Finding the time to breathe, let alone be mindful of the breath, is challenge when you’re traveling. Heavy traffic, flight delays, and grumpy commuters can easily disrupt our mindfulness practice off the cushion. And yet, these moments can be our best opportunities to do more than just survive, but actually find some opportunities to truly practice when we need it most. Bringing more awareness to the literal ups and downs of travel, in terms of patience, mindfulness, and compassion, is something we can all practice. Here’s how:
“Hurry up and wait” is perhaps the mantra that best captures modern air travel. Hustle to the airport to wait in line for your tickets. Rush down the hall to wait in the security line. Hurry off the airplane, only to wait at the luggage carousal, before you rush outside to wait for your ride. Why not smooth over the roller coaster with some mindfulness and compassion?
Every time you’re stuck in a line there’s an opportunity for practice (instead of the habitual reach for the phone). An opportunity to stop, to feel our feet on the ground, the energy in our bodies as we pause between scrambling from one thing to the next, to notice what is arising and to meet our experience with compassion. Moving through an airport is stressful, each time we stand in yet another line we take that as an opportunity to check in with our stress, and offer ourselves a moment of compassion.
Travel can feel dehumanizing, and when we feel like we are being treated like steerage, we are inclined treat others that way right back, only furthering the cycle.
Do you know that moment when the plane has landed and pulls up to the gate, when the bell rings and everyone simultaneously leaps up to wait awkwardly, head cocked to the side as they wait to rush off the plane even though they can’t move? And even when they can’t move, they’ll just be waiting at baggage claim anyway?
Yes, we do it too. Or at least we did. Now we also try something else: just waiting. In my seat. Focused on the breath, body and thoughts. It’s a fascinating exercise to sit with the fruitless urgency and the intensity of the mob mentality, to see if you can be the last or one of the last off the plane. Just watch the show of the physical and mental urges to race off the plane as you watch them arise and pass. It’s an act of compassion too, as we let those who really are in a hurry go ahead, another simple act of generosity we can do if we are in less of a hurry ourselves.
Find Times to be Compassionate
And practicing compassion when you travel is huge, for you and for everyone else. Your kind behavior will not only makes others feel better, but yourself too. Rather than falling prey to grumpiness, you can actually begin to reverse the cycle of misery with simple acts of compassion. Research has found that acts of kindness ripple out to at least three people in what’s called “upstream reciprocity.” That person you helped with their bag, that driver you let in line? They will be more likely to show compassion to the next person, who in turn will be more likely to be nice to the next, in a ripple of kindness. And, one small act of generosity has been shown do more for your happiness even than theirs, making the travel experience just a little more pleasant for you.
For advanced practice, try compassion next time you are in the security line. Notice your judgments of everyone ahead of you in line and see if you can try to have compassion for the first time traveler who didn’t ditch water bottle (you’ve been a first time traveller at some point, too). Try compassion for the foreigner who is struggling to understand the instructions, someday you’ll be confused by a grumpy agent barking instructions in a foreign language at you. And try compassion for that family with the screaming kids, trust me they are far more miserable than you. (And okay, maybe that one is a bit self-serving for me.)
And there are other opportunities for compassion as well. You can send kind wishes to strangers, rather than holding on to that resentment toward whoever is in your way, costing you those precious seconds you didn’t need anyway.
Be Mindful and Grateful
And, if you’re traveling by train or plane, there are still more opportunities. Settling into your seat is a time can be a time to reflect without electronics, and just feeling the vibrations of the plane or train, the hum of the engines, and yes, perhaps the stiffness of your neck. This can be ideal time to reflect on all the people who have helped you, and silently send some gratitude their way. The ticket attendants, flight crews and cabin attendants, pilots, ground crews, baggage handlers, and maintenance crews. Can you think of more people who were involved in helping you get from point A to point B?
Travel can feel dehumanizing, and when we feel like we are being treated like steerage, we are inclined treat others that way right back, only furthering the cycle. By offering mindfulness, compassion and gratitude to all of us on the literal journey, we just might be able to fundamentally transform our experience for you and for those around you.