Your timeline is important. And I don’t mean who you follow on Facebook.
Our experiences make up the hashmarks on the timeline of our lives. Moments of incredible surprise, or fear, or joy, that rip us from the mundane and mechanical and etch themselves onto our memory and our character like a camera obscura. Our wins, losses, stumbles and triumphs.
Modern Philosopher Alain de Botton defines an experience as:
something that breaks a polite routine and for a brief period allows us to witness things with the heightened sensitivity afforded to us by novelty, danger, or beauty.
What a brilliant British bastard.
I dated a girl in college who had an etched wood plaque- excellent craftsmanship, actually- that read:
Here’s to the nights we won’t remember, with the girls we’ll never forget.
Even as a collar-popping, beer-swigging fratboy, I was always flabbergasted by this. The condescending jerk in me was bothered by what the sign suggested, that this “undying bond” between the girls was superficial, manufactured by booze-induced shenanigans. Yes, shenanigans.
Looking back, I see it in a much more forgiving light. The plaque simply pointed to the fact that those wild nights were powerfully disruptive to habit– a novelty- so of course they’d forge close friendships. We were young, eager, and vibrant, and everything was new and exciting.
That plaque undoubtedly hangs somewhere today, exuding its wisdom and bearing witness to countless wooo’s! over boxes of Franzia Sunset Blush. (The 2004 vintage is exquisite, best paired with a cheeseburger sub.)
It’s this heightened sensitivity that allows us- and sometimes forces us- to hold onto these moments in time. The smell of oranges as the sun rose over Isla Mujeres on our Mexican honeymoon; the overwhelming elation of being awarded my black belt; seeing my aproned father leap from his snack shack shift when I hit my first little league home run. These big moments are with me still.
Unfortunately, the older we get, the harder it becomes to find novelty in everyday life. The experiences we deem noteworthy happen less frequently; a concert, an accident, a vacation. We anxiously count down the minutes until Game of Thrones. Weeks and even months pass without reaching de Botton’s heightened state. We reach for our phones, we crack a beer; crutches that help elicit a change in state.
We’re conditioned to think that worthwhile experiences come in the form of events, validated by tickets and wristbands and official Facebook pages, something you can pre-game for. It’s so easy to live with little appreciation for the small, seemingly insignificant instances in between big moments. But what if those small instances could feel like Coachella?
Never forget you have only a finite amount of moments, no matter how ketogenic your diet or organic your produce. I’m pretty sure Whole Foods thinks my wife and I are regional managers, we’re there so much. Seriously, we got a Christmas gift last year. But still, even as I write this, I’ve one less moment left in my pile of moments.
Our Junior Coach the Beartrap said to me recently, with the weathered wisdom of a grizzled lumberjack, “man, these weeks are going by so fast.” The kid’s 16, and he’s already aware of that alarming phenomenon: that if you blink for too long the leaves will have changed, once joyful toddlers now angsty teens. How many times has an entire month disappeared in a flash, and you’re left wondering where the days went? “Wait until you’re 30,” I told him. I mean, amiright?
Here’s my point: time is fleeting, and life is transient. Your ability to appreciate beauty and seek out novelty will have an immense and immediate impact on your happiness.
I’m here to tell you that you can stand in awe of the world around you every day, that stealing a few minutes of sunlight in your backyard can fill you with joy and gratitude. This sounds cliche and maybe even corny, but I’m learning more and more that cliche and corny often mean true.
Stop being blind to the extraordinary. It took nearly a decade for me to realize that vibrant isn’t necessarily synonymous with young, and old and eager aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m learning this by unplugging, embracing solitude, and sitting. Yup, sitting. Quieting my busy mind, focusing on breathing, and becoming aware of the miracle that I’m part of.
I’m learning to be present-minded, to be here, now, filled with immense gratitude. Jiu Jitsu practitioners experience this in every training session, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Some of you are thinking, that’s just meditating, idiot. And you’re right. On both accounts. But the vast majority of people either don’t know how to meditate, think it’s woo-woo hippie crap, or simply don’t commit to doing it.
And it’s the secret to making more hashmarks on the timeline of your life.
When was the last time you felt joy and wonder on a Tuesday?
“Be true to yourself.
Make each day your masterpiece.
Drink deeply from good books.
Make friendship a fine art.
Build a shelter against a rainy day.
Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.”