Being mindful when exploring or traveling.

At first glance, mindfulness may appear to be little more than a recent "buzzword" that has been emerging in virtually all corners of media.  In truth, much of the practice of mindfulness is actually deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions, particularly those which focused on finding the true nature of your reality, and seeing things "as they are."  In fact, the modern Vipassana Movement stems directly from Buddhist traditions, and seeks to help you focus on the now, with an eye toward awareness of thought, and being truly present in the current moment. 

Many modern practices in meditation seek self-insight by using mindfulness exercises which are focused on observing your thoughts and feelings, combined with focusing on the rhythms and sensations of your body - especially your breathing. These practices seek to teach you to be an observer - to be mindful of your thoughts - but to not lose sight of the now.  Did something happen long ago? Is there some potential crisis?  Can something happen in the future?  Are you focussed on a to-do list for next week?  Being mindful is aimed at helping you realize what is happening in the moment, to free you from intrusive, often stressful, thinking about potentialities or the past.

When developing this personal site, a goal was to set it apart from other sites. It would be different. I seek to focus on self care and opportunities to be mindful and appreciative in communion with the beauty, history and engaging communities in Upstate New York. Essentially, the hope is that this site will connect you with places where you can be truly observant and present in your travels. But, first a disclaimer: while solitary meditation and the intentional communion with nature is often a goal when striving to learn healthy practices of mindfulness, striving to be truly present is critically important when experiencing travel with family and friends as well. Mindfulness is not about being solitary. In fact, the benefits of being truly present are often best realized when sharing your time and your life with friends and family.

The goal is to be aware of your surroundings - the people, the places - and to take it all in with an eye toward being there.  Observe all things, and appreciate where you are and who you are with. The best exploration grants you opportunities to fully engage - whether it's with the natural surroundings, the people, or the histories of the places you visit.

Certainly, I've found that my best travel experiences have been realized when I travel mindfully with intention and some planning.  I'm not a teacher of Buddhist tradition or meditation. Nor am I an expert on the emerging psychology that exposes the benefits of mindfulness.   I struggle to attain the best level of disconnected self-observation and mindfulness that I seek.  I constantly refer to other types of support, roadmaps and writing to help me understand and move toward achieving the level of mindfulness and presence that I aspire to. I created this site and committed these ideas "to paper" with the hope that they will help you, and that we might be on this journey as peers.  

Disconnect A Bit

Consider leaving your phone in your bag or resisting the urge to constantly check your phone when traveling.  In today's 24/7 connected world, we can easily find our minds drifting back to our offices or to other places whenever we pick up our phone.  Perhaps there will be an email notification or message that will transport us back to our job and hinder our ability to be present in the moment. Given how important our devices have become, this is absolutely an exercise in willpower.

If you have a demanding job where you either feel the need to be connected all the time, or truly need to be available, consider setting some expectations when you take some time to mindfully travel.

Set Expectations

Ideally, you would completely disconnect from work and other pressures. Realistically, not everyone can do that. There is a compromise that can be struck however - a way to give yourself time and space, while reassuring those that depend on you. Consider telling your team and colleagues that you will be "off the grid" for a period of time, and that they should not expect an email or phone response immediately.  For example, you can say that you will check your email once everyday and respond to the most pressing issues.  This helps set expectations for both you and for others. I've found that in most cases, as long as those depending on you have an understanding of how and when they may receive a response - and know they will be attended to and supported - that it reduces any worry or uncertainty on their part.  It also gives you permission to disconnect, knowing that you have established a reasonable expectation where you will be supportive and available, while also taking the time you need. 

Take Time, With Intention

Whether you're traveling alone, or with friends and family, take some time to practice mindfulness.

Whether you're traveling alone or with friends and family, be certain to take some time to practice mindfulness.  Often this can be intentional meditation, however there are many other mindfulness practices that you might engage in if you do not practice meditation.

