Be a Tourist in Your Own Life

Now that summer is in full swing in the Okanagan Valley, the city is flooded with people from all over the world who come to enjoy the hot weather, the wineries, the outdoor activities, and the sparkling lakes.

I’ve lived here for most of my life, and I always get a bit annoyed this time of year at how overloaded the streets and beaches get with out-of-towners. The heat is paralyzing, beaches become littered with bottles and plastic containers from careless passer-by’s, and I can’t so much as buy an iced coffee without having to wait in line for three times as long. I also struggle to understand vacationers’ amazement at the landmarks and attractions that have become pedestrian to me over time. It’s almost cartoon-like watching people line up out the door and down the street for ice cream cones from the famous joint downtown, or spend hours sprawled on a patch of sand – even on cloudy days – until their previously pale skin turns pink. That’s always the tell-tale sign someone is a tourist: they either show up with way too much equipment to block the infamous Okanagan UV rays, or they come completely unprepared and roast like lobsters. I always get a chuckle out of people watching at the beach.

The Ogopogo lake monster statue across from the yoga studio I teach at is a prime example of uncanny and zealous tourist behavior. I see thousands of people taking their portraits with the scaly green creature every year, and marvel at how throngs of excited kids squeal and drop their ice cream cones at the chance to climb on its well worn back that emerges from the blue-painted sidewalk. It must be exhausting work being the Ogopogo. He even has his own Twitter account to keep connected with all the goings-on in his watery little world. I imagine that he must be a part of some kind of “iconic monument” secret society, where the Mona Lisa, The Statue of David, The Pyramids, Stonehenge, and friends have weekly meetings and soirees in which they discuss strange and memorable sightseer behavior.

Then I realized – if it were my first time seeing the famous Ogopogo, I’d want my photo with it, too. And I’d also be thrilled to coast along the lake’s edge, stopping to sample ruby-red and golden juices made from grapevines heavy with luscious fruit and fermented in majestic oak barrels in the cellars of places with names like “Tantalus” and “Summerhill”. What a magical and unforgettable journey! I’m lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and to have the luxury of calling these things “commonplace”. When I take stock of all the treasures in my life, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I inhabit not only a physically picturesque place, but also enjoy a landscape of beautiful friends and those who love me. I wake up every morning in a healthy and able body, and I get to do what I love every single day for my occupation. Every day is like a vacation for me.

Which got me thinking.

From the outside looking in, my hometown looks like an amazing place to be. From my point of view, it’s easy to get distracted by the mundane realities of every day life: stresses at work, problems in relationships, traffic jams, pollution, monotony, etc. But if we can change the way we look at things, choosing to see each new day as an adventure in a strange and wonderful place, even the most ordinary things (like getting up in the morning and making breakfast, for instance; think of how many people do not experience this luxury!) will seem like an exquisite getaway.

Oftentimes I forget to be a tourist in my own town and explore all the reasons why people travel from far and wide to visit. I get so wrapped up in my routines that tunnel vision kicks in and I get restless and bored. Likewise I forget to just stop and experience what its like to be me. I’m always so focused on the next thing, the next destination, and the next juncture in my life that I lose sight of the beauty all around. The pressure of a “to do” list looms like a tedious itinerary when sometimes all you want to do is take in the scenery at a leisurely pace. One thing I remember being told on a trip to Europe in high school as I snapped hundreds of photos of every little thing that caught my eye was to not let the entire trip be experienced through a camera lens. I so badly wanted to remember every detail, to capture it in photographic concrete forever. But nothing would replace the very act of being there, fully present, drinking in the journey with my eyes and skin and soul. Likewise, we have to strip away our familiar perception of our lives and see each new day – each new breath – as a fresh start and a marvel to behold. Instead of trying to qualify every encounter, struggling to attach meaning to every incident, and counting each moment like a coin in hopes they will someday be worth something, we need to drop all the lenses and just be. Experience the moment through an unfiltered perception and feel the fullness of life.

Escape into each breath. Every breath contains all you have been, all you are, and all that you will be. You don’t need anything else and you don’t need to be anything else in this moment. Treat each day as a soul vacation. I think the reason we enjoy holidays so much is that we know that they always end too soon. Each activity becomes precious because we know it’s fleeting. But all things in life are temporary! This body we inhabit, our planet, or relationships and our perceptions are ever-changing and evolving. We never know when the sun will shine, when tragedy will strike, or when something out of our control will change our situation. We have the choice to drag our feet and wish we were somewhere else, or in another’s skin. But it’s true that the grass is always greener on the other side; someone’s yoga practice will always be better than yours, someone will always make more money that you, drive a cooler car, seem to be happier, or – heaven forbid – have a way cooler lake monster than you. The best we can do is enjoy, breathe, and smile, knowing that there is no place better to be than here, and no time better to experience than now.

Happy summer everyone. Namaste.