When was the last time you stopped to mentally check in with yourself? With your surroundings, the company you're with, your feelings and senses? Maybe it's while you're sitting in the company of old friends you haven't seen ages that you pause and take note of where you once again find yourself. Maybe you're alone and soaking in a new city across the globe, or maybe you're just in transit watching the world go by. I'm trying to integrate this practice of checking in whenever I can. This strategy of pausing and reflecting is so important to do, or else we become jaded with it all (something especially common in long-term travellers and people who are seasoned experts at what they do). No matter where you are, when something is going right in your life and you feel most happy and alive, take a moment to pause and reflect. Express gratitude for the present moment, and don’t let it slip by you.
About two weeks ago I was back in Laos in Vang Vieng, riding a kayak down the Nam Song river. A part of me really wanted to bring my camera along for the trip, but it was for the best not to since the kayak flipped right at the beginning near the rapids and soaked my friend and I completely. But along the river journey, after the rapids, I found myself floating quietly on this kayak peacefully down the river. The orange front-end of the kayak cutting through the still waters, the mountains around me, the sun beaming down on me, birds in the distance. Like a picture-perfect postcard, except in real life. I kept thinking how badly I wanted to take a picture, but I stopped for a minute, realized it wasn’t going to happen, and took a mental picture that will stay with me forever. But at the same time I knew I needed to check in with myself. This was completely breathtaking and rewarding. I was so grateful to be there in the moment, and I needed to express that to myself. Sometimes my friend and I checked in with each other as a reminder, and other times it was just important to check in with myself. This act of being truly present and aware lets gratitude flow freely through me, and I become truly connected with my surrounding environments.
Days ago I found myself on a long bus ride (26 hours) crossing from one capital city to another, from Laos into Vietnam. Sometime in the middle of the night when the bus was stopped I wandered around the foggy night air and took in my surroundings. This time it was nothing special. A rainy evening, cool draft in the air, many hours ahead of me. But it was a moment to check in. I’m about to cross the land border into Vietnam. This is interesting. The environment doesn’t always have to be beautiful to check in. Sometimes we just need to pause and look at where we are in the moment, and in life. Even in transit on the way to a new place, it’s nice to pause and look at the journey itself. The bus ride may be slow and drawn out, but life doesn’t move so slowly.
Now that I’ve arrived in Hanoi I find myself checking in more than ever before. I’ve never seen a city that moves quite as much as this one. The constant flow of scooters on the road leaves me no choice but to check in as I wait to cross the road. There’s so much traffic on the roads (and so few traffic lights) that at times the flow of traffic is constant and never ending (especially at rush hour). Motorbikes park and drive on the sidewalks, and sometimes appear inside stores where you didn’t expect them to be driving. Waiting for the traffic to stop isn’t much of an option; the strategy is to assertively cross. But in those moments before taking a step, I find myself well aware of my surroundings and realizing I’m lucky to be here.
Idea: You can create physical reminders in your day to pause and check in. Maybe it’s every time you pass through a particular doorframe. Each time you board a bus. Each time you’re walking and feel the sun on your face. Maybe it’s when the kettle is boiling or your hand touches the car door handle. Create a check in point for yourself and constantly practice the act of associating it with self-reflection.
This act of checking in really is just another strategy for remaining mindful and staying in the moment. It’s a way of paying attention to where we are in life, and from that, if it feels right, we can explore the next steps. But the goal is to appreciate the present moment and stop us from always thinking what comes next. So check in with yourself over the next few days whenever it occurs to you. Maybe you’re experiencing a beautiful moment; maybe you want something to pass. By checking in with your emotions and watching how you feel, you can allow yourself to grow and change accordingly. Don’t wait for old age to be thankful for the life you’ve lived. Find gratitude in all the right moments.
When did you last check in on yourself?