"The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers." ~ Thich Nhat Hahn
I went on a journey recently. I am calling it a journey rather than a trip or vacation, because I learned something from the six days I got to leave my home. Our journey consisted of spending a few days in Portland, Maine and then exploring back roads through New Hampshire and Vermont on our way to upstate New York to visit Chuck's two sisters. We didn't initially plan it this way but we knew we wanted to be in both Maine and New York during his one week off from work and due to health reasons, the eight hour trip was too much for me to do in one day. So that is why we ended up making an adventure out of it. The only definitive plans we had before we got on the road was to participate in a tugboat event for the MS Society and visit his sisters towards the latter part of the trip. That was it. Everything else was based on what we felt like doing when we woke up that day. No expectations, no schedule. It worked out perfectly because not only did this plan allow for a lot of flexibility in the managing of my autoimmune disorder, but also because it gave me the opportunity to experience the concept of mindfulness.
According to Sylvia Boorstein, mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn't more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it. I think that is a great definition but I also like to think of it simply as being present or aware. I don't think I am alone in the fact that I have wasted a lot of time worrying about the future and over planning things. Being present or aware in the moment you are experiencing doesn't allow for worry or planning. For years and years, I thought it was the only way to manage my anxiety. But the reality was, the worrying was creating more anxiety.
It is not an easy thing to do, to be mindful of your present and fully absorb your surroundings as well as your thoughts and feelings in that moment. That is why taking a journey is such a great opportunity to do so. In our normal day to day lives, there are so many distractions. For us, the first distraction that was eliminated was Chuck not having to work for nine days. Add to that the elimination of distractions such as maintaining a home, taking care of a dog, managing my multiple medical issues/appointments, church and social commitments and what I found was that I got to be present in moments with him and oftentimes with just myself every day that week. When we came across one of the most beautiful lighthouses I ever could have imagined seeing in Maine, I was fully aware of everything about it from the smell of the ocean water hitting the rocks to the sound of the seagulls flying overhead. Instead of just touring the lighthouse and its stunning surroundings, I was fully experiencing it. I was aware and in the moment.
As Ms. Boorstein states above, sometimes accepting and receiving an experience is not always pleasant. I ran into a situation like that during our journey when I experienced an asthma/allergy flare up one night that was probably the most significant I have had in over a year. One that almost landed me in an emergency room that night. The fact that it was happening so far from home and at such a late hour had the potential to throw me into a tailspin and exacerbate the situation. But I was mindful. I accepted what was happening to me and made changes to accommodate the circumstances. Being mindful enabled me to think clearly enough to make decisions about how to manage the breathing issues without panicking. Yes, between that night and half of the next day, the event did have an impact on what I could and could not do, but I accepted it and moved on. The end result was that not only was I able to finish our journey, but I enjoyed it as well.
I think that mindfulness is essential for not only ourselves, but for our relationships as well. During our time away, it started to become more apparent to me how often I am distracted from being in the moment with my boyfriend when we are home. Sometimes this is unavoidable. A friend calls asking for help or the dog is not feeling well and needs a closer eye. Life gets busy, but it is important that when we are engaged in something together whether it be a conversation or a project, that I am present with him in that moment. I have to be because I will never get that exact moment back. That is not to say that there is not a place for those mindfulness thieves such as television, Facebook, and my Droid phone, but each activity deserves its own mindfulness and a limited amount of it at that. My boyfriend, family, friends, and dog are all much too important to not have me fully present in the moment with them rather than being distracted by all of our modern technology.
When we learn to be more mindful, the moments in our lives become richer. Our relationships take on a different perspective. Whether you call it being mindful, present, or aware, acknowledging our experiences in the present moment essentially helps guide us towards the path of living our lives to the absolute fullest. And well, you can't really go wrong with that now can you?
Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Myers