Staying in the present moment. This is no easy task when it comes to navigating our course. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we’re doing that the time passes so quickly we wonder where it even went, but, more often than not, we deny ourselves the joy of the present moment and all it has to offer by focusing longingly on the past or anxiously on the future. When trying to find a balance between these two places our thoughts are continually tempted to drift off. Anchoring ourselves in the “power of now” takes mindful and ongoing practice in our everyday lives.
This Christmas break, I decided to switch things up and do some “rock hopping” down to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before I left, I already knew this short trip would be an opportunity to hone in on these skills and practice a little bit of presence in paradise. First, because I was spending a limited amount of time with someone I cared about whom I hadn’t seen in some time and, second, because I had only booked the trip for 6 days out of a full 17 days away from school. The potential to stay longer was already weighing on me before I had even made it to the airport.
When two days of your travel time are taken up en route to and from your destination, you’ll find yourself, on the first day, being too exhausted to do anything but sleep in, watch movies and relax briefly at the pool; and the last day, too concerned with making arrangements to leave and packing yourself up again to go home. If you’re not careful, those six days can easily turn into only three full days in paradise where you’re not thinking about whether you’re coming or going. Each day that passes, whether you’re relaxing on the beach with a good book, or hopping a ferry to St. John with new friends, can have you counting down to the next and watching not only the sand, but the time, slip through your fingers faster than Charlie, the resident iguana, can attempt to steal your mahi sandwich on the beach! (True story!)
In my anticipation to stay longer and get a little more out of my holiday, I actually did end up extending my stay an extra 3 days, figuring there was no rush to return back to the gloomy skies of winter in Ontario when I still had so many days away from the classroom. This decision was swayed by the help of some new friends after I was completely packed and ready to go and only hours before I was to depart. (Thank you, Delta, for the delightful change fee. Ouch!)
Over these next few days, I was able to explore some new and beautiful places and connect with some new and amazing people, but, ultimately, I still found myself alone on Christmas Day struggling with some of my own personal thoughts and feelings (i.e., being away from family; not having someone special to share the holiday with) and declining invitations to check out the new Margaritaville on St. Thomas as a result. (Imagine that?!?!)
As one of my previous articles had noted, I pay close attention to the people around me and the conversations that we share when I’m traveling. It was interesting to meet and witness so many people, myself included, who really struggled with just enjoying the moment–whether soaking up the beauty of the sights on vacation, or going about daily life while having the luxury of actually living in “paradise” every day.
This reality reminded me of the quote “Where your heart lies, there is your treasure.” No matter where we are, our thoughts are always with us and it’s incredible to be surrounded by such beauty and yet, still feel unhappy, sad, frustrated, or anxious about life. If your thoughts (which come from your heart’s longings or desires) are continually stuck in the past, or constantly focused on the future, your “treasure” is never really within reach. That treasure is buried in the past, or still undiscovered in the future, and you’re always missing out on the one that lies right before your very eyes.
Where your heart lies, there is your treasure.
Our true, tangible treasures are available in the present moments, and we’re missing so many of them. Whether it’s the sound of the waves smoothing the shoreline, a butterfly circling through the tropical foliage, or the minutes spent in silence under the sun with someone you love; these moments can fill your heart with the peace you are searching for if you only take the time to break free from the thoughts set on replay in your mind. The only true paradise we can experience comes from within, and then, it doesn’t matter where we are. This is the reason you can literally be surrounded by a physical “paradise”, and not fully see it, clouded by the negative or uneasy thoughts that consume your mind.
The key, then, lies in creating your own personal paradise and allowing yourself to become more present and accepting of the moment. But, just how do you manifest this space? Slow down, recognize your breath, feel the sand beneath your toes and the warmth of the sun upon your face, look up at the skies, recognize and be grateful for the little things, tune in to the people around you, release your expectations for the way you think things ought to turn out, and above all…have a little faith. None of our sadness and worry will control or prevent the winds that are bound to blow, but our awareness of the present may just allow us to direct our sails for a smoother, more joyful journey.
Paradise is not a destination outside of oneself, but rather a place you travel within. And then, and only then, are you able to pack your own paradise and carry it anywhere, and everywhere, you go.