The last day trip I took to the Black Hills of South Dakota I noticed several fellow tourists who seemed more interested in taking selfies than actually pausing to enjoy the views. A vehicle stopped at a scenic overlook, the occupants rushed out, noisily posed together with the scene at their backs, took turns shooting a few frames, then piled back into the truck and sped away.
This happened quite often and was so disruptive to the peace and calm that I jotted it down in my trip diary in an effort to get it out of my mind. Yet, I wondered why these tourists bothered to drive from long distances only to overlook the glorious natural beauty they supposedly came to see.
Happily, there were also a great number of tourists who parked their vehicles, stretched their muscles and walked to the overlooks then stood and pondered the amazing sights in front of them. Many did take photographs, but not selfies. It was easy to identify the serious photographers, even if they didn’t carry expensive gear. They seemed to be fully aware of the rare beauty to which they traveled for enjoyment.
A part of my visit to South Dakota was the specific act of people watching. I spent about an hour at one particularly spectacular area where Mount Rushmore was visible in the distance. I saw people of all shapes and sizes from various levels of society and even from several different nations. Many of the serious sightseers carried and used binoculars. Yet the “hit and run” selfie takers also made their presence felt.
Despite all the people watching and guessing about their motives, I realized that perhaps I was also sleepwalking at times. Instead of contemplating the interplay of clouds with trees and mountains, I’d gotten off-track to wallow in judgementalism. I finally let go of all that in order to simply absorb the majestic beauty of the park.
You don’t have to drive to the Black Hills to observe sleepwalking. In fact, you don’t have to leave home to experience it. Think of how often we get to the end of the day and wonder “where did the day go?” Sometimes this happens in regard to weeks, months, and years at a time. We might be casually aware of going through the motions and performing our required tasks, but we rarely pay full attention to what we’re doing at those times.
In a strictly legal sense, we are aware, but in a more profound sense, we are sleepwalking through life. The current trend of multitasking is an extreme version of sleepwalking. It’s impossible for us to pay full attention to one action while doing several others at the same time.
We’re walking and chewing gum at the same time. We might be trying to navigate a dark, unfamiliar path, we don’t remember we’re also chewing gum. Later, we notice that the gum has gone flat and tastes stale. At that moment, we’re no longer paying full attention to walking.
To get out of sleepwalking mode we can simply follow the advice of ancient sages. “When you sit, just sit. When you walk, just walk, when you eat, just eat. When you love, just love.” That is traditional mindfulness training.
When you pay full attention to each activity you do, you know where the time goes. You don’t get to the end of the week and wonder what happened to it. When we switch off the technology we turn to in order to kill time, we utilize time in order to more fully live. If we put away the phones and take fewer selfies, we have more time to more fully look within.
If we take the time to curb our sleepwalking, we have more time to be completely alive in our ever precious world.