I wanted my first time traveling outside of the United States to be special. Just two weeks before spring break, I booked a flight to Ireland. I was nervous about being so far away from the safety of my everyday life’s relentless monotony and comforting certainty. I planned every piece of the trip down to the minute to avoid wasting a single moment. I was fully packed only hours after I purchased my ticket to the Emerald Isle. I had every detail sorted, yet anxiety still clouded my space for excitement.
I stepped off the plane feeling uneasy. “Toto,” I said looking down at my rolling carry on, “I don’t think we’re in Orono anymore.” I found certainty in my checklist. Go through customs — check. Exchange money — check. Find a bus to Dublin City — oh no. How do I find the proper bus? How will I know where to get off? How far is my hostel from City Center? Why are all these signs in Gaelic, I thought people in Ireland spoke English?
Breathe in. One, two, three, four. Hold. One, two, three, four, five. Breathe out. One, two, three, four, five, six. Repeat.
I repeated this breathing exercise, pushing the fresh Irish air through my lungs until calm washed over me. I anchored myself, connecting my mind and body with breathing. I opened my eyes to the bustle of the Dublin airport for another grounding practice. I counted five things I could see, four things I could touch, three things I could hear, two things I could smell and one thing I could taste. The calm deepened and I was here, now, present in Ireland.
Over the past year I have been attending workshops offered by the Mind Spa at the University of Maine. Programs like Cultivating Calm, Mindfulness, Info Session Mondays and Meditation Fridays helped me strengthen my tools for finding my calm. These programs, led by the outstanding Counseling Center staff, guided me back to my body so I could be calm in anxiety’s storm and present for life. The simple action of breathing, connecting to my breath, allowed me to BE in Ireland.
I spent my first day touring Dublin. I learned the rich history of how the city came to be, that the Guinness harp opens to the right and the Ireland harp to the left, and that most of the Gaelic on the street signs is translated comically wrong. I toured the wondrous Cliffs of Moher, spent a day exploring the overwhelmingly gorgeous views of the Ring of Kerry, grabbed a pint of cider in the town of Killarney and crossed the Carrick Rope Bridge overlooking a “Game of Thrones” filming location in Northern Ireland. Each experience more beautiful than the last as I steadied my anxiety with breathing and engaged with what I was experiencing. The grass really is greener there.
I toured Ireland top to bottom, left and right, and fully experienced every place I visited. It’s easy to rush through traveling: rush to your next train, rush your meal to make a tour, rush through your day because you’re anxious for the next. With the help of the Mind Spa’s programs, I found comfort in the pause; the slower mornings and missed opportunities were my time to just be. Taking my time allowed me to feel each step and really absorb the experience around me. I was in Ireland; physically and emotionally I was finally there.
Keeping mindfulness and mindful breathing in my pocket through my everyday life and travels enhanced my visit. Approaching every new place with a beginner’s mind, accepting the rainy days — all seven out of seven of them — and connecting to the present made Ireland the experience of a lifetime. I’ll never know enough words to express my gratitude to the Counseling Center Staff for introducing me to Mindfulness and the breathing techniques so I offer a good old Irish idiom: “tanks a milli.”
If you’re anxious about traveling, my best advice is to just jump in. Go for it. Keep your mind wide open, don’t forget to breathe and BE in each moment. You will not regret a single moment and it will be the best experience of your life until the next time.