Insights: Experiencing Life

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Have you ever had an experience where what you were looking at was so incredible you could not take it all in?

Last weekend I decided to do a last-minute trip to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The weather was still in the 80s so it was best to hike in the morning and later in the day. As much as I do not like getting up so early, hiking in the heat is not fun and watching the sunrise is always such a spectacular experience.

Picking out the best places to watch the sun rise and set in these parks was not difficult, and I found a multitude of incredible views to do so.

On our second day we went to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, which is meant to be breathtaking to watch the sunrise. There were a lot of people when we arrived, and many more came later. Not wanting to be around a lot of people, I found a large pile of rocks and climbed to the top to experience the sunrise in peace and solitude.

As the sun was slowing coming above the horizon it was magnificent. Yet within minutes most of the people had left. I was surprised. As one family was walking past my pile of rocks I heard one person say to the other, “ok, we have seen the sun come up, let’s go.”

Climbing off my pile of rocks, I walked down to the arch where I was able to watch the sun slowly rise further in the sky, where it created magical colors as the light glistened off the arch. Absolutely amazing.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch by Shelly Zavala

As I sat there with this breathtaking view, I felt like I could not take in all the experiences. It made me realize how often we see things, but we do not always take the time to “experience” them. To experience life we need to be present, not thinking about what we are going to do next, or how the dishes are not done. Rather, to be just in that moment.

Remember the first time you went to Disneyland, or went on an amazing vacation? We remember it to the detail. The reason is we were so present to that experience. Imagine if we took all our experiences as if they were a vacation?

A Harvard study done by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert on being present showed that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert wrote. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

It is an illusion that thinking about what is going to happen next or what we have to do next will help us be prepared. In reality, it is the opposite. The more we are present in the moment, the more ability we have to be prepared for the future. It seems to go against what our brain or what our society is telling us.

In a few small exercises we can help ourselves be more present.

  • Start your morning with being grateful for the moment.
  • Paying attention to our breath.
  • A grounding exercise such as noticing our feet on the ground.
  • Noticing what each of our senses are experiencing.
  • Being grateful for the experience we are having no matter what it is.
  • Being present to how we feel in each moment.

Of course there are so many other ways to keep us present; these are a few to get started.

I just read a good book that talks extensively about being present. It’s called “Think Like A Monk” by Jay Shetty. I highly recommend it. Shetty talks about how we as a society come from a place of external strength, how we look, the job we have, the money we have. Whereas a monk is taught to build internal strength, which is using the mind to manage all situations.

And finally, writer Henry David Thoreau had a beautiful expression of being present: “Live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.”



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