Sitting upon a chair lined in blue and green felt on the upper deck of an Amtrak train midway through my 48-hour journey from Seattle to Chicago. Tucked intimately close to the wide-stretching windows of the observation car looking out onto wind-swept green and brown alfalfa fields stretching far and flat to every horizon. I’m back in the flatlands of the Midwest again. Observing with a quiet smile all of the patrons pacing back and forth through the train cars eager to stretch their legs and stimulate their minds amidst the long ride to Chicago. Standing momentarily stagnant in Culbertson, MT waiting for the freight traffic ahead to subside. Apparently railroads get traffic too. Eavesdropping on conversations of European train travels, the joys of grandchildren, and proud Seahawks Super Bowl moments as my mind wanders out into broad fields and even bigger skies of possibilities. Reminiscing on the moments of the past 6 weeks living out of my backpack and indulging on plans for the near-future surrounded by the embrace of my family, my friends, my bed.
Stop. Be here now.
Throughout the blog, a number of themes prevail: a focus on breathing, living in the moment and nonjudgement. Mindfulness. I first heard the word “mindfulness” during my senior year when a girl was explaining her thesis project and while I nodded casually as if I knew what she was talking about, I raced home to google it myself. The art of mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years in the Eastern world but is only recently unveiling its positive potential in our fast-paced, stressful Western world.
Mindfulness is living fully in the present moment of experience. It is taking the time to stop and sit and do nothing but observe the moment, which includes the thoughts and ideas that rush through one’s mind, the movement of the wind across one’s face, the chirping birds in the trees above, the taste of moist air from a recent rain, the natural and chaotic beauty of that sage bush in the far away valley. Observe it all and bring it into your awareness.
The physical, external world is the same for all beings and yet we all seem to interact with it differently. Through our personal experiences, we develop unique mindsets and perspectives that we use to judge the world and interact with it. I like this, I don’t like that. This is good, that is bad. The mind, molded by time and experience, is what perceives. It takes the information of the world, the stimuli of the senses, and presents it to you. It is the ultimate. That is why brain tumors can lead to hallucinations and schizophrenia and we deem those people “crazy” because their perceptions do not align with the norm. It is why some can see a traffic jam as a great burden while others perceive the same jam as a wonderful moment to reflect with the self. It is all about your perception.
We can’t change every little things that happens to us, but we can change how we experience it.
Life is like a play on stage. We are actors in this play, interacting with the world, developing opinions, thoughts, values, ideas. We live most of our everyday lives in this blur, rushing from place to place, worried about the overwhelming responsibilities of food, money, relationships and spend the rest of the downtime engaged in our screens. During mindfulness practice, you remove yourself from that stage and take a seat in the audience, watching and observing your own thoughts as they flow. Not with judgement that this is good and this is bad, but with pure observation. We’re often so quick to judge but as soon as we do, we ignore the entire portion of reality that we deem to be “bad” or that which we “don’t like”.
Through extended mindfulness practice, which takes no more than 10 minutes per day, one can achieve greater control over the mind, their interactions with the world and can experience a situation in any way they choose. It gives you that extra second to stop and form a response to a situation instead of a reaction. It can lead to greater happiness, satisfaction and creativity.
Within routine, we blaze neural pathways through the brain as this idea connects to that idea connects to the next, until we arrive at some conclusion. Often times, we seek out conclusions that align with our own which just reaffirms and strengthens our own ideals. Those neural pathways get stronger with repetition and over time, our potential for deviation from the norm, our potential for creativity, declines. Mindfulness can help one recognize those habitual thought patterns, stop, and take that minor detour into newness and innovation.
I know it might sound like a bunch of hullabaloo spewing sunshine and flowers. But it isn’t. It is scientifically proven. Happiness is my passion. I’ve researched it, taken classes about it, experienced it and I’ve come to realize that happiness is a choice. Ten minutes of mindfulness everyday is scientifically proven to make you happier, more creative, less stressed, improve athletic ability (ask Phil Jackson), improve academics, boost socio-emotional behavior, decrease the symptoms of ADHD, pretty much everything. It’s no longer crazy hippy Eastern world mediation crap. It is real. It works. At least it has for me.
Throughout the last six weeks on the road, I’ve made great efforts to remind myself to “be here now.” Stop mid-shovel at the farm and breathe in the afternoon mesas at Ghost Ranch, stop mid-climb for a breath in the Arches surrounded by 5 snapchatting ladies, stop mid-concert to breathe the vibrations and the Gorge at Sasquatch and now stop to breathe mid-sentence to recognize the easy sway of the train car traveling through the rolling green hills of North Dakota.
I’d like to close with some great epiphany from the last months but that would defeat the whole purpose of this blog- that every moment should be cherished and life is full of adventure.
Thank you to everyone that provided a couch to sleep on or recommendations for places to visit or just read the blog. I’m always looking for feedback so don’t hesitate to email me at Dylan.email@example.com
“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a designation and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.” -Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star