Years ago, I spent a day walking through the streets of Paris with earbuds shoved in both ears. At the time, I thought I was being clever by multi-tasking listening to an audiobook on my MP3 player while experiencing a new city. In retrospect, though, I feel like I missed out on something by not fully hearing the sounds of the strange streets.
Last week, I was in Philadelphia for a journalism conference, and I had a few hours after I arrived to see the sights. This time, I took my own belated advice and tried to soak it all in without headphones. I'm very happy I did.
I have been trying to make a concerted effort to practice mindfulness in my daily life. I'm excited to start using an app created by Sam Harris, Waking Up: Guided Meditation, which I just downloaded. And, my wife, Ash, and I checked out from the library a pair of DVDs—Good Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake Up Story and Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story, both illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder and authored by Mariam Gates—which we've been watching with our son, Harper, 4, and daughter, Emerald, 1. (The Downward-Facing Dog is by far their favorite pose.)
Being mindful in everyday life is more work than it sounds. It's passive to let every thought and emotion overtake your consciousness. It's much harder to focus on your body and surroundings. My natural state is to spend my time regretting the past and fearing the future, never really living in the present, just my head. I'm starting to try to change this, but it's easier said than done.
But, since I've started thinking about this, my greatest lesson in mindfulness hasn't come from reading, the app, or the DVDs. It's come from watching our children attend Monster Jam on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We didn't tell them what was going on until the day of the event, and they couldn't have been more excited. After attending the Pit Party where we had the opportunity to take photos next to the trucks, we took our seats and waited for the opening ceremonies.
Once the trucks made their way onto the track, they were fully engaged. Look at the photos of them which accompany this column. Does it look like they are thinking about some past mistake, or what might go wrong in the time yet to come? More than any breathing exercise I've encountered, the monster trucks focused our various attentions completely on that moment in front of us. It's hard to think about much else when a monster truck is successfully doing a donut at a 90 degree angle with only two wheels, or mid-air completing a backflip.
We had so much fun at Monster Jam, and a key part of that is because our attention was so focused on what was actually happening at that moment. Now, the question going forward is: How can I approach every moment as if it was as intrinsically exciting as a monster truck rally?