Be a (Mindful) Tourist in Your Own Town

Doodle with blue and grey watercolor cloud and wave shapes, and small yellow slivers.
A great way to practice mindfulness and open your eyes to the world you live in every day is to play “tourist” in your own town.  Often artists keep sketchbooks not so much to accumulate sketches as to provide a way to focus their attention on the overlooked interest and beauty in their everyday lives. […]

A great way to practice mindfulness and open your eyes to the world you live in every day is to play “tourist” in your own town.  Often artists keep sketchbooks not so much to accumulate sketches as to provide a way to focus their attention on the overlooked interest and beauty in their everyday lives.

Give yourself the gift of an hour or two, and set out from your house with the mindset you’d have if you were setting out from your hotel on vacation. Imagine that this evening you’ll be writing a postcard or brief letter to a good friend about your vacation.

Head to a destination in your town that might appeal to a visitor—a restaurant, park, waterfront, museum, orchard. Choose the destination so that you have ample time and will not feel rushed. If you only have an hour, go out as you would if you were a tourist just getting the lay of the land before meeting friends for dinner.

Watch for street signs. Notice what else is along the route that you might use to navigate back to your “hotel” or that you might want to “visit” later.

You’re only sending a postcard, so as you travel to and visit your destination, think about what few details you might use to capture the feeling of the day, and the town, in a postcard or brief letter. See if you can come up with three to five details to mention that would give your friend the sense of being with you on vacation.

Think, too, of what sort of images you would choose if you could select from a wide array of postcards depicting memorable sights on your drive.

When you return, write the postcard, or write your impressions as a short diary entry, or simply write down 3-5 phrases that capture the day for you.

Then add a visual element. If you want to use a literal sketch of a scene or object, and enjoy sketching, that would be one way. But you don’t have to be able to draw to add a visual element. Y

ou might choose just to embellish your “postcard” with some doodles in memorable colors that showed up on your trip.

Or, as I did, you might make one large “doodle”, wet some areas and drop in watercolor as we did to create our Stained-Glass Mandala.

I went out on a blustery, cool July day with dramatic clouds and sun. On the way, I encountered many beds of lemon-yellow lilies, which glowed boldly against the dark grays of the clouds and the blue of the sky. At the waterfront, I found more yellow flowers and a bright yellow sailboat moored right as start of the walking path.

Closer detail of doodle with blue and grey watercolor and yellow slivers.

I just doodled some shapes reminiscent of the day for me, and dropped in colors. It doesn’t “look like” anything, but it reminds me, which is all that matters!

I doodled some windy, cloudy, wavy shapes and then dropped in cloud and sky colors. Then I added some little yellow slivers which reminded me of the lily petals and the boat shape.

You could do something like this, or perhaps you’ll find a Creative Seed you made on another day that’s a perfect backdrop for your “postcard” recollections. Or, have a look at the post What If I Really Can’t Draw for other ideas about how to include a visual element without having to be able to draw.

If you don’t draw often, or confidently, you may be tempted to ignore the drawing part, but I strongly urge you to include it. Knowing, as you are traveling around, that you need to come up with a visual something to include, and that you have to distill it down to one “postcard” will focus more of your attention of what you are seeing far more than if you ran around taking dozens of pictures, or limited yourself to just using words.

Not only will you see your own town in a whole new light, you may actually see things for the first time that you’ve driven past every day for years! Knowing that you are going to record the experience, but limiting yourself to the sort of detail that would fit on a postcard will really heighten your awareness.

Every time I do this exercise, I feel a surge of gratitude for the charm of the town I live in, and I feel as refreshed as if I had just taken a mini-vacation!

(If you are very brave, you can also try being a “guest” in your own home! I know some of you will immediately cringe as you recall the dust bunnies under the couch or the dishes in the sink, but if you can get past that, you may discover pleasures and treasures hidden in plain sight, right under your nose.)

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