This past spring, Matt and I took a vacation to France, spending several days in Paris. The City of Light had been at the top of my travel bucket list for some time, and it was every bit as magical as I dreamed it would be. The picturesque streets, the green space, the tiny chocolates, and the corner cafes… I was pumped for all of it. Near the top of my list of Paris must-sees? Mona Lisa.
Whether this makes me basic or touristy, I don’t really care. Seeing the Mona Lisa was a moment I’d pictured ever since we started planning the trip, and in reality, probably years before that, as she is a feature in countless movies, books, and iconic stories.
So on our last day in Paris, we headed to the Louvre, walking in through the gorgeous glass entrance. If you’ve been inside the Louvre, then you already know that Mona Lisa is a main attraction. There are small but obvious signs at nearly every corner, directing you to her.
As we got closer, the energy in the halls changed, and the crowds grew a little bit thicker. But I didn’t mind. I was about to have my moment with Mona Lisa. I decided at the start of the day, that I wouldn’t even touch my camera while standing in front of the painting. I just wanted to be there, with her, in the moment, soaking up the whole experience.
As we walked into the hall, I gasped a little bit. Not at the crowds (though goodness, they were intense). Not at the barrage of selfie sticks or the people jostling to get a good view. I gasped because I was there. In front of her. In the space I’d dreamed of and hoped for for years.
I stood back, still perfectly content without a single photo. If anyone wanted to know what the Mona Lisa looks like, I figured they could Google it. No one needs me to snap a photo of her. And while I’m no stranger to selfies, I didn’t feel the need to pull out my phone in the slightest. I just wanted to be there and take it in.
Surprisingly though, my selfie dreading husband squeezed us into a good spot, and pulled out the camera for a quick photo. He caught me off guard, given that selfies usually prompt an eye roll and a look of disdain from him. I told him I had decided to just be present, and he exclaimed, “But we have to get a picture with her!” This insistence was strange, and given it’s a rarity, I smiled and agreed. Because if Matt wants to take a selfie, I’ll bend the rules a bit. It rarely happens. So we posed and smiled and then moved to the side, before exiting the hall.
We walked through a few more halls, down the stairs, and around the corner. I realized I just had the very moment that I’d dreamed of for years. I just stood in front of the Mona Lisa. And you know what? I realized I missed something. I quickly turned to Matt and said, “I’m going back.” He looked at me, confused. “I feel like I didn’t fully see her and experience her.” Matt gave me a look, but I was insistent. We turned around and headed back up the stairs.
I walked back into the hall with Matt and told him to give me 15 minutes. I really wanted to be there, to capture the details, and to soak up the moment. I stood off to the side a bit, first taking in the painting. I looked at the tiny details of the brushstrokes, her coy smile, and the curve of her clothes. I moved my attention to the frame, where it was hung on the wall, and how the painting changed as I moved positions. I took time to look around the hall, at the walls, and at the light pouring in. I listened the murmured voices, the shuffling of feet, and the different languages being spoken around me.
I felt my feet planted firmly on the floor, supporting me as I stood in front of the Mona Lisa. I noticed my smile and how full my heart felt. I thought about how grateful I was to be in Paris and on the trip. I felt deep appreciation for the life Matt and I have and the opening of my own practice just a year earlier. Because that leap, and the success that came with it, allowed me to be in this moment with Mona Lisa.
I noticed every detail about the moment, about me, and about the way I felt in that moment. I lingered with care, allowing the emotion and the moment to fill me up completely. I smiled, giving thanks for the moment, vowing to remember it for years to come. I took a breath, held it, and then slowly exhaled. Now I saw her. Experienced her. Took in every ounce of beauty the moment had to offer.
This is the value of mindfulness. This is how you guide your brain to be fully be present and in the moment. Mindfulness means being intentional with where you direct your attention and where you choose to be. Mindfulness allows you to extract all the goodness and joy an moment has to offer.
I almost walked down the stairs and out of the Louvre, only to have stood in front of the Mona Lisa with 75 percent of my attention. But I didn’t go halfway across the world for 75 percent. I wanted the whole moment, all of it, 100 percent. And I got that, with mindfulness
That day in the Louvre, I learned something, a lesson from Mona Lisa. We have a choice where and how we direct our attention. And life is fuller, richer, and more meaningful when we choose to go all in, to be all there. So the next time you’re in a moment that you want to bottle up, practice mindfulness, and have your own Mona Lisa moment.