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Source: Pexels

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I saw a man lying on the sidewalk. I had just crossed a street that borders Union Square and was focused on some dressed-up mannequins propped in a store window when I noticed his body and a cane beside him. Throngs of tourists walked by, some who didn’t notice or ignored the body, and others who seemed to take note yet moved to the opposite edge of the sidewalk, staring at him as they walked on.

As a New Yorker, I’m no stranger to the sight of a homeless person lying asleep on the sidewalk. But this was different. This man was dressed in unblemished clothes with rugged-soled shoes, and he did not look like he was taking a mid-morning snooze. I approached him gingerly, and asked, “Sir, are you okay?” I saw that his hand was a pale shade of blue and since he didn’t respond, I quickly ran into the nearest shop doorway to ask someone to call 911 with their address. Once I confirmed that the store manager was on it, I left, bewildered that no one had stopped to help this man who was clearly in need of emergency medical assistance.

As I walked on, I thought to myself: Are we becoming so detached that we barely notice a human life in peril?

Are we so distracted by our cellphone conversations, tweets and selfies that we are missing the happenings in front of our eyes—including the ones that are beautiful?

In 2007, The Washington Post published an article about an experiment they conducted to see if people were so focused on their destination that they were unable—in this case—to stop and enjoy some music. On a cold January morning, a violinist entered a Washington D.C. metro station and played six classical music pieces during the morning rush hour. After 43 minutes, more than 1,000 people had passed by, with only seven stopping to listen for at least a minute. Only young children had tried to stop and take in the music, though for every child there was an adult who dragged them by the hand to keep on walking.

What these metro riders didn’t realize was that the violinist was the world-famous Joshua Bell, who had sold out a Boston Symphony concert several nights earlier—average ticket price was around $100—and he was playing one of the most complicated Bach concertos on a violin that was worth over $3 million.

Yes, we are all busy and have people to speak with, things to finish and places to get to. So how we can find a way to be more present to what is happening right around us?

Here are a few tips to remind you to slow down and reconnect with your surroundings:

  • Insert a mindfulness moment—or several—into your day. Take a minute to stop what you’re doing and notice how your mind and body are feeling. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, take a few deep breaths and see if it relaxes your body and calms your mind. If you’re feeling happy, think of the sensations you may notice in your body. And if you are feeling pain or discomfort in your body, think about how that feels (Is it stiff? tingling? throbbing?), and see if noticing the discomfort allows those feelings to subside.

  • Can you unitask, rather than multitask? With all the distractions of technology, we are in a constant state of partial attention. Our brain and senses are overloaded by the persistent clamoring of cell-phone notifications as we try to check things off of our lengthy “to-do” lists. See if you can do one activity at a time—even if it’s for a short period. If you’re walking, just walk. If you’re driving, just drive. If you’re cooking, just cook. It’s a chance to focus and stay in the present moment.

  • Leave yourself extra time to get from here to there. If it takes you 15 minutes to walk or drive to work, allot an extra 5 to 10 so you don’t feel as rushed. This will allow you a few moments to stop and notice things around you, such as the colors of the leaves, the reflections in the store windows, the sun on your face, the sounds of the birds chirping (or cars honking), etc.

  • Notice something new each day. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of  being on autopilot, where our time and activities become so mechanized that we don’t even think about what we are doing. What if you imagined yourself as a Martian who landed on earth and it’s the first time you stepped onto a train, or the first time you tasted peppermint tea. What are the sounds, sights and smells around you?

Being aware of our surroundings takes some focus and attention, and keeps us attuned to our body and environment. Try it—you may discover that what you’ve been walking by every single day is particularly beautiful. 

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