It is early morning at the beach, and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland is peaceful, with slight ripples on the water’s surface. The only sounds are seagulls flying near me and a motorboat in the far distance. The palette of the sky and sea and the sounds create serenity in me. Nature is much bigger than us and can tune our busy minds and full hearts to a wider, calmer frequency.
As part of my morning routine I step out into nature and tune in, no matter where I am. Nature wakes up our senses and immediately invites us into the present.
Many of us travel this time of year, returning to favorite holiday spots, visiting family, taking kids to camp. Traveling is the full ride – it brings all of the intensity of life with the purchase of the plane tickets or the autobahn toll pass. Earlier this week we returned from an afternoon ocean swim to discover my car was not in the parking spot where I left it. I felt the physical hit all at once – my heart pounding, a sick feeling in my stomach, tightness in my throat – a stress response.
Was the car stolen? Towed? I took three, slow breaths so my nervous system could settle a bit and my head could clear. I called the police. Our wet and sandy posse stood there together as I talked to the dispatcher. They found the car. It was mistakenly towed from the lot of the place we rented. Three more breaths, sending each all the way through my body to my sandy flip flops. A kind couple passed by and asked if we needed help, and they drove me to the police station. They were compassion in action. Compassion is our ability to pay attention to the suffering of another and our capacity to not turn away or avoid it – but to move towards the person and take action to relieve the distress. Joan Halifax teaches us the habit of asking “what can serve here?” or “what might be of service?” to train ourselves to be more compassionate in everyday life.
As the receiver of compassion, I experienced the powerful comfort that I was not alone and that someone cared – these two strangers interrupted their plans to help me and two young girls get our car back. The circle got wider and we were all in this together.
Travel: from the joy of swimming in the salty ocean and waking up to the serenity of the calm bay, to having unplanned challenges – each of us can deepen attention to the beauty, the pain and the moments of connection to live more fully, in choice of how we respond, and to savor the gift of being here, now, fully alive.
Five Ways to Stay Calm when the Travel Stress Hits (below: original article posted on The Globe and Mail)
1. Keep up your morning routine
From Laurie J. Cameron, author of The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy from Morning to Evening: to stay sane on the road, bring your morning routine with you, whether it’s exercise or a nature walk. “I meditate, and do some yoga and journal. Even if that’s only 10 or 15 minutes, that allows me to start my day in a very calm and centered way.”
2. Don’t wait, meditate
Flight delays and customs queues offer opportunities to “transform waiting into a mindfulness session.” If you’re stuck in a line “feel your feet on the ground and bring attention to breathing.” Instead of resisting a setback, relax into it. “It really takes all the tension and steam out of that moment.”
3. Send good energy to fellow travelers
“Send good wishes, or offer kindness, mentally, to the people around you.” Look at each person and think: “May they get to where they’re going on time. May they have a peaceful day.” Try this in a packed airport or in a traffic jam to lift your mood.
4. Let go of expectations
“Whether you’re visiting a museum, or you’re attending a meeting in another city or you’re planning a hike in the countryside, we often create strong expectations of what it will be like.” Instead, take in each step of the journey, allowing it to be whatever it is. “One of the things that makes travel so alive and vibrant is to just be in the experience.”
5. Wind down at night
To mitigate against jet lag, practice mindfulness meditation before bed. “Doing a body scan is a simple, systematic way of bringing your attention through your body, from your head to your toes… It’s a really lovely, unplugged way of relaxing, to help you ease into sleep.”
This article originally appeared here on PurposeBlue’s blog about mindful leadership.