Mindfulness in Rome

I am sitting on a covered rooftop balcony in Rome, Italy reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade-Meng Tan, an exploration of the benefits of mindfulness and self-awareness. Tan explains the phenomenon he calls “Expensive Food Meditation,” where people tend to appreciate expensive food more and take their time. He argues that if we treated every meal as we treat expensive meals, we would be much more satisfied and happy.

When I reflected on this, I realized this is how people treat foreign countries versus their own countries. What we become familiar with, what we believe to be mundane and everyday, becomes gray in our minds. When places are new, fresh and expensive to get to, those are the places about which we appreciate every little detail.

I, myself, am guilty of this. Yet being abroad has made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place as great as San Diego.

Fresh-made pizza

“Lying face-down on the street, I had an out-of-body experience, looking down on my limp leg splayed out to the side, and prayed that I would be okay to leave for Europe in 10 days.”

Italy breeds a certain type of mindfulness by circumstance. My classmates and I speak enough Italian to order pizza multiple times a day, but not enough to listen to neighboring conversations. In our fast-paced world, we constantly search for stimuli of all our senses, but the absence of verbal stimuli is something we unconsciously struggle with in Italy. Very rarely do we hear a conversation in English, and the communication barrier can be frustrating at times. Imagine being surrounded by the voices of the parents in Charlie Brown (they sound prettier than that), and you are suddenly thrust into a sudden self-reflection during the gaps of English conversation.

Personally, I have been forced into self-awareness by way of a complete rupture of my left MCL. For those of you not familiar with the knee, the medial collateral ligament is the primary stabilizer of the joint. The Sunday before finals week, I was skating to the library when I lost my balance. My left knee slammed into the asphalt of Campanile and I heard a sickening pop.

Lying face-down on the street, I had an out-of-body experience, looking down on my limp leg splayed out to the side, and prayed that I would be okay to leave for Europe in 10 days. I felt angry at the world for the timing of the incident and tried to be gentle on myself. My leg dragged behind me as I slowly continued my walk to the library, and I spent the next five hours icing my knee and studying for my differential equations final.

After countless hours spent in Calpulli the next week (Dr. Green and I are now on a first name basis), the doctors determined I had a grade three MCL tear. I started sobbing like a child, so very thankful that I would not need surgery.

The gravity of this injury did not hit me until I tried on my prescribed full leg walking brace. After 12 years of competitive soccer mercifully free from knee injuries, I felt betrayed and trapped in my own body. Fortunately, the doctors said I would be fine to go abroad, as long as I wore my brace religiously. I named it Eleanor and she is now my constant, albeit annoying at times, companion.

Eleanor, my new stylish accessory

The uneven cobblestones of Rome are certainly not my best friends, but they have helped me learn to check up on myself much more than I would have without an injury. My pausing allows me to look around, walk slowly, and be thankful for this amazing place I get to call home for a couple of weeks.

I check in on my body at night, breathing deeply and appreciating all the hard work my body does for me each day. Instead of criticizing my body’s failures/struggles, I applaud the baby steps (and 8-plus miles a day) I am able to make.

In Search Inside Yourself, Tan reminds us that all too often when we are in pain, we constantly tell ourselves we will feel so much better after the pain is over. Tan argues that even after a severe injury, we do not appreciate the absence of pain. My goal this coming year is to celebrate the freedom from pain.

As Tan says at the end of every chapter, thank you for your attention. Thank you for acknowledging my voice in a sea of others. I appreciate you. As the rain pours down around me and washes away the last of 2017, I look around and am reminded how lucky I truly am. The smell of fresh air holds a promise in it, the opportunity present in 2018. There is magic here, in mindfulness, in self-awareness, in celebrating freedom from pain.

Reflecting back on 2017, I surpassed many of my goals, professionally and personally and it was a great year (even with its ups and downs). It brought me so much love and support from family and friends, new and old. My goal for 2018 summed up in one word: togetherness. May we embrace our shortcomings, laugh at our mistakes, learn from our failures and support each other in this funny little home we call Earth.


Paige Doherty computer science sophomore. She studied entrepreneurship in Rome over Winter Break.

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