I’ve always craved adventure—but I finally did something about it during my sophomore year of college. I signed up for a study abroad program that would immerse me in the far-off lands of Switzerland and Africa. This is perfect, I thought. I get to experience two completely different cultures. I’ll be honest with you: I was mostly excited about my time in Europe. But Rwanda offered me more than I could’ve ever hoped or anticipated.
The first two months were to be spent in Switzerland, but our professor Dr. David Brinberg wasted no time in preparing us for the latter 5 weeks in Rwanda—or, shall I say, attempting to prepare us. Knowing he could not do so fully, he said this: “You will be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. Go into it with an open mind. Be respectful of the culture. Don’t take staring and pointing personally, you’re the odd one out here—you’re interesting. Also, remain humble. Stay positive, and get absolutely everything you can out of this experience. Lastly, but most importantly, don’t expect or seek to ‘save’ the kids of Africa. Chances are, they’ll be the ones doing the saving.”
Dr. Brinberg was right: he couldn’t completely prepare us for our time in Africa, and I couldn’t accurately imagine what the next five weeks would be like; I couldn’t know how it would change me or even if it would change me. I simply hoped that it would, as I ached for a new perspective—and fortunately, that’s exactly what I got. In those five short weeks, I learned more about myself and the world then I had in the past 20 years. It would take me another 20 years (at least) to explain how Africa helped me and list off all of the lessons I learned, but if I had to choose just one piece of advice to pass on it would be this: stop rushing through life. I realize that life in the United States is fast—we’re constantly hustling to keep up with the latest technology, to reach the next milestone, to beat that red light. But I also know that there is value at the roots… in slowing down and enjoying, rather than rushing through life.
Find the Value in Slowing Down
I’m not the only one who has experienced the joys of living life immersed in each moment that comes. Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist, and Mindfulness-based Interventions Teacher Tina Bakardzhieva learned the value of slowing down and altering her fast-paced lifestyle when she became seriously ill:
“I once led a fast-paced lifestyle running through life without really living it. I was too busy with school runs, work, and developing my business to appreciate all the small gifts of life. When I had a serious illness 2 months ago, a dramatic shift occurred in me mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was no longer able to speed through my days and instead was forced to sit alone with my thoughts—but meditation helped me get through the loneliness. As a result, it changed my perspective on life.
I learned that rushing through my days was not a fulfilling way to live. Instead, I needed to be more aware of the life that was around me and appreciate all things large and small. By being present, I now notice small moments in life and gain much strength from the beauty within nature. In my times of silence, I learned that I am not invincible and my life can be taken at any moment. This has reminded me to be grateful for every breath, every sunrise, and every sunset. I have become a firm believer in showing gratitude for all things because life is fragile.
By changing my perspective on life, I have become a more positive person. I am centered and happy because each decision I make now comes from a place of love. It saddens me that I rushed through my life and didn’t truly appreciate all the gifts life gave me. I’ve heard so many people worrying about the weather on their wedding day, table decorations or plans, and of course you want things to be perfect. But all that really matters is that you are happy and healthy and surrounded by all of the people that mean so much to you. I never felt upset or angry with my situation, just motivated to keep fighting, get better, and appreciate every single day I have. Not a day will go by when I am not grateful for this experience.”
Live in the Present Moment: 5 Tips
The traditional advice for shifting your focus to the present moment is to practice mindfulness. But mindfulness isn’t for everybody—and it’s not the only effective way to soak up all life has to offer. Here are five helpful tips for slowing down and living in the present moment:
1) Get plenty of rest.
A general rule of thumb for improving your life in any way is getting enough sleep. You probably know this by now, but sleep is vital to your health and wellbeing—without it, you can suffer from fatigue, a lack of concentration, and an increased risk for disease (both physical and mental). So set out to get plenty of restful sleep each night.
2) Turn off your phone.
I was able to focus on my time and experiences in Africa because I wasn’t distracted by my phone. We didn’t have any Internet access so our phones were virtually useless. And while this worried me initially, it turned out to be incredibly beneficial. Turn off your phone or close out those social media apps and tune into what’s happening in the real world all around you.
3) Go outside.
Another key to living in the present moment is immersing yourself in all of the wonderful things the world has to offer. I spent the majority of my time in Africa outside, and I’ve never been happier. Doing so brought me back down to Earth and helped me find my center—and I guarantee that nature will do the same for you.
4) Spend time with loved ones.
If you prioritize spending time with loved ones, then chances are, you won’t have to actively work to live in the moment—you’ll already cherish it. Furthermore, spending time and socializing with others offers incredible benefits to your mental health. So get to making plans!
5) Be kind.
And lastly, be kind. Make it a goal to be a positive energy every single day and send good vibes into the world. Smile at strangers, do your neighbor a favor, call your grandmother—do what you can to make someone’s day, every day. Not only will this benefit your mental health, but it will help you to truly appreciate and value each moment.