Meditation in Nature. Meditating while in communion with nature offers an opportunity to connect with rhythms of the environment, and to feel connected to all things.  Find a peaceful and quiet location which is free of traffic noise or other distractions, and preferably abound with the sounds and experiences of nature. Check out the Suggested Resources page, which features links to guided meditations and further suggestions for meditation in your natural surrounding

Take a Walk. The health and wellness benefits of walking have been argued exhaustively - the emotional benefits of meditative walking are just as impactful.  Consider using walking as an accessible exercise for mindfulness when traveling or while at home.  The goal of a mindfulness walk (or walking meditation) is to focus on the experiences and sensations of the walk, taking in all that you observe in yourself and around you.  Focus on the rhythm of your walk - the sensation of the ground against your feet.  Is there a breeze, a warmth or chill?  Are there new or unusual smells or sounds to observe?  Meditative walking is something you do while traveling to broaden your awareness, or simply something you can do at home or while on your lunch break. Ultimately, the goal is to be intently focussed on the rhythms and the sensation of walking, encouraging you to be mindful -- in the present moment.  

Take a Hike. Of course, hiking offers many of the same benefits as walking, but at the risk of being redundant, consider how hiking has built in opportunities for achieving mindfulness.  Hiking often demands focus on the task at hand. Often you must intently focus on keeping your footing, avoiding obstacles and determining your next course of action or path as you move through a trail.  For this reason, hiking has enormous benefits when seeking to achieve mindfulness and be present in the moment.  As a hiker, I've heard many espouse the value of hiking in being mindful.  In fact, I consider hiking to have built-in benefits for my own practice of mindfulness.

Getting There. Often simply getting to your destination can be an opportunity for meditation and practicing mindfulness.  Focus on your breathing.  Take in and experience the feelings and sensation caused by the movement of the car (or train, or plane).  You can also use a meditative practice to maintain your calm and focus, particularly if you find yourself becoming anxious or impatient.  Even on busy public transit, you can practice mindfulness by focusing on the various elements of the environment and being present while observing them.

Keep Field Notes

Perhaps my predisposition to hiking is coming out in suggesting that you keep "field notes," but its essentially a suggestion to keep a brief journal and/or sketchbook.  Have a small pad with you and take notes or draw as you explore.  Write down unique finds, sights or experiences. When you commit a thought or impression to paper, the act itself is an exercise in mindfulness and being present.  You are intentionally taking time to observe and appreciate the present moment or experience, and keeping it for the future.  When with traveling with your family, you may also choose use it to write down funny or surprising things the kids say or observe, loving or thoughtful things, or observations about your shared experience.  In this sense, field notes can be used to help you achieve mindfulness by focussing on your important relationships, and to appreciate and enhance the present.

Stop Planning

One of the potential traps of travel is being constantly engaged in (1) planning your day and (2) seeking out "big" experiences that will "maximize" your time.  In fact, some of the most memorable and significant experiences are the simple ones that you don't plan for.  Take time to do simple things, and be sure you "plan not to plan."  Be sure some time is set aside where you have no agenda and no big expectations. Take a walk, experience a local shop or restaurant or take the afternoon to be aimless and go wherever the wind blows (literally or figuratively depending on your mode of travel).  One of my absolute favorite travel experiences came about as I decided to simply walk the boardwalk in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. It was unplanned, unstructured and was a fulfilling exercise in mindfulness and being present.

Murrells Inlet, SC 
Often the simple things are the most memorable.

Big Little Vacations

Consider not wearing a watch on your day off. You would be surprised of the effect a simple cue such as the presence of wristwatch can have.

Finally, a vacation or holiday does not have to be monumental.  In fact, it can be very small, but very fulfilling.

One day, I was in a line at the grocery store, where there was a problem at the checkout.  The person in front of me (who falsely assumed she 'caused' the error in the cash register) apologized to me for taking up my time.  My response was, "It's my day off.  I'm in no hurry to do anything."  In fact, even a routine trip to the grocery store can become an exercise in mindfulness. Often being present and content means not being tethered to a schedule. 

Even a simple day off can serve as an opportunity slow down, to travel to a favorite park or location, or simply to unplug. Being Happy Upstate is not just about traveling to new locations - it's about being present in your own vibrant community.  Consider taking a walk, and taking everything in.  Be mindful of your surroundings, and be present in your own neighborhood.  Connect with a neighbor or wander into a shop you have not visited before.