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When we vacation, we often interact in exceptional ways. We open our eyes and we see what we haven’t seen before. We open our minds and we think what we seldom can. We open our hearts and we feel what we rarely do. We lower our guards, relax our sense of limitation, and experience more than we could or would have previously. We also unleash our curiosity and open ourselves up to learning that broadens our understanding of ourselves, others, and our world.

Following a recent trip to Europe with my partner, I learned a great deal about myself by way of my camera. I pointed it here, there, and seemingly everywhere and captured almost 800 images. Emboldened by novel surroundings and my camera’s lens, I interacted with beautiful gardens, amazing buildings, striking statuary, and so much more. I was frequently awestruck by my surroundings, but I became more enchanted by them–and more fully aware of myself–when I questioned where and why I had pointed my camera.

Shuffling through my pictures I quickly recognized my love of historic architecture. With a bit more thought, I realized that I appreciate historic buildings because I juxtapose my own challenges and life with those of others across time. I also recognized that I value strength, endurance, continuity, and betterment. Returning to the images, I saw my love for trees, plants, gardens, and fountains. With further reflection, I realized that I appreciate nature and natural things because I am drawn to and comforted by natural beauty. I also recognized my passion for calming sounds, flowing movements, resilience, growth, interconnectedness, and spirituality.

I could go on and on in this vein to illustrate the obvious that I saw and the not so obvious that I missed. My goal, however, is to point out that most of us approach life in this manner–attending to the obvious (our actions) while overlooking the not so obvious (our motivations). Further, that we could learn much more if we were to regularly connect the dots between the two. Using my previous example, if we only look at the pictures we take, we’re only able to see one dimension of our experience–even if it’s a beautiful and memorable one. Yet, if we look into the images and our reasons for taking them, we’re able to interact and connect with ourselves, others, and our world in very personal, meaningful, and multidimensional ways. We are also empowered to increase our understanding, to influence our behavior, and to enrich our lives.

So many of us go through the motions of living without mindfully considering why we tend to see, do, and feel the same things again and again. Our understanding doesn’t expand because it is rooted in the actions and not the motivations of our lives. In this way we are only open to, in touch with, and able to influence a small part of ourselves. Were we to mindfully consider the motions themselves–to explore what motivates us to see, do, and feel the same things repetitively–we’d open ourselves up to a whole new world of understanding. From this perspective we could be open to, in touch with, and able to enrich a vastly greater part of ourselves.

Imagine what we’d experience if we lived life as we do when we vacation? Picture what we could accomplish if we brought exceptional interaction and understanding into our everyday lives? Envision how much we could learn about ourselves, others, and our world if we took the time to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to mindfully understand our actions and motivations? Among other things, I see a world in which we’d be less defensive, less limited, and more open to experience and love. I also see a world in which curiosity would be encouraged, learning would be unlimited, and positive change would be both accessible and embraced.

Start simply by considering pictures you’ve taken or ones your appreciate. Ask yourself why you took them or why you appreciate them, then look further into what motivates your appreciation. When you become comfortable with that process, repeat it with behaviors (or patterns of behavior) you want to understand or alter in some way. Think about your day–about what you did and why you did it. Look beyond the obvious, be open and honest with yourself, and accept whatever you find. By doing these things you’ll gain practice in opening your eyes, your mind, and your heart in the service of yourself and others. With practice this approach can become a way of living that positively reinforces openness to self, others, and the world.

Give it a try. Approach life much like you would a vacation. Open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to exceptional living. Broaden your understanding and experience and learn from, enrich, and embrace your life along the way.

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