Throughout my training in Psychology and Health, the word "mindfulness" began to crop up here and there. I paid little attention to it at first, other than writing about it in academic essays as a method of stress reduction. To me it was a buzz word, a therapy, a tape that you listened to when you needed to calm down. As I progressed professionally I began using mindfulness in therapy. Still, it was something that people would practice for an hour and then forget about. I decided I needed to learn more and I discovered that, guess what? I had been practicing mindfulness all along!
You can find many definitions of mindfulness, but the one I like to use is -
"Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally"
Have a think about this. How often have you said that looking forward to a holiday was better than the holiday itself? How often have you said that it was only when you looked at your photos that you were reminded that you had a good time?
It sounds easy to be mindful. All you have to do really is be present and take everything in. But it may be a little more difficult than you think. Maybe you have problems at home that you can't help but worry about. Perhaps you are travelling alone, and a large portion of your attention is focusing on getting where you need to be next. There are loads of reasons why we don't travel mindfully. We travel bloggers can also be guilty of this, wondering what will make a good story, or afraid that we will miss a good photo opp. We have cameras with selfie sticks, water-proof cases, Go-pros, etc., and the need to document each moment can prevent us from simply living in the here and now.
Golden Rule Number 1 - Paying attention
Paying attention is the easiest part of mindfulness. It means listening, watching or considering what naturally exists. This is what we would do usually when arriving in a new place. We take a look around, we listen to the sounds, we smell, we feel the sand between our toes. But there is so much more than that.
One of my favourite places to visit when I'm away is a local market. From the souks in Marrakech, to the Spice markets in Delhi, this is where it all happens. You will find the salt of the earth, the local people buying local produce. You can feel the locally made fabrics, be they silk, or wool or leather. I like to smell the herbs or spices and see if I can guess what they are. I like to listen in to the transactions made as people haggle and watch the expression of the shop keeper's face as a deal is made.
My biggest tip for paying attention is to put down the camera! Don't get me wrong, I love taking photographs and I am a guilty of this at times. But it is never the same to experience something through the lens of a camera. Switching off from social media for the day is also good. In Cuba I had a digital detox. A whole week without the use of my phone, internet or any form of technology. I came home feeling more relaxed. In a way you could say that I "found myself" on that trip.
Golden Rule Number 2 - Paying Attention on Purpose
This part is kind of like paying more active attention or intentionally increasing your awareness of experience. This takes a bit more energy and it's about actively seeking out new experiences. I would be very much the definition of a "When in Rome-r", if there is a new food or drink, I have to try it. Various forms of traditional dance..... I'll try it!
I suppose my top tip for this is to try new things. Eat the local food and drink, listen to the local music, embrace change and immerse yourself in the culture. Walk where you can. Some of the most incredible things I have seen have happened by chance. By walking around a new city we can find so many interesting and beautiful things. If I am taking a journey by bus or by car, I like to plug in my earphones with my favourite travel tunes and look out the window for the whole trip and soak in every image.
Golden Rule Number 3 - Living In the Present Moment
Paying attention in the present moment, means focusing on the here and now. This can be difficult because we all think about things that have happened and worry about things that may come. Sometimes it can take a bit of effort to do this, but I like to stop and ask myself a few questions. How do I feel right now? Where would I usually be at this time? How did I get here? Asking myself these questions really helps me to ground myself and fully experience this present moment. I also think it makes it easier to remember individual events. You can romanticize the hell out of the moment too if you like! There are probably 4 moments in my life that I will always remember very fondly, because I stopped and I payed full attention. While walking along the Seine at night when a man played "I've got you under my skin" on the saxophone, standing in the Baltic Sea on a beach in Latvia, driving through the country side in Georgia and bathing in the geothermal springs in Iceland.
My tip for living in the moment? Slow Down! Don't try to see everything, but try to really experience and enjoy a few things.
Golden Rule Number 4 - Being Non-judgmental
This is one of the most important parts of travelling for me. It's all about being curious and objective about the experience. Firstly it is so important to be observant and respectful of other cultures and traditions. When you travel often it can be easy to compare one place with another. I was sitting having lunch beside a waterfall in the Atlas mountains in Morocco. A thought crossed my mind, that this was not as big, or nice as some other waterfalls I've seen. I had to stop myself and think, "this is a beautiful waterfall!" It is so easy to fall into the trap of comparing places, but it is better to appreciate each place on its individual merit.
How can we be non-judgmental when we travel? First and foremost, by keeping an open mind. This is an opportunity to learn about a new place and a new culture. Secondly, don't compare this to a trip you've had before. Finally, and importantly, don't forget about life lessons. Ok, so you missed the train, or you need to change your plans. Don't beat yourself up over it. Embrace it as a challenge. It's not a catastrophe, it's just a lesson and who knows, maybe some day it will make a heck of a story!
So there you have it, my 4 golden rules for travelling mindfully. Go forth and fully experience your adventures fellow travellers!
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