by Michael W. Taft
You can’t wait for your romantic getaway in paradise with your partner. You buy tickets for a dream vacation, imagine all of the things you’ll do, make the plans, the dates, the airline and hotel reservations. It’s a major effort, and finally the big day comes when you board the plane and fly away to heaven.
But once you actually arrive, you can’t stop thinking about work, about home, about problems “back in the world.” The cat hasn’t been eating well lately. You boss acted annoyed at your departure. The external environment is perfect—beaches, sunsets, your partner—but the internal environment of your mind is still anxious and fretting. You try to settle down, and end up drinking a few cocktails or taking some pills. Now you’re not as anxious, but you’re also groggy and less present. Less able to actually pay attention to and enjoy the vacation experience you’ve worked so hard to make happen. Conked out in a beach chair, you’re getting some much needed rest, but you might as well be in your bed back home.
All that money, time, and effort you’ve spent on your vacation, as well as your hopes and dreams for your magical time away, are wasted because you aren’t capable of actually enjoying the experience. Afterwards, you feel remorse and beat yourself up over your failure on the trip. What can you do?
Mindfulness meditation is the key. Mindfulness teaches you how to be present for the experience, as well as to let go of the distractions which are pulling you away. There are three main mindfulness practices you can do to help get the most out of any situation: take the time, feel appreciation, and soak in the experience.
Take the Time — It’s hard to get the benefits of a positive experience if you’re not paying attention to it. And paying attention takes time. If you only spend a second noticing something positive, it barely makes a scratch in your conscious experience. But if, on the other hand, you spend 30 seconds actually focusing on the positive experience, it will deeply affect your state of mind, and begin to re-shape your brain. So if there is a particularly beautiful cloud take the time to really look at it. If you hear some music you enjoy, close your eyes and really listen. Feel the warmth and texture of your partner’s hand. Each time you intentionally focus on the positive parts of your experience, it gets easier to notice other positive aspects, so you will build up a momentum of concentrating on the pleasant aspects of your day.
Feel Appreciation — If you engage the experience from an attitude of criticism and judgment, you will have a difficult time taking in the positive elements. Instead, you will be focusing on its negative, unsatisfying aspects. And that is the sort of experience you will be taking in: a negative, unsatisfying one. It’s really helpful, therefore, to point your attention towards the aspects of the experience that you like. Then consciously notice that you feel grateful for them, and that you deeply appreciate them. Feel how much you appreciate your partner, the beauty of the music, the visual splendor of the cloud. Although this may feel hokey, forced, or corny at first, if you’re focusing on things that you really do enjoy and appreciate, it won’t be long before noticing your appreciation feels natural. And even a little bit of appreciation feels good.
Soak It In — As you are taking the time to notice the experience, and to appreciate it, see how deeply you can dig into the details of that experience. If it’s a hot tub, how does the warm water feel on your skin? How do your muscles feel as the jets massage them? Are the moon and stars out in the sky? Are there flowers or trees around you? Notice these details and give yourself time to “soak” in them. If you’re feeling a positive emotion, really explore how it feels in your body. A feeling of joy may create a sense of expansion in your chest, for example. It’s one thing to look at a cloud, it’s another to get lost in the curves, shadows, colors, and light. The more you contact the details of these sensory experiences, the more you will get the most out of them.
Doing these three things a few times each day will really heighten your satisfaction and fulfillment with your trip. Bringing this level of mindfulness to the vacation you’ve worked so hard to achieve will help you to get the most out of it. Come to think of it, using your awareness in this way will make even your everyday experiences stand out as brighter, deeper, and more meaningful. Taking the time to notice what you enjoy, to feel appreciation for it, and to soak in its details is the mindful way to a fulfilling, rich, meaningful life.
photo by Patrick Payne