This is article one in the Mindful in Morocco series by Lexi Reich.
Seek discomfort. That was one of my intentions for the new year, and after having moved thousands of miles away to study journalism in Morocco for the next few months, I feel I’ve embodied that motto in its entirety.
Transitional phases of one’s life are exciting, but often uncomfortable. The unknown can be unsettling. For me, it was the basics I didn’t know: what family I’d be living with in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, and whether or not they’d speak English; if my vegan diet would be practical; what friends I’d make; access to wifi; showering — it was becoming a lot to digest.
I constantly asked myself, how could I be mindful through this? How can I honor my truest self and connect inside when I had all these questions of the unknown infesting my headspace?
What I soon realized is that whether you’re in the comfort of your own home, at a yoga ashram in the mountains or quite literally in Africa, the inner you is always there; the breath is always there.
I’m three weeks into this experience and my host family doesn’t speak English, but speaks French and of course their native language, Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am sleeping on a couch in their living room that is decorated with notes of yellow and orange. I go to the Hammam, or public bath, to bathe. I carry toilet paper in my backpack everywhere I go. My host mom serves me mint tea every morning and we sit in the quietness of the early day with the windows open, the crisp breeze of the Medina absorbing our silence.
Mindfulness is about perspective. You can have a meditation room decorated with exquisite cushions, incense and paintings of gurus and yoga deities on the walls and still not connect inside. What needs the decorating is your headspace, so spend time there. You can connect inside satiating on a piece of chocolate in your mouth — no yoga god relics or fancy meditation room required.
It comes down to your intention. For me, why did I come to Morocco? I came to grow, explore and see more of the world outside of my preconceived conceptions of it. Learning to balance homesickness with cultural immersion, adventure with rest — it’s all an act of devotion to the self.
I’m learning to be mindful of other ways of life without imposing my western view of right versus wrong. I’m learning to pay attention to my discomfort of not having a western shower and evaluate that feeling — embrace it, learn from it, be comfortable in the uncomfortable.
My first week I walked five minutes outside the Medina to the pier and let the warm winter sun simmer on my face. I watched massive Atlantic waves splash against the rocks, and started counting the beats in between. I thought of my friends and family back home, felt my heart swell with nostalgia, then let the thought go as the water dissipated. With each new wave I cultivated a new sense of gratitude. One wave for my vulnerability, one for my courage, one for the smile a young girl gave me on my walk over, one for the delicious couscous in my belly, one for the beautiful blue doors I could spend hours photographing, one for the fact that Moroccans blissfully never take their coffee to go.
Just like practicing yoga does not require the physical asana practice, being comfortable is not required to be mindful; in fact, learning to be mindful when you feel just the opposite is where I find you can reap the most benefits. As you may have heard in a yoga class, life’s challenges will be greater than how much your quads burn in chair pose. But how you get through chair pose — with the breath — is just what you’ll use to get through whatever is occurring in your life.
With challenge, I remember I always have my inhales and exhales. Moving to another country alone is not an easy trek — but that’s exactly why I did it. I’m sitting outside the Rabat Medina with a skinny cat at my feet, a piece of dairy-free chocolate I found for 15 dirhams (or $1.50) melting in my mouth, wearing clothes I need to figure out how to wash, and realizing this is being in the present moment.