When we first arrive [to our vacation destination], we don’t know what to do with ourselves,” says Martin Boroson, author of the book and app One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go. “Our engines are still going at hyper speed, and we’re so used to rushing from thing to thing that we’re at a loss.” The key to actually arriving, and relaxing, isn’t just dropping into a chaise, though it’s not a bad place to start. You have to actually recalibrate your awareness to get your brain in sync with your surroundings.
Enter: mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is often described as the act of paying attention without judgment. Boroson defines meditation as simply, “a technique we use to tap into a feeling or an awareness of deeper peace, and with this, spaciousness, timelessness, freedom, and potential. From this awareness, we become more mindful.”
Mindfulness and meditation have received loads of positive press lately, lauded many times over for reducing stress and easing anxiety. The American Psychological Association points to several areas of new research where meditation has been shown to positively impact mental focus and relationship satisfaction. It may even affect more impressive physiological changes in the brain. One study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that participants who took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program for eight weeks showed an increase in gray matter in several areas of the brain that release neurotransmitters affecting arousal and mood.
It’s not surprising that even the word meditation conjures images of being at the top of a mountain or near the water. Exquisite, remote locales are ideal for practice—which means there’s no better place than vacation to tap into your inner peace. Boroson promises us it’s there. And when you practice being fully present where you are—without worrying or judging—your relationship to time itself can change, creating a sense of ease.
“When you’re stressed, you feel there’s not enough time to get everything done,” says Boroson. “But as your mind relaxes, your sense of time expands, and life becomes more enjoyable. You appreciate what you’re doing.”
NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
The practice of meditation is actually deceivingly simple: find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, and let your attention rest on the gentle flow of your breath. Not as easy as it sounds. Your mind will start to flail a bit, and so as thoughts pop up, acknowledge each one (“There I am thinking about work again”) and let it go. Then bring your attention back to your breath. That’s it. Though there should be nothing complicated about it, it’s often more tempting to give into the tug of thoughts and worries, getting lost down the rabbit hole of stress. Meditation is the practice of resisting that pull, neutralizing negativity through calm, focused attention.
The process doesn’t have to take very long either—in fact, the whole premise of Boroson’s book is that you can reap big benefits in just one minute or even less. Using the sixty-second time marker puts handles on your meditation so that it’s manageable, doable—and you’re more likely to do it again. So, while meditation doesn’t require oodles of time or scary talent, it does take practice—and in fact, the practice is the point.
HOW TO MAKE MINDFULNESS WORK FOR YOU
Mindfulness isn’t just the practice of sitting meditation, however; it’s an approach to each moment, to each day, and the decision to pay attention to what’s right in front of you. Try these tips for a more mindful vacation experience.
EMBRACE THE IDEA OF “MAYBE”
Mindful living, like meditation, requires a kind of flexibility, one in which you decide to allow what happens to happen without trying to fix or control it. Life and business coach Allison Carmen, author of The Gift of Maybe, knows this struggle well. Carmen says that for much of her life she was crippled by fear of the unknown. “I say I was addicted to certainty,” says Carmen. “If I didn’t know what was going to happen, I would imagine it would turn out bad.”
What turned that around for her was when she found her own way of living mindfully—by embracing the word maybe. “That word filled me with hope, that life doesn’t have to be one lane,” she said. “It was and is a constant reminder that you’re not stuck and things can change.” Despite all the planning that has gone into this trip, you still don’t really know what will happen. Maybe it will be different than you expected; maybe it will be better. Maybe it’ll rain on your beach day, or the sun will come back out. Being mindful means accepting what is so that you don’t get hung up on what you think “should” be.
THE BASIC MINUTE
You don’t need a ton of time or any particular skill level to experience the profound benefits of mindful meditation. Here is a simple exercise you can do in one minute, designed by Martin Boroson, author of One-Moment Meditation. All you need is a timer.
1. Create a place of solitude.
2. Sit down.
3. Place your legs in a relaxed, but fixed, position.
4. Sit up.
5. Set your alarm for exactly one minute.
6. Place your hands in a relaxed, but fixed, position.
7. Close your eyes.
8. Allow your mind to settle into your breathing.
9. When the alarm sounds, stop.
You can do a Basic Minute meditation several times during the day, whenever and wherever you find yourself with a moment of downtime. But, Boroson advises never doing it for longer than a minute; the point is to do it right now, when you have a minute. For more on the approach, the book, and the app, visit onemomentmeditation.com.
DON’T SUPPRESS THE NEGATIVE
Mindfulness is certainly not synonymous with happiness, and while a side effect of this approach is a sense of calm, it would be unreasonable to expect that the decision to be mindful means you’ll be relentlessly cheerful. In fact, Carmen says another benefit and effect of mindfulness may be that you become highly attuned to the very things you’re unhappy about.
“The goal of mindfulness is not to shut down the negative,” says Carmen. “This is a great time to get in touch with what’s bothering you most, and you can’t do that if you’re too busy to notice.”
It’s a given that when you get quiet enough to hear your own thoughts, you might not always like what they say. This is a side effect of vigilance and calmness—and the good news is that when you can behold those issues with a kind of gentle awareness and compassion, rather than judgment, you can get quite clear on what actions you need to take when you get back.
RESIST THE URGE TO SHARE YOUR VACATION WHILE IT’S HAPPENING
It used to be that people shared their vacation pictures once they were back from a trip, but thanks to Instagram and Facebook, we can share it while we’re still on it. And though that may be fun, it’s worth questioning whether the sharing is interfering with the experience of it (and in most cases, it likely is). “If you are someone who shares, give yourself a vacation from that, too,” says Boroson. “Experience your vacation in real time for yourself. Because if you’re sharing the experience, you’re not having it.”
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take pictures. In fact, Boroson says photography, when approached as the practice of looking more closely at your surroundings, can be a very mindful activity. Rather than waste time taking pictures of things that you can buy postcards of, use your creativeness and camera to capture small, beautiful details, moments, unusual scenes, things that fascinate and connect you with your environment.
TURN THAT SAME ATTENTION TOWARD FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Unless you’re traveling alone, you’re likely staying in close quarters with people you know well and who, from time to time, ride your nerves. That’s what it means to travel with other people. Approach your interactions with them with the same tenderness and presence that you bring to a moment of meditation.
“Bringing mindfulness to your relationships expands your ability to be more patient and less reactive,” says Carmen. “This will help you get along better with those around you and create a space to have more joyful experiences with the ones you love.”
SAVOR IT WITH ALL FIVE SENSES
To capture and hold the memory of your trip, use touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound to immerse yourself in the here-and-now. Notice the details, from that first sip of coffee, to the breeze against your skin, and sound of the ocean. “I like to put my hand on my heart and visualize what’s happening around me, to breathe in the feeling, and take ten deep, slow breaths,” says Carmen. “It becomes a touchstone that you can return to later, when you’ve landed back squarely in your life.”
Fact is, no matter how many trips you go on, you can’t remember what you weren’t there to experience. “I’m amazed at how many people ‘do’ everything but experience nothing,” says Boroson. Taking the time to be mindful in this moment, he says, may be the ultimate luxury.