If you search for coping techniques for anxiety online, one that will rear its head quite commonly is a three word phrase, “be there now.” Elaborating on those three words, the message is quite a simple one. Live in the moment. It is something that has helped me with my anxiety and it is advice that also should be applied to more aspects our lives in general. Particularly when we pay visits to places of interest.
In a lot of instances, when we visit places of historical importance, we aren’t actually there. We aren’t seeing the sights, breathing in the air, we aren’t living in the moment. We are in the future already, looking back at that time we stood in front of that landmark for a snap. That snap inevitably ends up adorning our social media. A badge to wear as opposed to an experience enjoyed.
For my last post, about Instagram overuse (plug alert), I could have chosen any picture from my travels to illustrate the words I had written. I plumped for a shot of myself standing, smiling, in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Fate has a funny way of intervening and later on that evening I sat down to watch an episode of The World at War, a Christmas present I had requested to help with my understanding of the war, particularly in Asia, and planning for a future trip to the continent. I swear this paragraph has tangible content and isn’t just plugs for past blog posts. Honest guv. As I sat watching I felt that pang of familiarity that I aways get when I see a place I have visited on the television. The Brandenburg Gate.
Usually my inner child rejoices when I see such a sight. There is even a sense of pride that I have managed to overcome anxiety and mental health problems to go out and see some of the world. But this time I had an issue. My issue? That landmark I had stood grinning like a Cheshire cat in front of was draped in Nazi flags as a military march proceeded under it on my television. Adolf Hitler stood, as far as I could make out, on a balcony of the Hotel Adlon watching on. A hotel I had photographed and joked about on my Instagram feed at the time of my visit because it was where Michael Jackson had dangled baby “Blanket” from his window. Shortly after the images filling my television screen were filmed the world was at war.
Berlin is a microcosm of places similar in nature to the Brandenburg Gate. Its eponymous wall, arguably the city’s main tourist attraction, was in fact a political tool used to divide a society. Of course standing in front of these landmarks and monuments for a photograph is in a way ensuring they are never forgotten but at the same time it is important to know why what you are experiencing is important, not just because it will look good on the internet.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, before berating myself for not being in the moment while I was in Berlin I revisited my photographs from the city. Photographs are a wonderful thing. They open up the cinema of our mind’s eye and parts of my trip to Berlin that do not immediately spring to mind when I think of the city came back to me. One in particular reminded me that I did treat the city with the respect it deserved, but perhaps it is for the best that I don’t try for the sombre expression when a camera is pointed at me in future.
The internet will not thank me for sharing that picture one bit. This was my visit to Checkpoint Charlie, something I struggled to describe in my post on Berlin and am loath to attempt again now. So hit the hyperlink. Three plugs in one post is a record even for me.
As I scrolled through my Berlin album I questioned whether I had been in the moment while I was there. Suddenly it was a warm spring day, tourists were bustling around and trying to no avail to get a shot of themselves in front of the Brandenburg Gate without anyone else in camera shot. Pockets of different languages buzzed past me and a street organ played. I took a video of said instrument to show my nan when I returned home knowing that she would love to watch it. I did this because I recorded a similar video of a traditional Greek band while in Mykonos for her benefit. She definitely preferred the musical videos to the countless magnets that adorn her fridge from places I’ve visited. If I needed proof now that I was in the moment then, this soundbite was it. There was no rush, no selfish need to grab a picture of myself to post on social media before scarpering off to the next point on the tourist map.
Ain’t I great. Please scratch that last sentence from the record.
That living in the moment advice that can be harnessed to keep anxiety at bay hasn’t always been a tactic I’ve employed both in terms of mental health or when travelling. There are some places I have visited that I never really saw other than through the eyes of the camera lens on my phone. There is a whole world of places I would love to visit, a few I need to go back to again to experience them properly.
Aside from a brief trip to Edinburgh in October last year, the last travelling I did was in October 2019. I am itching to get back on a midnight train going anywhere. Being unable to travel has made me realise just how much I love to travel. I would reference Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell but I used my musical tangent already in this paragraph. Oops, I did it again. Not being able to travel has made me realise that my passion for traveling is not just skin deep, or a hunt for another online “like.”
It is important to not take the opportunities we have to travel for granted. We must understand and respect the places we visit and the reasons why we visit them. But we must also, most importantly be there not in the past or future, but in the moment.