Even before I left Sweden, I had heard friends living abroad saying that they found themselves so much more alive there than they did in their home countries. They thought that people at home just lived every day the same way and were only looking forward to the weekend or the vacation. During my years abroad I have heard this often and wondered what it’s really about. The other day I was working on a course in mindfulness and I suddenly got it!
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of modern mindfulness, explains in an interview what mindfulness is:
“It’s the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.” And then he adds: “As if your life depended on it!”
Day in and day out our brains are fully occupied with thoughts about the past or planning in the future. We very seldom just ARE in the moment, experiencing it just the way it is, without thinking. But since we’re only alive in the moment, not being aware of it makes us sort of emotionally dead! Only when we are fully aware of the moment do we feel alive.
When you’ve left the people, the environment, the language and the culture that you know so well and suddenly are standing in a street with completely new smells and sounds, people acting in new ways and talking a different language and you’re trying to cross the street with a seemingly chaotic traffic, you are most probably not planning your dinner at the same time. You just are. You are completely alive and aware of the moment.
Maybe you’re not completely non-judgmental all of the time though, and you might find it extremely stressful to have to get to know new people all the time, experiment with new groceries or trying to explain what you want in a new language, but this lack of grueling on the past or planning of the future actually makes you live here and now more than you did at home. It’s a kind of unintentional mindfulness, that is forced on you whether you like it or not. The best is of course to practice some awareness and let go of the thoughts just for a little moment every now and then and just enjoy what you experience, no matter if it’s in a chaotic corner in Shanghai or in your well-known kitchen in your home country!
If you want to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn explain what Mindfulness is you can click here (5:17 minutes)