April: Presence Month (A Case for Mindfulness in Travel)
So, I'm not going to lie. Making time for a post this month has been a struggle. My spin on the Happiness Project is all about goal-setting, trying new things, forming new routines and being more intentional with my relationship with myself in order to get more out of life. Well, that being said, I think a new life rule of mine is: Don't attempt to start a new routine/ set a new goal right before a vacation. Duh. At the beginning of April, I was getting ready to go home to America for the first time in 7 months, and to say the least, I was distracted. I'll let you in on a little secret. April was supposed to be Energy Month. We figured since we would be suffering from jet lag, this might be a good opportunity to try out some new ways of energizing our days. To put it simply, this was a very bad idea. All we could think when we were sleeping in airport floors, on park benches, desperately sucking down coffee and on our 26th hour in and out of airports was that Energy Month was absolutely a set up for failure. So we let that idea, and ourselves, rest and focused on enjoying time with family, traveling and exploring!
After returning from the trip, I played around with some ideas for what this month's focus could be, and I have settled on Presence. It feels like a continuation of Mindfulness Month, and really it is. Mindfulness Month did so many wonderful things for me as I explored meditation and realized how badly I needed it in my life, and this month that discovery spilled over into my travels. I have only just begun training my mind to stay in the present moment, and as a daydreamer I know that this is going to be a long journey. Given the circumstances this April has thrown at me, I feel like this month is a great opportunity to examine the benefits of gaining a greater sense of presence. I'd specifically like to focus on how developing a good mindfulness practice in your daily life will help you to get more out of travel before, during, and after the experience itself.
How often do you find yourself sitting in your office at work and daydreaming about your next vacation? How often do you think you do this, without catching yourself? I know I get completely absorbed in my thoughts all the time, whether it's the next vacation, the coming weekend, or the next class break. So many of us are constantly looking forward to the next thing and are rarely completely present with our work. This not only makes us less happy in our jobs, but it also prevents us from fully enjoying travel.
Arriving and Still Not Being There
Unintentional as it may be, by constantly looking forward we are training our brains to jump to the next thing, so when we finally do find ourselves on that big vacation, what are we thinking about? Having to go to work the following week. That sense of dread can be hard to shake, and it's because we have accidentally wired our brains to stray away from the present moment, which is where happiness is actually found. If I spend all my time at work thinking about travel, why would my brain know how to be present while I was actually traveling? There's always something else to worry about if that's what you're training your mind to search for. Only by beginning to cultivate a mindfulness practice did I realize that I was so guilty of this a lot of the time. It was something I felt I did a much better job navigating on my most recent trip home, but I am still very much a beginner at this whole mindfulness thing.
Searching for the Next Escape
Without a mindfulness practice, coming back to work after vacation is hard even if I wasn't fully present on the trip. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about the trip I just came back from, and sometimes I immediately start planning the next escape in my head. All of these thoughts might feel fun and exciting, but failing to exist in the present moment has done harm here. My memories of the vacation I just came back from are hazy if I wasn't fully present there, and I am already plotting the next escape from reality. So if I wasn't present on the vacation I was so excited for, and I'm not present once I am back at work, is there any chance I will be present on the next big trip I'm daydreaming about?
The tendency to stray away from the present moment pervades even the most joyful life experiences. I am living in one of my favorite places in the world and I still struggle with it constantly. Since I have begun to learn the importance of presence in order to enjoy my life more, here are some ways I have started to cultivate this practice to train my brain to stay in the here and now:
- 10 minute meditation in the mornings and evenings. This is a Mindfulness Month goal I have been working to stick with and when I'm consistent with it, the benefits are amazing. Training my brain to be present on a daily basis has already begun to help me enjoy my job more and enjoy my down time and travels more fully. The apps Headspace and Calm have been great for this.
- Catching myself daydreaming and gently bringing myself back to the present. This is a lesson in patience. It is easy to get frustrated when I can't stay in the present moment longer than 5 seconds. This stuff is hard for everyone so remaining calm and kind to myself has helped me stick with it when I might have originally been inclined to give up.
- Finding joy in the mundane. As a teacher, the days sometimes stretch out before me and it's so tempting to think about my to-do list, or my weekend plans. Whatever the distraction may be, I have begun to push back at it by finding joy in whatever situation I'm currently in. Whether it's one smiling student or a teacher I could connect with to practice my Spanish. Some moments are harder to find joy in than others but with practice it becomes easier. More joyful moments = more joyful days = a more joyful life!
- Unplugging. Having breaks from screens and social media, to eat meals, go on walks, do chores, or journal helps me stay much more present with any activity. I have become more intentional and frequent with these screen time breaks.
- Noticing surroundings. Creativity has become very important to me lately, so during moments when I am journaling or drawing, I will push myself to carve out a moment to focus my creative activity on the room or area I am in.
- Staying in my body. Each night I stretch and work to focus my attention only on my body, how it is feeling and which muscles I am stretching.
The Presence thing is pretty challenging for me, so I am actually kind of glad Energy Month was a fail. That's definitely a topic I'd like to focus on another month, but for now, I'm thankful for more time to expand upon the mindfulness goals I've set for myself and explore them through the lens of travel, one of my greatest loves in life. Are there any methods for staying in the present moment that I'm missing? I'll take all the help I can get. I'm excited to continue this journey of living more simply and fully in the now. More Presence, please!