I am heading out on a mammoth trip today. My itinerary looks like this:Monday – drive to Port MacNeil on northern Vancouver Island
Tuesday – Facilitate community to community forum with North Island First Nations and local governments. When finished, drive back to Campbell River and jump on a plane. Fly to Vancouver, then Toronto then Ottawa.
Wednesday – Facilitate workshop in Ottawa with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Friday – Finish workshop and return to Vancouver
Saturday – Facilitate one day Open Space for the Ministry of the Attorney-General Family Court Committee. Return home Saturday night.
This is a little unusual for me, in that I usually don’t do a red eye flight across two thirds of the country. I know I will be tired, and I know I need to stay focused on these three jobs and what I am doing. And believe it or not, I woke up this morning deliciously anticipating the journey ahead.
For me, this kind of travel and work is a mindfulness practice. I use these journeys to be very mindful about where I am and what I am doing. Often, when I am en route, I don’t speak to other people at all, preferring to travel in silence, reading, listening to music or podcasts or writing. If I do speak it is only to be politie, get where I am going or ask for help. As a silent meditation I find travelling in this way to be incredible practice, and it brings me to the work I have to do with as much presence as I can. In general I don’t check my emails when I am on the road, preferring instead to give as much attention as I can to the work I have at hand. Fortunately I have my partner Caitlin Frost is back in our office, answering phone calls, sorting logistics with clients and flagging important emails for me. This is an incredible gift as it allows me to be on the road, safe, undivided and present for my clients.
Seeing travel as a meditation retreat for me shows up in many ways. For example I have a few practices I cultivate on a daily basis and being mindful means focusing on doing them in unfamiliar places with limited access to tools. I try to exercise everyday, and have developed several “hotel room” workouts, that can be done between queen sized beds in small roadside motels. These are 20-30 workouts focusing on strength, flexibility and cardio fitness. Of course, access to a weight room or a gym makes this easier, but it isn’t necessary. Sometimes, if I’m driving and I get tired I pull over and go through a circuit of push ups, sit ups and squats or I run through some of my taekwondo patterns to get the blood flowing and energize my body.
Eating is another area that becomes a mindfulness practice. Because it’s so hard to find good and healthy food on the road, I think carefully about everything that enters my body. Instead of defaulting to restaurants, I’ll often stop in to grocery stores and stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, pre-mixed salads or healthy instant soups that can be made with only boiling water. Travelling does not have to mean bread, oil and potatoes.
Travelling offers several benefits to the emotional side of mindfulness practice as well. It is a rare trip when everything goes according to plan and delays, changes and inconveniences force me to be mindful of my emotional states and to practice equanimity with people, machines and other pieces of reality that are out of my control. Some of my favourite trips have been those which have gone horribly wrong, with missed connections, bad weather and few options. If I come through those with a minimum of anxiety, the journey and the return home seems sweeter for it.
Travel can be stressful because it breaks our routines and rhythms. We need to become completely dependant on our own resources, carrying everything we need with us. It forces us to make careful choices about what we take and what we do on the road. We have to live differently than we do at home and that forces us to pay more attention to what we are doing. THAT alone is a gift, for if we can use the opportunity to focus ourselves and work with our mind, we can not only travel better, but understand ourselves better as well.
Slow down, be careful and attentive and see what you learn about yourself.