I’m a psychotherapist. Each week I see 35 clients. I’m hyper-aware and present in each session, holding space with laser focus. I listen with keen acuity, reading body language, facial expressions, pauses, breaths and emotion. I’m intensely connected at work. 

But outside of my office, sometimes I find myself swinging the pendulum to the other side. Disconnecting and numbing as I zone out to give my brain a break. Mostly scrolling through my phone way too much and losing touch with time and purpose. The polarity of these two states started to become really noticeable to me recently. I’d be standing in line and like a zombie, I’d reach for my phone as a way to subconsciously create a barrier, making myself unavailable for connection.

It was lonely, but I craved the escape. The desire to disengage is relatable to most busy people. When our bandwidth is at full capacity, we use our phones to shield ourselves from potential demands the world might expect from us. 

Because I’m a trained clinician, I observe behavior and patterns and could easily see it started to become an unhealthy coping mechanism for me.

So I decided to make ‘connection and presence’ my new intention.

This goal happened to originate right before my husband and I were leading a food and wine tour through Tuscany for a group of 22 guests. He’s a professional chef and this was our 2nd formal tour to Italy that we had been planning for 10 months. Our bags were packed and we were on the way to the airport and I said to him “my goal for this trip is to connect as much as possible. I want to be intentional about when and where I use my phone and really see what happens when I make myself available.” 

It was the most incredible experiment. 

I instantly became very aware of all the times and places I would have numbed and checked out with my phone and I kept it tucked away in my purse. 

The first gift of this intention came as we got in line to check our bags. We ended up standing behind a woman who had a lot of luggage. We made eye contact and she smiled and started up a conversation. Turns out she and her husband were moving to Portugal that day. They told us they sold everything – their house, their car, their restaurant and most of their belongings and they were going to retire in Europe. 

“What restaurant did you own?” my husband asked.

“Sweet Lorraine’s. I’m Lorraine.” 

Sweet Lorraine’s happened to be my dad’s favorite restaurant!  We had such a wonderful chat with her in line that was both inspiring and nostalgic.

From there my intention was ignited and the rest of the trip followed suit. 

We spent one evening in the cozy living room overlooking the secret garden in our boutique hotel in Florence connecting with a lovely couple from Texas. We were just planning on getting a glass of water at the kitchenette area. I left my phone in the room and we ended up having hours of rich and interesting conversation with them talking about everything from travel to living abroad to politics to raising kids. 

Many people experience interesting exchanges like this when they travel, but for me it was like an awakening. A stark difference to my insulatory habits of building a callous little security blanket of disconnection to afford myself the opportunity to rest my tired mind. These connections throughout our entire trip were a refreshing, soulful humanizing recharge. Each one left me feeling filled up and alive.

Leading our culinary tour was richly satisfying too as I remained conscious of connection, getting to know our guests, observing the beauty of our surroundings and bringing my senses mindfully to the delicious food and wine we shared as a group. 

The goal to connect with others ultimately helped me connect with myself. 

We met people wherever we were. The nun. The pilot. The shopkeeper. On trains, buses, boats, waiting in line for tickets, at the grocery stores, in small towns and major capital cities. The language barrier was never a barrier because genuine desire to make a kind, human connection with another person is easily translatable and available to you if you allow it to be. 

At the end of the tour, my husband and I had an overnight layover in Paris. We were staying near Sacré-Cœur and decided to walk to the church and take in the stunning views of the city before having dinner. When we got there, the nuns were singing evening song and it filled the cathedral with a choir of angels. We were each silently walking through the space, reflecting about what we were grateful for. Our families, our health, our safety, security and the ability to work together in such a creative and fulfilling way. We were also each thinking about loved ones we have lost and we spent some time in quiet remembrance.

When we exited the church, we paused at the top of the steps and looked out over all of Paris. Half the sky was sunny and the other half was raining. The light was so beautiful and then all of the sudden a huge full double rainbow emerged before our eyes. We both welled up with tears. It was one of those epic endings to the chapter that you get to experience if you’re lucky enough to remain present and connected.