A few weeks ago, I traveled to India to teach yoga and poetry at the Panchgani Writer's Retreat, a hill station near the city of Pune.
As I worked on the lesson plans and yoga sequence before leaving New York, I asked myself, "Is there a way I can teach the retreat participants to carry the experiences — what they achieve on the yoga mat or in their poetry workshop — to the demands of urban, hectic lives?"
I have been reading and hearing plenty of late about mindful living and its benefits on mind, body, and spirit. It seemed like a reliable tool. Given authenticity and honesty mean everything to me, I knew I'd have to experiment on myself before I could share the benefits of mindful living with the participants at the retreat.
A Mindfulness Sceptic
I think I am a reasonably socially and ethically conscious person who believes in compassion and kindness towards fellow humans, animals, the environment etc. But, I couldn't figure out how to successfully implement "mindful living" in my day-to-day existence! Mindful living is not some herbal powder or magic potion that one can stir into a cup of warm water and drink.
How do you not react when someone shoves you in the subway? How do you not curse when someone, mindlessly, steps on your feet and doesn't stop to give a damn? How do you not seethe when people avert their faces when they see a pregnant woman or elderly person in buses or trains?
On October 16, as I waited to board my flight from New York to India, I did something different. Instead of getting a glass of wine and settling with my laptop, I sat quietly, beverage-free with my thoughts and myself.
With all the chaos and rejections and exhaustion right before my trip, I had forgotten to feel grateful for the opportunity — being able to teach yoga and poetry at the retreat and do an India launch of my latest poetry collection. I mean, I was going to be spending close to 9 days with fellow writers and striving yogis. This was a dream come true, yet I was mulling over the rejections that I had no control over or the people who always let me down.
I asked myself if I had expressed my sincere gratitude to friends and family in India, the ones who had planned to fly down just to see me because I didn't have the time to travel to where they lived?
As my thoughts shifted to the good in my life, I felt sleepy and relaxed. Life wasn't perfect but there was plenty of good in it. And it was up to me to figure out who and what I would focus on. Before takeoff, I called up my husband and a few friends and thanked them for their support.
This was it. Mindfulness. It wasn't science. Not an art. Mindfulness meant being aware of your surroundings and living in the moment and not partaking in thoughtless actions.
I found that mindfulness makes traveling easier, and here's how:
1. It Makes You Kinder
An old lady was struggling with her handbag in the aircraft. Instead of using my New York City cynicism and asking her to clear the passageway, I paid attention to what was happening with her.
Turns out, her right arm was of no use. It was visibly smaller than her left arm. And she was feeling shy to ask for help.
2. It Teaches You About Patience
Truth is, some people thrive on rush. The type of people who run even if they haven't been asked to board the flight.
Instead of losing patience with them, I observed their intent. And in that instant, instead of appearing as jerks, they came across as folks who needed help with kindness — both towards themselves and others.
3. It Teaches You Communication Skills
A man didn't want to share the space in the overhead lockers for carry-on luggage. The old me would have spoken up or asked a crewmember to intervene, but not this time. I figured if two people screamed, there'd be no room for a conversation. Plus, I refused to allow someone else's emotional issues affect my peace of my mind.
When, in a calm tone, I offered to help this man readjust his luggage so we could accommodate my trolley bag too, his tone changed. And we sorted everything amicably.
4. It Improves Your Relationship with Food
While I am extremely fond of and patient with cooking, when it comes to eating my meals, I treat them as a chore. But on this flight, I took my time. I watched a movie. Enjoyed the flavors of the food and sipped some red wine.
Because I was eating mindfully, I stopped to eating and drinking midway through my meal when I became full.
5. It Makes You Respect Yourself
Whether we admit it or not, most of us human beings appreciate validation and compliments, especially from unexpected corners. The stewards and stewardesses thanked me, several times over, for little things that I did on the plane ride.
All I did was not judge or add intent to anyone's actions and I remained kind to myself too. You can say, I traveled mindfully.
Mindful living doesn't turn you into a saint; it reminds you to acknowledge the range of emotions you feel, but not always act on them. Respond, not react, has become my mantra. It helps you figure out how much energy to put into people and situations. It reminds you life is too precious to be always taken seriously or ignored mindlessly.
How does mindfulness make traveling easier for you? Share with us in the comments below!