’t a picnic a “come as you are” type of engagement that doesn’t require a lot of planning? Maybe. But in this Spanish family we had work to do to get ready for our picnic, which we did, and we got to bed early.
On Sunday morning, the entire family (nine people plus the two of us) packed up in a couple of vehicles and drove to the outskirts of Cadiz to a large home with a breathtaking pool and veranda. An elderly woman was sitting outside with a bucket of fruit to one side and a large stockpot of sorts, to the other with a small knife in her hand. She was pulling “melocotons” (peaches) and “naranjas” (apples) from the fruit bowl and peeling and dicing them as she added them to the stockpot. I later found out that she was making sangria.
We arrived to this picnic around 11am. And picnic we did, for at least the next 12 hours. We ate one course of food after another, drank sangria and other concoctions, swam, laid in the sun and danced under the stars. We had “chicken” fights in the pool and learned some new songs and new dances. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.
Since I can’t recreate that entire scenario, I think about what elements made it so special. The people were lovely and engaging. The food was outstanding. The energy was like radiant enthusiasm, as we literally indulged in the 12 hour experience of just being together. One of the most powerful facets of this occasion was that it had no “end” time. There was no pressure. We were just there with the “goal” of enjoyment and connection.
When you think back to some of the best days of your life, you might be surprised to learn that they might not be the days where there was a lot going on. Maybe it wasn’t a milestone birthday or ceremony of some kind. Maybe it wasn’t spent with a lot of people. Maybe you weren’t even really doing much, but something magical was there.
One of the elements of that day in Spain which impacted my experience was the lack of time management. We were not looking at the clock. We didn’t have an “end” that we knew was coming. We were so completely present that I don’t even think we knew what time it was for most of the day. Chilled, wrinkly swimming bodies laid on lounge chairs and as the sun went down we put on dry clothes and built a fire in the fire pit. We moved from snacks to specialty drinks and more food than I could have imagined. There was no agenda. It was just a day to be enjoyed.
I am so fortunate to have had a day like this. Another one that quickly comes to mind was a day, when I was in Denmark with three other friends. We rode a train to a Kronberg Castle so we could sight see for the day and ended up having a three or four hour lunch. It was so cold there, we sat outside with blankets and heaters and did nothing but laugh ourselves silly. We eventually made it to the castle but I secretly wished I could have sat with my friends for another few hours and just connect.
When I plan any events now (thanks to COVID this all looks a bit different,) I try to draw on those conditions that made our Spanish “picnic” so special or that extended lunch in Denmark so good. What was it about them that make them stand out in my mind? Why was I able to show up so fully? How did these terms “Peace, Presence, Acceptance” come to describe what they were like?
Sometimes we think things like “Bigger is better” or “The more the merrier” when planning. And we might forget how important the intimacy of a particular gathering may be. When I put things together now, I often remind myself of what I loved about my favorite days, like a lack of stress, purpose or agenda, or the lack of expectation for something earth shattering to happen, and try to bring those elements to my own event, and have successfully done so time and time again.
What kind of day is perfect to you? Do you have any memories that can pinpoint a particular day that stands out as one of your favorites? Where were you? Who was there? What were the details? If you can identify what made it so great, you have a good chance at replicating a similar experience for yourself and your loved ones in the future.
This is all part of our journey of learning more about what makes us tick. And since we are all different our journeys will reflect our own individual preferences and values. To me the enjoyment of an extended lunch with a close friend, or a 12 hour picnic in another culture allowed a certain peace, and spontaneity to arise. Knowing this, I can dream up the recreation and bring forth those elements that allowed me to actually be there, present, instead of having only my vacant body show up..
If you are so inspired, challenge yourself to identify a “perfect” day that you recall, and see if you can cipher out the parts of it that made it so special. I can’t always be in Spain at a picnic or in Denmark at lunch, but I can recognize that being with people I love, with no agenda, and plenty of food and spirits, out in nature, is a day well spent for me.
Tell us about your favorite day in the comments or perhaps share which part of it made it stellar for you! Then, if it has been a while, set an intention to create a “best” day for yourself. What does that look like and how can you enjoy yourself once again?