Dear Matt, I wish you well on your road trip. Maybe you can answer a question for me. 13 years into the 21st century, in your opinion, what is the value of a direct, unmediated, unshared experience? Does an undocumented experience still hold meaning and value? Thank you. - Aimee
Thanks for your wonderful question Aimee. Very intriguing.
You question is so good, in fact, that I spent an hour last week trying to form a coherent answer. It was such a mess that I scrapped it. Here’s a story instead:
A chance encounter
It’s a few months ago and I’m solo backpacking for two nights at Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s a crisp afternoon, but a little overcast. Even at the start of the trailhead, you can feel the early rumblings of a storm brewing out on the ocean. The trees are moving — their branches swaying, almost speaking. It’s neither eerie nor inviting, almost exactly like the opening setting of a Murakami novel.
About halfway up the trail, I hit falling light and it gets harder to see. My mind is racing with scattershot thoughts — I’d just heard my daughter’s first heartbeat on an ultrasound, I haven’t been able to make any progress on my photo projects, there’s healthcare paper work to finish, I need to call a tax advisor, etc., etc. My heart is racing, my legs are tried and my vision is soft at this exact moment.
And then I feel it. It’s the gentle prick of the sense just outside of my sense. Immediately to my left, about ten feet from the trail is a full-grown, grazing deer. Just as soon as I’m conscious of her, she buckles, whinnies, clamps her feet down hard and scampers away. My body does much of the same – I dart to my right, put up my arms, and make a noise I hope no one else heard.
After the rush of adreneline fades I turn relaxed and calm. The swarm of thoughts in my head starts to form a quiet, single file line. I finally get out of my head and start to enjoy the present moment — the trail in beneath my feet.
Powerful, small and personal
As far as a “direct, unmediated experience,” I think this counts a textbook example. I didn’t record it with anything but my mind. Until now, I’d only mentioned it to a couple people.
What value did it have? Well, it had the obvious value of connecting me to the present. I felt notably “closer to nature,” to abuse a phrase. It was a powerful, small and personal lesson. It taught me to look for that feeling of connection and presence more often.
But I think your question is interesting because there are other discrete questions within it:
I’d say the answer to all those questions is “yes generally, but not always.”
Technology is definitely changing us in deep and novel ways, but somehow I’m not worried. I’d say that for the past 200 years we’ve been “getting away from our true selves” with distractions of our own social and cultural creations — this little thing called the Internet is just the most efficient, newest means of doing so. The trick is to learn from it — embrace the good, keep a healthy distance from the bad and distracting, and search for deeper connections and awareness. Those little, unshared and uncaptured moments still matter.
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