Every year I go back to India to visit my family. Generally the jet lag allows me to wake up before everyone and get my meditation in. This time was different. We went to Dubai first. We were a group of 17 people with many activities planned in advance and there was no time to overcome jet lag. I jumped into activities – a desert safari in the morning followed by indoor skiing in the afternoon and a yacht ride to view shimmering lights of the asymmetric buildings towering in the Dubai night sky.
Coming with a sound mindfulness foundation comprising a daily practice, contemplation, and teaching, I arrived in Dubai calm and open to the new experiences in this foreign culture. Given the busy schedule and little time to reconnect with old friends, I chose to spend my waking hours in group activities. I skipped my daily meditations. It was a wonderful vacation overall (both in Dubai and later on in India—as you can see from the pictures). However, there was a difference in the quality of my mind and experiences with and without a daily mindfulness practice. This post is an exploration of my mind without and with meditation on vacation.
My Mind Without Meditation
Before I share observations of my own mind, here are three mind facts:
We have about 50,000 thoughts in a day and 70% of them are negative
95% of our daily decisions are made by the unconscious mind
Almost 50% of the time our mind has wandered away from the task at hand
Now here is what I observed about my own mind after just 2 weeks of not meditating:
- More negative thoughts including judgments, comparisons, and self-deprecation – When the days were full of activities I didn’t notice there were more negative thoughts bubbling up.
- Influence of unconscious thoughts – In the absence of awareness, the negative thoughts started to influence my mood and behaviors. Over time I felt more reactive to triggers in the environment.
- Distracted mind – I felt my mind was more distracted with more thoughts running in my mind.
- Low energy – Over time I felt more dull in my mind and body. It was as if I was carrying the weight of accumulated thoughts and emotions that I hadn’t stopped to question and let go.
- Overwhelm – Especially in cities like Delhi where there is a lot of noise and air pollution, the body and mind are on overdrive. Any silent moment, such as traveling in cars, is filled with music or news in addition to honking cars, bicycle bells, birds, street vendors, etc.
The above observations don’t mean that I didn’t have a good time. I was having a really good time while also experiencing the subtle effects of not slowing down to take care of my inner landscape. Over time the negative effects of not meditating were more obvious to me and not sustainable if I wanted to continue to enjoy my time with family. Just to clarify, this is not a reflection on family and friends but the nature of human mind when it runs on auto-pilot.
My Mind After Meditation
After two weeks of not meditating, this is what I experienced post meditation:
- Calm mind and body – It felt good to stop to breathe and attend to my body with full care and attention. It was early in the morning when everyone else was sleeping so it was quieter than usual. Within 30 seconds, I counted more than 20 different sounds in the environment. This is telling of how much sensory information our minds are exposed to in busy cities like Delhi and just how important it is to create quiet time.
- Awareness of negative thoughts and their effects – After calming the mind and body, some of the sticky negative thoughts surfaced that I could look at without any judgment and self-compassion.
- Ability to question and challenge negative thoughts – Once I could see the negative thoughts, I could question their validity and my hidden assumptions. This weakened the hold of those thoughts on my mind.
- Broader perspective and better understanding of situation – With a calm and open
mind, I was able to expand my perspective and gain a better understanding of some of the situations I was experiencing negatively. It was easier to entertain other possibilities than the ones my mind was unconsciously holding on to.
- More energy – Weakening the grip of limiting thoughts was freeing. I went for a run after meditating and my mind felt relaxed and my body was energized. Even though I had been running through out this trip, the quality of my run was way more positive. I was more aware and appreciative of the warmth of the sun, the sounds of birds, and colorful flowers along the way. Overall, I just felt lighter during and post run.
For the remaining vacation, I have been meditating and the entire day feels less stressful. I also find that people around me respond more positively when I have a calm and clear mind. As one of my relatives noticed when I had just come from the US (with a regular mindfulness practice) that I looked really “bright and happy.” And that is how I am feeling now that I am meditating every day again.
Tips for Mindfulness on Vacation
Based on my experience, I highly recommend taking out time to meditate even on vacation. Here are some tips that worked for me:
- Meditate first thing in the morning. Take out just ten minutes to meditate before the activities of the day take over.
- During transit in planes and car rides do a quick body scan.
- During the day keep checking in with body to soften all that is rigid.
- Take out time for physical activity like running in a local park, hiking in nature, biking, swimming or simply walking to see the local places.
- Make some time for quiet contemplation or journaling as being with family can trigger old identities that don’t serve you well any more.
- Slow down and relish what you eat and drink as it is easy to overeat during vacations when you are not paying attention.
My observations of my mind – with and without meditation – align with the facts I stated earlier based on published research. Have you noticed your mind and body when you meditate and how it changes when you don’t?
If you have never tried mindfulness, I highly encourage you to try it for yourself and you may be surprised with what you discover about your mind. If you live in Western Mass, check out the free intro to mindfulness classes in Downtown Mindfulness located in the heart of Amherst.
Here is a another blog post you may find interesting about the sticky and sneaky nature of the mind that makes it difficult for new habits to stick.