Mindfulness and Wellbeing Holidays. Does travel make us more mindful?
Recently I was asked to provide comment on the topic of mindfulness and travel, for a travel publication. I know that many of you are also interested in travel, and so I thought I would share my comments with your here on the blog too.
There is no one single way to travel, that is more mindful or better for wellbeing than another. Traveling is a very individual experience. What is pure bliss for one is a nightmare for another. It is not really the type of holiday we take that is mindful, rather it is the attitude we take to it.
A chance to explore self-concept
Traveling in an unfamiliar place often means that you won't be exposed to the number of personal cues ( things you see or encounter that trigger your conditioning) that you would usually encounter while at home. These kinds of cues normally indicate the boundaries of your sense of self, and so, being away from them can liberate a person from their prior perspective on life and themselves.
Without the usual social and individual identity reference points a person may have more room to see themselves in a new light. Once liberated from the usual labels of being a person/ mother/sister/accountant they may or may not stand a heightened chance of recognising who they really are at a level that transcends social and personal labels. They can recognise themselves as awareness, as all things. They recognise their own beingness.
In my experience, you don't need to get lost or travel far away for this to happen. For example, it can happen sponteniously without cause, it can happen when we move to a different area or school, and it can happen when we have a lifestyle shift, for example, getting a divorce or changing jobs.
This liberation in self-identity is not always synonymous with an improved sense of wellbeing. I wouldn't say that holidays or far flung holidays are synonymous with wellbeing as each person interprets travel differently.
Discovering this new land right here.
When we practice mindfulness we make a little effort to learn to see things with fresh eyes. We may, for example, decide to re-look, properly re- look at a tree we pass every day on the way to work. Or at the phone on our desk. In this re-looking we take the time to see the thing as it is now. To see its reality.
Most often when we see a tree, we think 'Oh, a tree' and we don't investigate further. We clock it as a known and registered reality and assume there is nothing more to know. If we live a life of routine then perhaps there are many which we don't see with fresh eyes. Instead, perhaps, we breeze passed them in search of novelty.
With mindfulness we give ourselves a chance to see common things with fresh eyes. In order to do this well, we need to be patient. For example, we may look at our office phone, and then re-look at it. Our usual reactive mind may think 'Well, this is rubbish, it looks exactly the same' -- and this is where we need to be patient. We need to sit with the phone or the tree. We need to give it a moment. When we look at it we don't say 'phone' or 'tree' We just sit with it and let it reveal itself as it is in that moment to us.
We can, if we so wish, choose to sit with the phone or the tree. To give it a moment. When we look at it we don't say 'phone' or 'tree' We just sit with it and let it reveal itself as it is, at that moment.
The beauty of mindfulness is not in going off and discovering new lands, it is in discovering this new land right here. There is enough here. And of course, what is here changes all the time so there is always a new scene to watch.
The usual thinking mind is like a tourist, always wanting to see and buy new things and add them to its growing collection of items. (Mental items such as experiences, or physical Items like hats for example) the usual thinking mind is constantly looking for more and more novelty. ( There is a poem for this sentiment, by Hafiz)
Usually, this is in order to find happiness or alleviate a sense of lack. Although not always. Sometimes we are instead motivated by love, learning, the celebration of life, happiness or discovery. Each of our motivations for seeking novelty and travel could be individually examined by ourselves to gauge where we are with this.
Travel as a chance to enliven our ability to see freshly
As you cultivate through mindfulness, this ability to see freshly, you become better able to see the beauty and wonder of life every day - not just on your travels.
For many of us, it is not always easy to see everyday life with fresh eyes, maybe we haven't thought of it, or maybe we haven't learned it or just got out of the habit. And so one of the main reasons, in my opinion, that we love to travel and visit new unseen lands, is that it enlivens the seeing with fresh eyes experience --without us necessarily having to be mindful on purpose. The new experience enables us to enjoy being in the moment, being here and now and seeing things with wonder, as we would have as children.
Travel + awareness
Experience gathering without awareness isn't often a great route to long-lasting wellbeing or mindfulness. Yet, loving to travel, and traveling with awareness, is something quite marvelous. You can enliven your sense of presence and feel yourself increasingly alive, in this moment and marveling at life. You can learn about other cultures and widen your understanding and compassion for others and the environment. You can see yourself with fresh eyes and perhaps return home with a new and helpful perspective.
And, as they say, a change is often as good as a rest.