How I Learned to Live in the Moment in Hong Kong

May 9, 2016

In 2014 I sold my house, quit my job and packed up a backpack. And then I left—to go travel the world, to live my dream.

               Related: I Quit My High-Paying Job, Lived Out of a Backpack for 6 Months, and Now I Couldn’t Be Happier

I was done with the daily grind, the constant chase of looking for happiness, of chasing after the next big moment, hoping this time it would bring me exactly what I needed—when I get a new job, when I get a promotion, when I get engaged, when I get married, when I have a baby… I was always one step away from being blissfully happy, or so I would tell myself.

But then I made a bold decision: that I wasn’t going to wait for the perfect moment to have my “perfect life” anymore. I was going to live my dreams now. I finally realized that life is too short to wait any longer. And so that’s why, in six short weeks, my life went from a comfortable four-bedroom house to an overstuffed backpack.

Before I left, I created a list of every country and placed markers on a map of places I was dying to see. I had to cut 36 countries down to a very respectful 18. But then I was ready. I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney, telling myself to take my time, to not be so stuck on the outcome, to enjoy this journey, to know that it’s not about the destinations but the process, and most importantly, to learn more about myself.

Yet somehow, a few weeks into my trip, I found myself in Hong Kong, checking out of my hotel and just about to catch a cab to the airport before realizing my flight wasn't until the next day. I was in such a hurry that I’d completely skipped a day. I didn’t have a hotel room for the additional night I would be in the city and I didn’t have a plan, because I crammed everything I wanted to see into an overwhelming two days, forgetting totally about the third.

Then I realized I had done this before. Not once, but twice. I rushed myself through Tokyo and again in Guilin, China. I obviously hadn’t learned my lesson. I wasn’t slowing down and living in the moment like I’d set out to do. But what shocked me most was that I was on this amazing trip, seeing places I might only see one time, that I might have to rely only on my memories from this moment forward, and in the present one, I was pushing myself to get to the next location. My mind hadn’t changed. I went from chasing jobs, rings and motherhood to markers on a map. My "next place" I was striving for was now literal.

Related: 3 Signs You Need to Unwind

I laughed at this thought and felt like the universe had finally taught me my lesson. I walked into a café with free Wi-Fi and booked a hotel on the other side of the Hong Kong Harbor. I dropped off my bag in my new room and, without a plan, decided to wander. I now officially had no destination. I would enjoy the sites, the sounds, the moments.

My meandering led me to a beautiful park and I decided to take a seat on an empty bench. In the distance was a fountain and I stared at it, thinking about my trip so far. What was I rushing to get through? If I’m on this trip just to go home, why not just go home? Why continue to see the other countries? Am I really enjoying just this moment? As I asked the questions, the answers were racing inside my head. But it didn’t sound like anything, only a constant buzz. I needed to slow down my mind so I could hear my individual thoughts.

At that point in my life, I didn’t know much about meditation. Everything I’d read said it started with being able to focus on the breath. So, knowing that, I sat on that bench, closed my eyes, gripped my day bag close and counted my breaths. I breathed in and I breathed out. I felt my lungs inflate and deflate. I allowed my thoughts to enter and exit my mind without direction, and they began to slow down, little by little.

But I still couldn't make out my individual thoughts. There were so many it was overwhelming. It actually felt like my thoughts were louder than they were before. I wanted to stop but told myself I had nowhere else to be right now. So I concentrated on my breath again. In. Out. I continued until I could hear only one distinct thought above all the others: Have fun.

I opened my eyes and I realized why people practice mindfulness. Everything around me looked new—and it’s because it was. Before this moment, I was using my previous conceptions to navigate my way through this beautiful city. I wasn’t truly appreciating the uniqueness that is Hong Kong. It reminded me so much of London, with the amazing shops and “mind the gap” signs, and yet the food was nothing like the standard London fare. I had a newfound appreciation for the humidity and the massive rolling hills. I gave thanks for finally taking the moment to sit and calm my mind. And I made a commitment to myself that if five minutes of slowing my mind down brought me this much joy in the moment, it was well worth it to keep practicing.

This was my trip of a lifetime and I promised myself I would do whatever it took not to rush through my days anymore. And so I began again.

Related: The 10 Most Revitalizing Vacations You Can Take

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