I am on my first vacation out of the country in a number of years, and am remembering how international travel forces me into a more mindful state. With so much new information to process -- from the sound of the language to the songs of the birds in the trees to the texture of sugar cane between my teeth -- my propensity to notice what I am experiencing in real time is exponentially heightened. This is the phenomenon that at its most overwhelming can become culture shock; but in small, manageable doses, it provides for a cascade of pleasantly challenging experiences.
Vacations alter our daily routines just enough that even the things we experience at home can take on new meaning. Trying to photograph the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean the other night, I couldn't believe how quickly the sun was disappearing below the horizon. I barely caught it before it disappeared altogether. I found myself thinking, does the sun always set this quickly? Does it move this quickly across the sky all day, even in New York City? How could I never have noticed this before?
That the sun sets rapidly is hardly a revolutionary discovery. It's a useful reminder though that there is rich, meaningful information surrounding us every day -- information that whether by necessity, obliviousness or choice, we have trained ourselves to ignore.
We can't tap into all of this information all the time, or we would find ourselves in a immobilizing state of sensory overload. Still, it is important to create opportunities for our minds to have to process new information, or to be able to process old information in new ways.