Last week we looked at the idea of ‘taking refuge’ – finding little sanctuaries in our lives where we can gather strength and be inspired. As we saw, these can be varied, and are very individual. One person’s refuge could be someone else’s worst nightmare. For example, I find going on week-long silent retreats is a refuge for me, but for another person, the idea of sitting still and in silence for seven days might sound more like some devious form of punishment and torture!

It’s important to find refuges where we feel safe and supported. The challenge for us, however, lies in being able to distinguish between healthy self-care and self-compassion on the one hand, and an unhealthy amount of escapism on the other. Personally, I think a certain amount of escapism is good for us – to take time out occasionally to enjoy a movie which isn’t too earnest, to watch sport for a day or lose ourselves in a book, or to find some other way of forgetting about our problems, and the problems of the world, for a while. Yet if escapism becomes a way of life, it will prevent us from engaging with our lives honestly and sincerely. And true intimacy, whether with ourselves, a partner, our children or a group of friends, is impossible when we are constantly trying to escape to somewhere else.

Unfortunately for us, even our refuges can become just one more form of escapism. We might intend to become more fit but end up with an exercise addiction instead. A religious practice can become obsessive rather than grounded; being inspired by a teacher can lead to an unhealthy fixation and neediness. What’s more, our circumstances are constantly changing. What may be perfectly reasonable one day (you come home from a horrible day at work, your partner wants to discuss something with you and you tell them, not now, I really just need some time to myself) might be quite unacceptable at other times (the whole family knows to never hassle Mummy/Daddy after work, no matter what is going on). Sometimes life is so challenging, we rely on large doses of escapism just to get by; but hopefully over time, we can find more effective strategies to help us cope.

Depending on our upbringing, our cultural background and personality, we can be either too sparing or too profligate with our doses of escapism. It is helpful to pause and ask ourselves from time to time – do I need to buckle down a bit more, or could I afford to loosen up a bit? Most of us would have done some form of this over the New Year period and possibly a few weeks into January. Hopefully we can continue to check in during the rest of the year, so we don’t end up next Christmas either burnt out, or realising we wasted most of the past year on meaningless, forgettable pursuits.

One factor which makes quite a difference in how we can approach these issues is the sense of agency we bring to our lives, which will be the topic of next week’s reflection.

Weekly practice idea:

Where do you think you tend to fall on the continuum between too much escapism and not enough? Write down one action which could help you be more balanced, and make a time to implement it this week.

Anja Tanhane