Wisdom//

Mindfulness is the key to the best things in life

If you don’t live in the moment, where do you live?

I was out hiking yesterday along the breathtaking coast of Liguria. I hiked up the mountains in the Portofino park and as I came out of the forest, I looked down at the sea and the stunning views of the bay. I had to stop to take it in. Suddenly, I was desperate to find a way to save it all.

I wanted to keep the colors, the flowers, the smells and the breeze on my face. I wanted to treasure the sight of the bay with the sailboats and gorgeous houses, and to remember the deep blue color of the water. I wanted to hold on to the incredible and endless beauty.

If only I could bottle it all up and stick it in my backpack. Or at least share it somehow, so that it could be a thoughtful gift. I wanted someone else, who would love it as much as I did, to see it as well.

I thought about taking another photo, but resisted. A photo couldn’t even capture half of this and would only be a cheap copy of reality.

As frustrating as it was, I couldn’t do anything, but to enjoy it. It only existed right there and right then. I stood there for a few minutes and tried to feel it with all my senses, as if I was taking a mental picture and waiting for my brain to suck it in; the smells, the feelings, the sights and the sounds.

Beauty, love, joy, energy, happiness and satisfaction. I think we can all agree that these are some of the most valuable things in life. Luckily, they all come for free. However, they also come with a catch — they can’t be stored. We can’t hoard them, we can’t save them for a rainy day, nor can we relive them in the exact same way ever again.

We can only borrow them in the moment.

Being on holiday in Italy certainly takes that reality one step further. If I can’t be mindful here, how could I ever hope to be so at home or in the office?

Standing there, filled with awe, I thought about how crazy it is that I spend so much of my mental capacity and time either regretting or reminiscing about the past; or planning for or worrying about the future. What a waste of energy!

All those shallow “Carpe Diem” messages, written on random items that middle-aged ladies like to decorate their homes with, are around for a reason. Not to mention the mindfulness practices and meditation apps. We have all gone mad and totally forgotten how to live in the moment.

I spend a lot of my time travelling and whenever I come to a place that I really like or when I experience something special, my first instinct is always to say to myself that I want to go back there again someday. As if it will somehow be worth more in the future. I am there right now! Why I am planning on enjoying it later? It makes no sense.

I can’t seem to accept that it is my one and only chance to experience that specific moment. But it is. Even if I am lucky enough to return someday, it won’t be the same. There is no point in hoarding future experiences that don’t even exist. All while this moment, the one that is here and now, does.

To wrap my head around the madness of it all as I continued my walk, I imagined trying to communicate our culture and our behavior to someone from a completely different reality than our own. I pretended that I was explaining to a monk in Tibet or to a tribe leader on a remote island somewhere that we, in the Western world, can’t be in the present. That we pay money to learn how to just be. I giggled when I thought of their puzzled faces as they tried to figure out what on earth I was talking about.

How can I live somewhere else than where I am right now? If I am not in the moment, then where am I? And how can I find joy and appreciation if I don’t feel it as it comes to me? I can remember things and I can anticipate things, but I can’t experience them at any other time than exactly in the moment when they are happening.

As I walked down into the town, I couldn’t help but to feel bad for the tourists who were taking photos and crossing items off their long sightseeing checklists. It seemed as though being able to say that they had been there and having the photos to prove it, was somehow more important to them than actually fully being there. Did they even see the sparkle of sunlight on the water or were they thinking about lunch? Did they enjoy the boat ride or were they worrying about sunburn? I wondered if they were able to truly appreciate all the magic around them.

I took the ferry back to my village. Although I couldn’t wait to get to my place and into the shower to rinse away the salt, dirt and old sunscreen from my weary body, I made a point to stay focused on the views from the sea.

I will get home soon enough anyway, but right now I am here, on holiday, on a boat and with warm wind on my face. I am free, healthy and happy. My body is tired, but strong. I am fortunate enough to have this chance to admire the incredible beauty of the Liguria coast with its dramatic nature, clear water and picturesque villages around every bend. I feel joyful, calm and blessed.

My brain can try all it wants to feed me the fading memories of the past and the imagined possibilities of the future. I still can’t think of a more wonderful moment to be present in than this one.

Why would I ever let my mind take me anywhere else but here?

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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