- the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something:
- a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
I’m on the road for work again, spending time with strangers in airports, on planes, and in coffee shops. When I started traveling years ago, it was easy to strike up a conversation or see the world. The only barrier back then might be a magazine or a Walkman. Today, it’s tougher. Most people – myself included more than I’d like – are transfixed by their smart phone, staring down glassy-eyed while the bright lights of a pseudo-world stare back at them. We spend hours connected to our devices and the imitation intimacy they offer, and disconnected from the sea of humanity and real mystery all around us. Our smart phones weigh us down, stealing time from our family, stealing sleep and magnifying stress. Lately, it’s been bothering me, so I’m focusing on doing things the old-fashioned way – living in the moment with everyone around me.
When you practice mindfulness and look up, it’s amazing what you may find. Perhaps it’s a quiet moment, making eye contact with someone or smiling back at a child. Maybe it’s shared laughter or seeing an act of kindness. Finding an interesting book cover and wondering what the other person is reading inside. So many airports are filled with art – of the creative and human kind – and so many of us miss it, but when you look up, it’s yours to cherish.
Sometimes, I enjoy the sounds of the terminal… the cacophony of noise that somehow blends into a sweet hum of energy. Other times, I’ll find a soundtrack that suits my mood and marvel at how the world falls in step. Either way, time seems to slow. It’s not even measured any more. No destination. No deadlines. Just before, now, and what may come next. Stress melts away. Worries subside. You get lost in your thoughts, lost in day dreams, lost in the moment just enjoying the people you’re with. Looking up, you see the world and reflect it inward. Emotions wash over you and through you. It’s a beautiful thing.
Now when my flight landed, my teammate picked me up, and we began to drive the back roads of Wisconsin. I’ve never been here before. It’s one more state checked off the list. Now she knows I like to watch the world go by, and as we cruised along she mentioned how “beautiful the barns are here, how they’re different than in Kansas, and how brightly colored they are.” She told me that she’d often wished she could travel to far away, romantic places: Paris, Rome, China, and that sometimes she’d felt like she was missing out, staying close to home. But something had changed.
Six months ago, when my “living in the moment” journey began, I’d come to visit her. Throughout the days we spent together driving across several states, I’d kept commenting about how beautiful the hillsides were, how the shade of grass changed from Nebraska to Kansas to Missouri, and how stunning the fields of corn were as they swayed in the breeze. Then she paid me what may be one of the highest compliments I have ever received.
She shared with me that our three days together last year had changed the way she looked at the world – that listening to me made her see things with fresh eyes. The world looked new to her with so much beauty all around, and now as she drives the highways, she looks up and it’s gorgeous.
Put down the phone. Look up. Practice mindfulness and pass it on. It’s contagious, and it’s good for the soul.