Mindful Discovery

I jumped.


Flying before the splash.


I floated. I drifted.


Letting the waves carry me away from the boat towards the island.


I paused.


Soaking in the world around me: a rocky cliff face towering up and up, birds gliding in the breeze, the distant shoreline of another island, the equatorial sun shining brightly, and my body one with the vast ocean.


Months later and thousands of miles from this experience, I sit in my living room in Seattle reflecting while wrapped in a brown fleece blanket, creating what feels like the perfect human burrito, wondering if that trip was really the last time I wore “real” pants. Snorkeling at Kicker Rock off the coast of Isla de San Cristobal would end up as my last day in the Galapagos Islands before leaving Ecuador as the world shut down in March 2020, unsure of the way forward in a new global pandemic.


At the time, I embraced the rolling waves and continuous awe of the natural beauty surrounding me and let the uncertainty of my sabbatical travel fade in the background. It was the day after my 30th birthday and I was in the Galapagos Islands! The birthplace of the Theory of Evolution. A magical place unlike anywhere I had been before and completely unlike my expectations. The Galápagos are not palm tree-lined lush rainforest-filled tropical islands - they certainly have areas like this but seemed overall far more volcanic and barren with hardy trees under the beating sun. I loved it.


As I swam to join the guide, I was most excited to see more of my favorite animals: sea turtles, but also filled with a nervous anticipation of swimming above sharks, which were known to hang out near Kicker Rock. The bubbly grey beneath left me to my own imagination. How deep is the ocean here? Am I above sharks and I just don’t know? What else might be happening beneath me?


We did see many sea turtles, seals, and fish in addition to the birds flying above, but also caught a glimpse of a hammerhead shark through the grey below. As a floating blob in the Pacific Ocean, its slightly terrifying to see a large shark casually swim beneath, but the surprise of the moment chased that fear away – it’s a hammerhead shark in real life!


When you are in the ocean, animals seemingly appear out of nowhere because we can only see so far. That sense of discovery fuels you. No expectations, just curiosity and awe. We can apply this idea of discovery to our daily lives even when we can’t be snorkeling off of a tropical island. Discovering our surroundings, our bodies, our thoughts, and those of others.


The concept of discovery in our personal lives fits so well with Charles Darwin and scientific exploration. Scientists design an experiment to test a theory. Sometimes the experiment proves the theory, but results aren’t discarded when a theory is disproved; these results become a learning experience and guide to more experiments and more discovery.


As we begin a new year that holds the weight of expectation after a tumultuous 2020, we can invite in this idea of discovery. What can you release? What can you notice? How can you move through this year with curiosity and acceptance?


Mindfulness practices help us release our expectations and judgments ultimately allowing us to invite in more discovery and more curiosity.


January Mindfulness Challenge


This month, we will explore different mindfulness practices and this concept of discovery. Notice what appears when you’re not expecting it and what happens when you let go of your expectations.


One of my favorite ways to practice this skill is to go on a walk without a plan. Choose a time when you aren’t constrained by your schedule, step outside, and just walk! Try a new route and let your instincts guide you. Notice what you see, hear, smell, and feel. If you walk a pet, maybe let them choose where you go for a while.


If walking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to practice discovery. Choose something that you do regularly and turn off your autopilot - wash your dishes, brush your teeth, or fold your laundry with curiosity.


Happy discovering!