In June, I traveled to Amsterdam for an acupuncture seminar. Before and after the work days, I got to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: walking the city streets, with no destination and no particular goal. I was just wandering in a historical European city.
Amsterdam is an amazing place to indulge in walking because so many of the streets are bordered by beautiful canals. I was in awe of the numerous small bridges connecting the streets, the boats heading to destinations unknown, and the famous houseboats that line the canals. There is nothing like this in the United States.
I walked so many hours during this trip that my feet were sore in the evenings. Wandering in a beautiful foreign city, seeing places for the first time and finding a delicious cafe (like Lavinia Good Food, a hidden delight), is heavenly.
My phone only worked when I had Wi-Fi, so I was often disconnected from the web. I resolved to never wear my headphones, so I was not distracted from the new sights and sounds that surrounded me. This, plus the hours of walking, created a lot of time to think, and I realized something new: I felt present, and it was glorious.
Being mindful of my surroundings amplified the moment, and I was more aware of what was around me as well as what I was feeling inside. I’m sure this has been true before, but I never felt so acutely aware of that experience as on this trip. Every time I stepped out the door, some new adventure awaited me; I felt excited and I didn’t want to miss a moment.
“Be present” is a huge theme in most philosophies. “All you have is now” is a familiar phrase. And, so often, “now” is lost in worries or memories of the past, and dreams or fears for the future. Time is a path in only one direction; if you miss today, it’s not coming back.
If you’re mindful of yourself and your surroundings, it’s easier to focus on the moment rather than all those external stressors life throws our way.
Being present is something that isn’t easy, at least not for me and, I believe, for many others. This is why I was happy that it came so easily as I explored the beauty of Amsterdam.
I’ve often resolved to be present in a situation or place, only to find the resolve stolen away by a thought that takes over. I go down the path with that thought or feeling, and then, poof! The now is gone.
I suspect that it was traveling that enabled me to be more present. When I’m in another country, I know my time is limited. That helps me to recognize the value of each day and each experience. However, as I write this, I realize that all time is limited, so it’s important to appreciate the less exciting moments as well. I am practicing to get better.
Jennifer Dubowsky is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in downtown Chicago, Illinois, since 2002. You can find her at TCM007.com