Vacation Meditation: How Staying in the Present Moment Can Bring You a Holiday High, Every Day
This week while I was meditating thoughts crept in (as they always do) and I began imagining how great everything would be if I just lost weight.
Then I thought of how life would be even more perfect if I just lost weight, wrote a book and had my own little cottage with a beautiful garden.
And then, I was gobsmacked with reality.
At that very moment, I was meditating in my gorgeous home (which in the process of divorce will soon be up for sale), in my healthy body, with my beautiful garden right outside a wall of windows.
I opened my eyes, cleared my head and soaked in the beauty of the garden in front of me. I saw the sun dapple through the oaks. I heard my babbling fountain. I watched an insect climb up the sweet olive tree.
This mindfulness, this way of being present, is a type of meditation that a friend in Jaipur, India, taught me. More than once I asked Ashok, “how do you mediate?” He would answer, “I am always in meditation. Wherever I am, I am appreciating the moment. For instance, right now I am here with you and enjoying our conversation.”
It took me more than a year to understand what he was talking about.
I remember visiting New Orleans for the first time almost 25 years ago and being awestruck at the huge oak trees draped in Spanish moss whose branches touched the ground. I stopped at practically every house along St. Charles Avenue and took a 100 photos. I stared open mouthed at the wrought iron balconies in the French Quarter overflowing with ferns and other plants.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Today, I rarely even see those things.
Yet those oaks are still awe inspiring. Those homes are still jaw dropping. It’s me who has failed to see them, just as I often fail to stop and appreciate the gifts, the beauty and the people right in front of me.
I realized, finally, what Ashok meant. To be present in the moment means to adopt a vacation mindset. It means looking at things with fresh eyes just as I do when I visit a new place and become amazed with the smallest of things.
I took a walk recently in Audubon Park in New Orleans and practiced this awareness.
Whoa. What a wonderful world.
A team played quidditch on one part of the lawn as horses trotted behind on the dirt path. A mom and her two young daughters were trying to fly a kite. Two middle-aged women were strapping on bright pink roller skates. A woman was smiling and carrying her baby in a sling. Children raised their hands at the playground in what was about to be a game of tag. Cormorants bunched up on a log, aside turtles, in the water. Church bells rang twice, telling me it was 2 p.m. The green streetcar rolled by on St. Charles with its signature squeal. A cypress tree stood majestically on the banks of the lake . A couple picnicked on the lawn. A young boy bounced a rainbow-colored ball as he ran ahead of his family. Diamond-shaped leaded glass panes shimmered in a mansion next to the park.
The beauty and joy of it all filled my heart. I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot — or a child— as I walked. And as people saw me smiling, they smiled too.
My mind wandered, but I kept bringing it back to the moment, to what was right in front of me. I didn’t think, or label. I just saw and was aware.
I observed and enjoyed life like this until I was about 12. I remember riding my bike on a path in the woods, coming over a hill and seeing a field so dense with purple wildflowers I thought at first it was a lake. I remember walking with my cousins around the massive country blocks in Northwestern Indiana by our grandmother’s house, fascinated by the cattails in the roadside ditches and the green cornfields.
Most of us lose our childlike wonder somewhere along the way. We become consumed thinking of the things we’ve done or haven’t done or what other people think of us.
And many of us are some level of miserable.
Yet, life’s gloriousness is right there in front of us all along, in shades so beautiful it can take your breath away.
You may be cynical, and say, “it must be nice to have time to not think or do. I don’t have the time or the money to do such things. I have work to do.”
It’s what I thought for years too.
I was always doing and thinking and working. I had no time to just be.
So, except for those wide-eyed moments during a vacation, little of it brought me joy.
Earlier this year I woke one morning and took in the sights and sounds around me. Something had shifted and I was seeing the trees and hearing the sounds as if for the first time— as if I were on vacation.
I realized then I can have those eyes-wide open moments any time I chose. I just have to be present, be aware and observe the moment.
Yes, I can work hard and do as much as my money and my time will permit. And honestly, much of the time, this is what I still do.
But now I know the truth. That the closest I will ever come to bliss is to being fully present in the moment.