A trip to Vancouver in April wasn’t my first choice. Yes, I’ve become spoiled when it comes to travel, and writing this makes me cringe at my selfish attitude. While winters in Atlanta are generally mild, I was hoping for a warmer climate, preferably with a sandy beach and plenty of sun – a place to relax and chill after an exceptionally busy and exhausting first quarter. Reluctantly, I packed my base layers, and more layers, sensible and not-so-sensible shoes, and shifted my mindset… a little.
As soon as we arrived, I went into a higher gear. I was drawn into the city’s energy, architecture, museums, markets and outdoor spaces, and felt compelled to experience as much as possible. I immediately skimmed every magazine in our hotel room to make a list of all the things we needed to see and do during our short stay.
The next morning, we decided to start with Stanley Park and set out for another of our epic vacation walks. After a couple of miles, I began to get anxious about how much time this was taking, thinking we should have rented bikes instead. Of course, by then we were well on our way and determined to make the full trek around the island. I was also beginning to think about lunch, which made me hungry and distracted, wondering what food options existed beyond a snack bar in the park, and about what we might miss as this was taking longer than I’d thought.
About that time, we stopped in an area with a couple of park benches to snap a few photos of the sailboats, cargo ships, and open sea to the west. I’m still not sure what prompted me to look down, but when I did, I was standing directly over this sign – YOU ARE HERE – painted on the asphalt path, no bigger than a basketball.
Then I wondered… Exactly where am I? Did I miss something in the guidebook? Is this a significant location in Vancouver history? I looked around, checked the map, and didn’t see any additional clues.
We continued walking, and a few minutes later, it hit me. The sign wasn’t about Vancouver or Stanley Park; it was about me. I am here, in this moment, at this time, in this place. The sun was shining, Matt and I were having great conversation, we were getting exercise after transcontinental travel, and I began to look around more to notice the sculptures, the trees, and the waterside. I also stopped scanning my phone to search for nearby restaurants, and truly enjoyed the next hour of the hike around the park.
Fast forward to later in the day… After an amazing and leisurely lunch at a waterfront restaurant that just happened to be on the other side of the park, I found myself continuing to think about the sign. I was silently kicking myself for not taking a photo, and then figured out that I would have just enough time to get back out there on the last day. I dedicated the remainder of the trip to a having a greater awareness of being present, enjoying the moments. I stopped worrying about what we wouldn’t have time to see, and started taking in everything we did have time to experience. We stumbled on places not on our original “list”, purchased some locally made products, took in a beautiful sunset, and caught up with an old friend for dinner.
As I considered this more, I began to see the value of this approach in other aspects of life. Easier said than done… It’s one thing to take this attitude of slowing down on vacation. Would it be possible for me, someone who must be constantly doing, incessantly thinking about what I should have done, what I might have forgotten to do or what I need to do next?
The short answer is no, not always. This sign reminds me that there is no clearly delineated beginning or end. Life is an evolution. Calendars and clocks are simply arbitrary markers of time. It’s pretty incredible how much power I have given to these inanimate objects – what exactly am I measuring?
We are living in a world with a higher degree of stimulus than ever before – buzzing, beeping, chirping phones, watches and tablets. Emails with deals we can’t miss, popup windows and more links tempting us with enticing headlines and viral videos. Travel guides pack the day with must-see attractions and long lines of tourists, creating more anxiety about what we might be missing. We make never-ending lists of initiatives and commitments to do more, faster, with quicker results. We have more choice than ever and it’s easy to wonder if we've somehow missed something.
We are also living in an exciting time of creativity, and everybody’s favorite buzzword, innovation. To enable these advancements, we need consciously take time out to strip away distraction, create space, take a pause, let it all sink in and simply be.
I have by no means conquered this great aspiration of living in each moment, but I did get back to the center of Stanley Park to take this photo, which prominently hangs on the wall in the main living area of my home. This is but one of many of the moments that is foundational to this new venture in my life. I channel that day often – the cool air, the sun on my face, the energy in my body, the companionship, the scent of the open sea. I’ve experienced more, not less, than ever before.
We returned to Vancouver the following spring, and the city will always hold a special place in my head and my heart. This time, we didn’t go back to Stanley Park, but we saw new things, met new people, and experienced more special moments of simply being.
I still have plenty of work to do, but I am learning that wherever I am is exactly where I am meant to be. The life experiences, relationships, missteps and the successes have all prepared me to move forward on this unique path, and there is no better place to start than here.
I'd love to hear about one of your favorite vacation memories. How were you present for the experience and how does it impact your life today?