My first epiphany with Mindfulness happened in Italy. I had just arrived into Rome, the Eternal City, by train from Florence and went for a walk in the bustling streets to stretch my legs. While strolling through the busy piazzas and narrow alleys, I had my iPod on and could hear the faint buzz of the vendors at the open market simultaneously yelling and singing as they sold their fruits and vegetables. I watched in amusement, but listened in annoyance, as the boisterous Italians drowned out my music as they conducted their business of the day. I’m pretty sure I walked by children joyfully eating gelato, some fashionistas in designer suits and elegant dresses, the robust aroma from the cafes and surely would have heard the beautiful chimes from the church at the top of the hour but, honestly, could not recall any of that when I returned to my hotel. Of course, I can tell you what songs were playing and how I stopped multiple times to adjust the volume or shuffle songs. I can recall debating endlessly in my mind where to have pizza tonight or worrying about my sunglasses being safe in my hotel room. I tried to relax, flipping through the channels on the TV to hear the foreign chatter on the news which was showcasing a piazza I had just passed by. It all looked remotely familiar, but…was I really there?
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: proactively being present in the moment without judgment. Simply observing moment by moment, without bias or attaching labels, letting life be the teacher as each moment unfolds. Not clouded with thoughts from the past or fantasy from the future. Truly present with an open mind to view things as if for the first time, with an openness and curiosity.
Sounds easy but it may just be the most difficult discipline to learn. That’s because our minds are designed to think. Just as our kidneys filter waste and pancreas produces insulin, our minds pump out thoughts all day. Think of it as an organ, diligently performing its duties miraculously. The vast majority of thought production is dwelling in the past or dreaming in the future – all diverting us from the present moment – and the mind is equally skillful enough to always resort to autopilot whenever possible, categorizing everything into neat compartments. How many times have you walked somewhere, not quite sure how you actually got there, your body arriving but where was your mind? Drifting off, reminiscing about yesterday or plans for tomorrow, as you passed by precious moments that you saw but didn’t really see.
Later that evening, I went out on a quest for the perfect pizza but this time sans iPod. More importantly, the only thing I brought was a particular attitude, to pay attention as if each moment really mattered. All senses were on high alert: the street chatter mixed with the buzz of Vespas and eerie sirens; the glorious collision of smells from pizzerias, bakeries and cafes; the colors, shapes and curves of all the magnificent architecture. I soaked it all in, as if I just discovered High Definition and the volume controls on my television and cranked it all up to the max. Everything was enhanced, magnified, more vivid and so much clearer. These were the same charming streets I walked a few hours ago, but my experience was heightened exponentially as I now was fully immersed in the overwhelming magic of Rome.
This is the true value of Mindfulness, being present in every moment and living your life as it really mattered. After all, the past is behind us and the future is elusively beyond us. All that matters is NOW. And in case you’re wondering, the pizza that night was off the charts, best pizza ever!