What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness. It’s a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. That might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious.

We’ve had a few queries asking us to explain further our definition of mindful travel and to give some tips for achieving it. As Buddhists it is something that comes naturally to us, but we haven’t been trying to stuff Buddhism or meditation down people’s throats; far from it, our thoughts are merely based on our own experiences of travel, people, different cultures. It’s really all about focus, and having one! So here is our most meaningful quotation from a Buddhist perspective that can apply to life generally:

All states of being are determined by mind, it is mind that leads the way”. Think about it!

Now specifically imagine you are in one of your favourite travel spots, it could be the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, the Roman Forum in Rome, Swayambhu temple in Kathmandu, The Grand Canyon in the US …….. and think like this:

1.Be still

Slow down, take your time over things like the walk to the café, the cup of coffee. Relax in your surroundings, don’t rush to the next sight to see.

2. Be aware

Look around you, take in the details as well as the big picture, the roof tiles, the doors, the ironwork as well as the overall building. 

3.Be non-judgemental

Don’t keep comparing things with the way they are back home, be accepting of the way things are done here, the food, the customs, the language, the people. And don’t judge yourself, stop beating yourself up over things.

4.Be in the here-and-now

Focus on the moment, put yesterday and tomorrow out of your mind, forget work, college, the exam, the project. The only thing that matters is time and place, here and now.

You might also like this short web article What is Mindfulness?

Now here is a small example of one of my many walks up to the top of Swayambhu Hill to the monkey temple on a cool Spring morning in Kathmandu and applying these four facets of mindfulness.

Enlight192“I reached the top of Swayambhu, paid my tourist entrance, then stepped onto the surround of the Buddhist stupa. Turning left I rang the huge bell once, then sat down on the wall overlooking the city far below. I was out of breath and my heart was beating and I needed a few minutes to relax and “be still”, preparing myself for enjoying the next hour or so.”

“I stood up and walked towards the edge of the stupa alongside the prayer wheels beginning my clockwise circulation, each spin of every wheel sending prayers skywards. Past the sellers of incense and turning to the temple of Ajima where Dr C always makes offerings for our late son who died at 22. I pause, I have no option but to “be aware” of all of the Nepali locals acting with similar intent, it intensifies the moment as I consider who are they praying for, what do they hope to achieve?”

“I slowly walk past the monastery, silent at this time of day, past the big bell again, and stopped at the second set of steps to look back at the whole complex. The sun was glinting off the gold leaf of the pinnacle above the stupa though the pigeons were trying hard to whitewash the gold! Beginning my descent to the car park I become aware of a beggar on every other step, some with infants, many with deformities. No matter how many times I come here I have to make a conscious effort to be “non judgemental” especially though I am told by many locals that they are NOT Nepali but Indian immigrants. This is the worst area of the temple complex, beggars, unclean, dogs, monkeys, hawkers, all trying to get something from you. But don’t judge them by your own standards, would you live like this by choice?”

“I grabbed the first taxi and told the driver to take me to Ason Tole, I was meeting Dr C there and her oldest brother’s family. Passing over the Bagmati Bridge I saw that there was still stinking garbage piled high on each river bank, scavengers rooting around in it for anything of value. A woman was washing her clothes in the river and several children were bathing in the grey muddy water. This river is now used for garbage dumping and for homeless communities to set up their shanty towns. We passed over the bridge and towards Thapathali, the shops now comprising the wares of  metal workers, plumbers, carpenters, car mechanics …… my thoughts of the river and shanty towns now lost as I wondered why this road had fostered skilled tradesmen above all others, my mind focused on the “here and now” rather than temples, beggars, scavengers or river pollution.”

Swayambhu 2

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read Mindful In Madrid which explores a day packed with mindfulness.