learning to be present: lessons learned in montreal

Two months ago I travelled to Montreal with Mitch (my husband) to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. Well, kind of for our anniversary. We usually aim to go somewhere every year, and this time we just happened to go somewhere over our anniversary.

Until this trip, all of our travel (besides our honeymoon) has included constant movement, always being on the go. We haven’t stuck around in places very long - the longest in an area being around 3 days. So deciding to stay in one spot for 7 days felt strange to me. What would we do the whole time?

Being constantly on the move when I travel is comfortable to me. Give yourself a short time in a bunch of locations and soaking in as much as you can in 2 weeks. Maximize your time. Don’t stop and pause for too long or you might miss out on something.

So when we parked ourself in Montreal for 7 days, I wasn't sure quite what to do with myself. We didn’t really have a plan or many specific things we wanted to do or see. We just wanted to eat and walk and drink coffee and cocktails and chill in a different city.

Or rather, in theory I wanted to chill.

But on our third day we grabbed lunch at a bakery and took it to a park and just ate there observing the world around us, relaxing in the sun. And rather than feeling calm and relaxed I felt stressed. Stressed that maybe we weren’t seeing everything there was to see in Montreal. Stressed that we were maybe missing out. Stressed that we were “wasting time (and money)” relaxing while travelling. Stressed that we should constantly be doing or seeing or taking in something new.

So I journaled it out and I want to share some of those thoughts with you. Thoughts that I’ve been having a lot recently and thoughts that I had to actually face when I was handed a moment where I didn’t have to do anything - and felt stressed about that lack of doing.

A year and a half ago I started to learn some pretty revealing stuff about myself. I learned that I avoid feeling by doing. I avoid discomfort by doing. I avoid facing my fears by doing. I find worth in my doing. I just really like doing, basically.

So I’ve been slowly working on deconditioning those ideas for the last year and a half. Trying to learn that I’m valuable just as I am and I have to do nothing for it. It’s not a fast process. I'm constantly trying to take a step in learning to be present, enjoying the moments without feeling the pressure to DO, and detaching my value from my accomplishments.

So here we were in a new place and I had nothing to do but to BE. And all these things I’ve been working on came right to the surface - showing me that I still have so much to learn. I’m still working through it all. I haven’t “accomplished” the ability to simply be present. I haven’t detached my value from my doing.

So here’s some of my journal entry:

“I’ve been thinking so far that utilizing our vacation to its fullest potential means fully experiencing our location by doing and seeing everything there is to do and see. But perhaps maximizing this trip for me looks like sitting and not-doing and simply being present without expectations - things that can feel nearly impossible to do when I’m home surrounded by things to work on and do at home. Here I am, in a new place with absolutely nothing I have to do. Maybe that’s the gift this vacation has for me. The lesson it wants to teach me. Maximizing Montreal doesn’t have to mean seeing and doing - maybe my purpose here is to learn a greater ability to NOT do. To stop putting pressure on every moment and to rather just experience and be in the moment. This moment is happening, and all I have to do is sit and be part of it.

I got the words onto paper and I felt better, freer, lighter. More present. I definitely didn’t “succeed” at being present and care-free the rest of our trip, however, that nagging pressure to DO that had lingered in my head until then left my mind and I had the freedom to really enjoy whatever the rest our week brought us.

Maybe you’ve heard of the practice of choosing “one word” for the year. This year I chose two - presence and freedom. So here I am, learning to be present.


This post is a bit of a departure from the normal calligraphy-related content. As I’ve been thinking about the future of my business and the things I want to do, I know that my purpose is not just to share calligraphy for calligraphy’s sake. I want to use both my art and my writing to have conversations about embracing ourselves as we are and becoming more present to each and every moment and person in our life. And so, I’ll be on the search for some kind of harmony in this endeavour to both share the beauty of calligraphy and the messiness of life. Hope you’ll stick around for it.