Five Cities in Nine Days: An Exercise in Mindfulness

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I tend to get the travel jitters pretty hard. I always start packing for a trip days in advance – I’ve discovered that my packing sweet spot is to start packing the number of days in advance that roughly corresponds to the number of days I’ll be on the trip. This gets pretty ridiculous for a long trip, but it works for me. I’m a future thinker, a planner.

Mindfulness is not my strong point.

How Travel Teaches Mindfulness

I’ve never done a trip quite like this before. I’m on a full-blown West Coast Tour, visiting friends and family all over California and Washington state, taking advantage of a best friend’s baby shower to see everyone else on this side of the country whom I’ve been missing since moving to North Carolina 10 years ago.

And oh my, is it exhausting. I knew it would be – for an introvert with fibromyalgia, travel is incredibly challenging. I knew that it would be and I mentally prepared for that. I planned out being able to sleep plenty, packed as lightly as possible, and made sure none of my plans in each city were overreaching and that I allowed myself enough time for rest. What I was not prepared for, however, was the necessity of mindfulness throughout the trip – of actually being aware of what I’m doing in the present moment. Normally, right before getting on a plane, I’m in hyperjittery strategy mode, just jacked up on adrenaline like I’m about to head into battle. In the 24 hours before getting on a plane, my head will literally figuratively be in the clouds – thinking about the flight, the departure, the arrival, the airport, baggage claim, transportation to and from the airport, my destination. Which bag should I use? Which suitcase? Check or carry on? Which headphones should I use? Did I forget something? Charger, check, phone, check, Kindle, check, laptop, check, liquids in a clear plastic quart-sized bag check, and on and on and on. In the days and hours leading up to a flight, my eyes would just glaze over and there was no hope of anyone making intelligent conversation with me.

Not this week. Now I can’t vouch for the intelligent conversation of my company, but I have definitely been present in a way that is surprising. I mean, I have to be. I have to make the most out of every interaction with the friends and family I’m visiting before moving on to the next city. So I just don’t have time to worry about my luggage. I am here, enjoying company and soaking up the city before I am not here.

It doesn’t come naturally to me, however. Minds like mine want to wander. It’s hard to pin a planner down to the Earth, and it feels like that a little bit – like being pinned. But I know it’s necessary. I also understand that it’s a skill, which means that while it may be difficult, it can be learned, but it takes practice. That’s why I called it an exercise in mindfulness. I’m not really great at it, but I think I can be. And that’s not even the point. Just like in meditation, another prime example of an activity that teaches you mindfulness, the point is the practice. The benefit to my well-being that the very practice of mindfulness can accomplish is the point. When we meditate, we try to quiet our mind and focus on nothing but this present moment, but everytime it wanders around to thoughts outside the moment, we are to gently bring it back to the present without any judgment. Knowing that trying to medidate is meditating, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re very good at it. In the same way, trying to be mindful is being mindful, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re very good at it.

I’m going to wrap it up now – I’m meeting a friend for dinner.

Things I’ve enjoyed this week – long conversations, long dinners, and long showers.

Cheers to living in the moment.

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