When I travel, I take pictures of everything. It’s like I experience the entire trip looking through the camera lens on my phone. But during a recent speaking engagement in Puerto Rico, I decided to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply becoming fully present to the moment, keeping you from being distracted by every random blowing leaf. To help me achieve this, I decided to shut down all of my technology for a week so I could more readily engage in the moment.
Okay, now let me tell you what really happened. While soaking up the sun and the ocean waves, I shot a picture of the most stunning palm trees over head. Wishing to rub it in the faces of friends in the Northeast who were getting snow, I posted my photo to Instagram saying:
“I’m in Puerto Rico, and you’re not.” #hatespeech
Before the oh-how-clever-I-am smirk faded from my face, I dropped my phone in the Caribbean Sea. How’s that for a steaming hot pile of karma?
I’m not going to lie: walking around sans phone for a week made me feel more awkward than a missionary in a nudist colony. I didn’t know where to look. When my wife took photos, I experienced actual jealousy. When she responded to email at night, I felt utterly lonely.
But after a couple of days, something started to change inside me for the better. Instead of hurrying up to take a picture of a beautiful sunset so I could then hurry up to take another potentially even better picture, I just watched. The sun slowly reached the horizon where it momentarily kissed the water, sending diamond splinters across the waves. This may have been the first time I saw a sunset on the ocean with my own eyes instead of through a lens. It was magnificent.
Karma had allowed me to practice mindfulness in a deeper way. I’m learning to replicate that level of mindfulness without a crisis getting me there. Here are two things I’m trying to master:
Tune Out Distractions
Just like mosquito nets keep bloodsuckers at bay, mindfulness is a way of shutting out the bloodsuckers buzzing constantly for your attention. Start small, like tuning out for 15 minutes. During this time, don’t think about work, the unfinished tasks at home, your aging parents, saving for retirement, putting your kids through school, or even the Empire jingle (5 8 8… 2300, EMPIRE TODAY!) Leave your phone behind. Sit in a quiet place, or take a walk in the woods. Close your eyes and experience the world through sound and scent. Practice unplugging until you can enter that state of mind throughout the day and for longer stretches. With time, you’ll be able to create a barrier between your spirit and anything that threatens to suck your life.
Turn Up Investments
Multitasking is just a business-sounding term for the medical condition known as ADD. You’re not as good at multitasking as you think. Check out this piece of research. And even if you could theoretically master multitasking, it shrinks your joyful experiences. Imagine unwinding after a long day by holding your cute, sweet, cuddly sleeping infant…while also filing your taxes. Kind of hard to enjoy something wonderful and something dreadful simultaneously.
Turn up your ability to build walls around the moments that mean the most to you so you don’t dilute them with mindless clutter. When it’s time to enjoy your kids, really engage with them. When you place a bite of dessert in your mouth, savor each chew. When a cool breeze crosses your face on a walk, take notice of it and enjoy it. When your work is done for the day, take a moment to hold onto that accomplishment and the positive emotions around it.
My wife told me that she’s never seen me more relaxed than during that week in Puerto Rico. Since then, I’ve been practicing more mindfulness, even intentionally leaving behind my phone when I go for walks or runs.
What distractions do you need to practice tuning out? What positive experiences do you need to turn up in your life?