It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt. Habits and routines often seem to coordinate in turning life into a long dull blur. Yes, routines brings with them comfort zones, and comfort zones align against our basest animal fears, but they also fail to bring challenges which foster growth. Being present, ever mindful, is a difficult skill to master. Like learning the piano or pushing through the pain of a fitness workout, being present is an acquired skill. It must be endlessly practiced and worked upon to maintain its benefits. How does one practice being mindful, you ask? Well, first you must know what exactly being present is.
There are many ways to come face to face with a mindful moment. The most traditional way is probably the act of meditation. I highly recommend this practice, but for meditative beginners (like me) sitting still and quieting your thoughts can often leave you wondering if you’re doing it right. You’ll ask yourself, is this the mental state I’m looking for?
Another way to know mindfulness is artificially; that is, through drug use. This can be a useful, though quite dangerous, tool to guide you into a state of mindfulness. It is useful in that it will show you of what the mind is capable. Unfortunately, most people who use this method can’t find the road back to this state of mindfulness once the drugs wear off and must use the drugs over and over to escape the routine of their life.
Thankfully, there is another way. Travel. This is my favorite way to be mindful. How does one gain mindfulness through travel? If you love to travel, you might not know it , but you already know what it means to be mindful and that mindfulness is actually what it is that you love about travel. You just, likely, have never thought of it in those terms.
I have spent my life traveling. Anyone who reads the Highways & Byways category of my blog knows how I love to travel. Though, for all my years of travel, it wasn’t until my relatively recent mid-life discovery of the concepts and benefits of mindfulness and meditation, that I understood for at least a week of every year of my life, I had already been fully present. It was on my yearly vacation.
There is no quicker way to pull your mind free from daily routine than to separate it from your job, lawn mowing, bills, cooking, cleaning, laundry and the like. Remove the things you do day in and day out, week after week and month after month from the un-focus of your mind and what is left? Certainly, your mind will remain without these tasks. Of course, so do days and time itself. What can you now do? Why, anything you’d like. Now, the prospect of choice can be overwhelming to many. It’s certainly easier to relax at the beach you’ve been visiting since you were a child, than to challenge your mind. When your mind is set free from the routine it will instinctively seek new routines. Travel will not let it. Travel keeps you outside your comfort zone. How can you stay in a routine on a road you’ve never traveled. Unlike the road to work every day, you cannot do it in half-hypnotized consciousness. You don’t know the traffic patterns. You don’t know what’s around the next bend. Maybe the traffic is even moving on the opposite side of the road! How mindfully present must you be to negotiate that?
How mindless are you when you try some other regions local delicacy? Is your mind on cruise control the first time you try frogs legs in Paris, conch in Key West, Pho in Viet Nam, lobster roll in Bar harbor or suck crawfish in Louisiana? I hope not. Whether the food tastes good or not so good, you will likely be so very present for such experiences that you will recall their memories forever.
The further from home you go, the more you must call your mind into service. Can you routine your way through a food order with a waiter who speaks a different language? No. Chances are you are going to use all the cleverness your faculties might call upon to bridge the communication gap. The glory of travel is, even if you fail and get served a food dish that was not what you’d thought it was, you were present and will have a memory to last forever. That’s how, in Lake Como, Italy, I learned tuna fish on Pizza was pretty good. (It tastes like a tuna melt!)
Can you be mindless standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome?
Can you be un-present at Sunset Pier in Key West?
Could you forget your first time standing under the Eifel Tower, seeing the Grand Canyon, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, hearing Big Ben chime or riding a train through the Alps?
The answer to all these questions is no. The reason you would forever remember them all is because you’d have been present in the moment they happened. Have you ever wondered why you can remember everything you did on a vacation two or three decades ago, but you can’t remember anything you did just two or three weeks ago? The reason for the difference is the same as the difference between mindless routine and mindful novelty.
If you want to be present, mindful, alive and achieve real human growth by getting outside your comfort zone, travel. Travel long, far and wide. The road of travel will remind you of that mindset you’re missing. It will give you a road map to rediscover the joy and happiness that is, whether at home or abroad, your absolute birthright.