One of the happiest moments of my life was sitting on a train from Edinburgh to London. As the green pastures of Scotland passed me by, I listened to Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. Right in that moment, I realized I had never felt more present. I didn’t know what it was that made me feel this way. Was it simply traveling? The beautiful scenery? As looked around the train I took a mental picture and told myself “keep this feeling for when you’re down, you’ll always have this moment.”
But of course life gets you down and you find it really hard to pick yourself back up. I know I struggle with winters in New York, grueling exhausting workdays, and all I can think about is how I can just get through the day and then the next day and then the next day, etc.
This is not the way to live.
I found myself repelling everyone around me. Pushing through my days like a steamroller, unaware of my surroundings, and getting to my next task without passion and without love.
In a particularly low moment, I put myself back on that train in Scotland and I thought to myself, I can’t keep living in memory. I need to create that feeling of presence and vitality in real time.
Putting myself back into that memory and that body, I realized it wasn’t just the cliche of traveling and finding myself, I truly developed habits that transformed my experiences.
1. I listened to everyone I met.
Not just talked to them, but I listened to their words, their stories, their advice and their voices. I find that when you travel to different countries, you get into this habit because you’re fascinated by the differences in cultural language and accents, but in doing this you grow to become more present and observant. I know I struggle with listening in daily life because I’m always on the go or trying to explain my story first. It’s a horrible way to live, and sometimes you don’t even realize you’re not a listener. Practicing being a good listener can completely alter your experiences and your relationships.
2. I appreciated nature.
When you travel, naturally you take pictures and gawk at the incredible scenery. When you get back to your normal life, you grow used to your environment and forget to acknowledge beauty. It’s the strangest thing because we stop and breathe and feel wonder as we travel the hills of Tuscany, but we don’t stop for a moment in our busy city life. It’s important to find moments. Even in a big city like New York, you can find water, a park, even just looking at the sky can be extremely humbling and bring you down to Earth.
3. I was constantly moving and rarely spent time lounging.
When you’re traveling, you don’t often find yourself binge-watching The Office. You explore little villages, you hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat, you find yourself walking the city streets until sundown. This subtle exercise keeps your mind awake and your body energized.
4. I wrote every day.
Anything. Thoughts, dreams, stories. Whatever I was feeling, I wrote in a journal. This created extreme clarity and passion for the life I was living. I’ve always been a writer but for some reason only when I traveled did I find myself writing every day. In my normal life, I was going months without writing a word and I know that I’m not connected with myself unless I’m writing.
5. I rarely was on my phone.
Not only because the international rates are insane, but also I didn’t even desire to look at it. Specifically, when I traveled to Italy in 2013, my group and I only had Nokia brick phones which we never used. I still owe this fact to the reason why we all became so close on that trip. I find when I release myself from the tether of my iPhone, I can see better and be in the moment.