I have written previously about finding one’s happy place in France, that place where you can “relax, refocus, and recharge”. It is no wonder then that when travelling in France I am much more ‘in the moment’ and focussed on my experience that I see and feel before me. It’s called mindfulness and it can happen in France.
When you are in the “here and now” and not worrying about what you did or what you might encounter, studies have shown that you will ultimately have greater happiness and well being. Ten years ago I attended a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program to help reduce the stress in my life. Gee, do you think there might have been a little stress in being a Principal of a school full of adolescents with their raging hormones?????
This course taught me how to meditate and be more mindful of the things I am doing, such as eating. As I recall we actually had to practise eating a grape. No multitasking. No reading while eating. No television watching. Just chewing on a grape. The benefits of mindfulness in this course helps with anxiety, pain, and depression.
Mindful In France
It is only in the last few years that I have revisited the practice of “mindfulness” and it has taken place in France. Besides being in my “happy place”, I have realized that I am more mindful of my food, the sites, the people, and my surroundings more than in any other place. So how can you garner the benefits of mindfulness in France? Here’s what I do:
How many of us sit at a cafe in our home town watching people go by? My guess is, very few (including me). When I am home there are too many things “to do”. But in France, time is there to sit at a cafe having a coffee or glass or wine to look at the scenery and be in the moment. Mindfulness 101. That’s why I always advise first-timers to France to be sure not to stuff their itinerary with things to do or see. Be sure to put time aside to just look in front of you.
You can sit along the Seine, on a bench in Luxembourg gardens, in a garden on the grounds of a chateau in the Loire Valley. Or, join the cafe culture and sit at cafe and have a cappuccino and a slice or tarte au citron (lemon pie). (You’ll need to anyways as your feet may be tired, so take advantage of the opportunity).
There are so many beautiful places in France and I love to take photographs—not just similar ones to those I’ve seen in magazines, but photographs that unique, creative and different. One of my favourite shots was in Toulouse at night. With the mist rising from the river and the lights from the Hotel Dieu Saint-Jacques, the feeling was eerie but it had me in a trance. During the time I was there, I was “in the moment” and only focussed on what I saw through the viewfinder.
When you are travelling, please don’t be like those tourists who take a picture just to check it off their list. Take your time looking at your subject from all angles. Take a photo that will tell a story or will convey a feeling. Your audience (you, your friends and family) will appreciate your photos more when you have been mindful.
My favourite story about eating at a French restaurant took place in Paris at Bofinger, a traditional brasserie near the Bastille where I had a delicious meal of oysters, lamb with olives, a Côtes du Rhone wine, and apple crumble. I was taking notes and often talking to the waiter. The mother and daughter sitting beside me asked if I was a restaurant critic. I chuckled and said no and realized that I must have really been examining my food!
In fact, having the intent to really notice what was in front of me visually caused me to take my time savouring each dish. Does mindfulness enhance the flavours? I think so.
So when you go to a restaurant in France, do as the French do: take a long time to enjoy your meal. The French do! Their lunches are at least 2 hours long.
When I had a leisurely meal at L’Auberge Paysanne in Provence , one unique serving was a plate of flowers that had been coated in batter and deep fried. Icing sugar was sprinkled on top. Unusual? Yes, Delicious? Yes.
When you are in France, slow down, smell the flowers, get low to the ground to take a photo of that chateau, slowly chew your macaron, and sip your wine like it’s the last glass you’ll ever have. Your mind and body will thank you and if you aren’t already addicted to France like I am, you soon may become addicted.