On not blacking out + allowing yourself to notice the unexpected


How many times have you Blacked Out on your commute this week?

And, I’m not talking about the type of Blacking Out that happens after one too many drinks at the bar. I mean the dark tunnel vision that slowly invades your surroundings; the internal voice that won’t shut up, droning on and on about your never ending To-Do list.

One second you’re running out the door, and then somehow you’ve magically arrived at work in one piece.

It happens to the best of us. When I first arrived in New York, I never thought that the colors and sounds and smells would dissipate. I couldn’t imagine a day when I would subconsciously ignore the beeping or the crazies.

Yet, I soon became one of the people I had always disliked — dodging in and out of the lost tourists and mothers with strollers and corporates on their Blackberrys. I was consumed by my own world, and blocking out the rest of it with my headphones. Of course, nothing could get in my way.

I think the problem was that I was just focusing on the destination. I needed to get from point A to point B, and efficiency was the name of the game. There was no such thing as meandering, or stopping, or even looking around. I didn’t have time, I didn’t care, or maybe I just didn’t know:

Merely arriving and departing never really gets you anywhere.

Driving through the Costa Rican Forest, February 2015

After seven months as an Adult, I needed a vacation.

My week days were consumed by work, and they had a robotic rhythm to them: wake up, work, gym, sleep. My weekends on the other hand, tried to make up for my lack of spontaneity — limiting my only plans to No Plans. Basically, I drank until I could forget how anxious I was for Monday to start.

So, I tried to escape by booking a trip to the land of Pura Vida.

I thought that by entering a place where people believed in celebrating life’s simplest moments, that I too would automatically adopt this outlook. Somehow, I thought it would infect me like a virus — the moment I stepped off the plane I would slow down, and enjoy small things once again.

Of course, that’s not the way it works.

When we arrived in Costa Rica, my friend and I decided to rent a car feigning a sense of adventure. We had a hopeful itinerary that had no use waiting around for public bus schedules. We liked the freedom of having a car at our disposal — we could determine the speed at which we arrived and departed.

So, after a short stint in the city of San Jose, we took off with a car full of luggage, snacks and two random strangers we met at our hostel the night before. See, we were already putting our adventure caps on.

Our plan was to drive up to the jungle near La Fortuna, a couple of hours north of San Jose. By our estimations it would take about about 3 hours to get there — leaving us the majority of our day to hike and explore. But when does life ever go according to our plan?

As soon as we entered the Cloud Forest, the entire mood shifted. Outside of our car, fog enveloped us, and we could barely see inches of the windy road ahead. Our new car-mates started to get annoying.

And just like magic, a line of cars appeared in front of us, with no end in sight.

We slowly came to a halt. My friend, who thankfully speaks Spanish, rolled down her window and motioned to the small crowd forming ahead. One older man moseyed his way over, and leaned against the car in an unhurried manner.


Four hours? You can imagine the anxiety rising in my chest. I immediately pulled out a map and tried to search for any. other. possible. way. to get to our destination. This one way road was it.

I was shocked at how calm everyone outside seemed to be. People were getting out of their cars, shaking hands, laughing. Breathing the fresh air of the forest. And we were inside the car, pancaking about how to get to the next stop on our vacation.

I thought about these moments (or hours) a lot for the rest of my trip. It took me days to defrost, shaking off that anxious, rushed demeanor — always keeping that lighthearted crowd of people in mind.

This experience turned out to be my best lesson in Pura Vida. I realized that you need to take your blinders off, and enjoy the ride, so to speak, because not everything is about arriving and departing. It’s okay to get out of your car, make some friends, and soak up the moment — whether it’s waiting out traffic in the middle of Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest, or a train delay underground the steam of New York.

When you get back to the rush of your city, you immediately become frozen with this anxious determination. You move quickly, haphazardly even, pushing and shoving to get from Whole Foods to Soul Cycle without the blink of an eye.

But, I witnessed something this morning totally out of the ordinary that proved we can all take off our blinders.

I was walking to the subway during morning rush hour, right near Penn Station (for those of you who don’t know — you are reduced to a sardine in a matter of seconds), and I happened to take my headphones out. It was the first nice stretch of spring weather, and things were starting to look a little brighter.

As I was thinking about this, I noticed a woman walking towards me with beautiful, full hair. I’m not kidding — her curls were literally bouncing. And, just as I thought that to myself, this homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk in front of me yells out:


I almost had to do a double take. This kind of compliment never happens in New York. For the six years I’ve lived here, I can’t think of a time when I heard something so genuine. The beautiful-haired woman must have been surprised too. She seemed to scramble for the words, “Thank you” as she hurried past.

But, it’s moments like these that make you appreciate living, right?

Someone who has nothing to her name except a piece of cardboard, finds the opportunity to complement an awesome hair day. And we can’t even bother to say Excuse me?

It’s kind of sad.

But you know, we should take these small moments as a reminder to take out our headphones once in a while. To strike up a random conversation. To pay someone a compliment. Who knows what can happen, and what it could do to someone’s day — even yours.

mindKatina Mountanos