I’m going to take a shot at my theory as to why we remember things from our day or a trip that don’t go to our plan. The things we remember from a hike or trip are the things that were unexpected or didn’t go to plan. When my daughter was leaving for Spain on a school trip, I sat her down and dolled out some of my crack philosophy (some would call it crack pot philosophy). I told her that things never go as planned and that’s OK, those are the moments that you remember. When your luggage doesn’t arrive or the rain cancels an outing and you do something else, those are the moments you remember. Don’t get mad, overly upset and bummed out, experience those times and possibly have fun with it. Be present, you can’t change the situation. Everything will work out. Little did I know I would be getting a call from her two hours later that was one of those moments.
My daughter called me and was on the verge of tears while at the ticket counter at LAX. The airline couldn’t find her tickets. I told her to not worry, we had plenty of time to work the problem and reminded her about the conversation we had just had. I sent a message to my wife, who was in Spain on the Camino and started digging through stuff trying to find the reservation number. Eventually the airline found it, the name was a little dorked when it was punched into the system. Problem solved and smiles abound. It’s definitely a moment she won’t forget.
I got multiple doses of my own medicine when I followed her to Spain. In Barcelona there were unexpected discoveries, a tour and guide that was unbelievable. When I reached Bilbao, our hosts were over the top hospitable. On the way home, I got another dose of my own medicine when my daughter and I were delayed in Paris for a day. I used the opportunity to show my daughter that we can approach the situation differently, turn it into an opportunity, a new adventure, and have fun. Traveling internationally involves one long line after another given the size of the aircraft. The line to rebook and get hotel rooms etc was a VERY long one containing a lot of upset folks. Rather than get upset, why not have a party, sort of. I got some cookies and handed them out to kids and parents, many of whom were very upset. When we got our turn with the airline staff (we were at the very end of a 200+ person line) they were surprised at how we approached things. There was no stress and we had 3+ happy people doing everything they could to get us home. The next day someone stopped by by my seat on the airplane and thanked me for my attitude. She said my attitude (and the cookies of course) completely changed her perspective and brightened her day.
Why is it we remember the things that don’t go as planned? Well, here’s my theory. It’s because we wake up. We come out of our dream like state while our brains fantasize, or worry about the past that is dead and the future that hasn’t arrived. When things are going according to our plan, our monkey brain is busy dancing around, dreaming, fantasizing, obsessing, and busy with everything but reality. When something unexpected happens, all of that stops, we come back to the present moment, reality.
Let me give you a few other examples. As I was going through passport control after after we were told to exit the aircraft and prepare to spend some time in France due to a malfunction, I was just lazily following people back to where we rebook our trip home. I got separated from my daughter. We were in the massive Charles Degaulle airport and I was just a tad panicky. OK, more than a tad. We eventually linked back up after a bit of my frantic searching but I was definitely awake (my daughter was happily chatting away with someone in line). During that same episode I remember handing out cookies and talking to people because I really wanted to be present and show my daughter that there was another way to handle this instead of being pissed at someone that had no control over what was going on.
This past summer, I was taking a hike in the high country of Arizona. I was fully awake as I explored a new path that was filled with unexpected beauty. After a while, I settled back into a more monotonous part of the descent on the trail, my mind started to wonder until I came upon a herd of elk in the forest only 20 yards from me. This discovery woke me back up. The elk hadn’t noticed me and I can remember the sound of the slight breeze in the trees, the sounds of twigs and branches breaking under hooves, the sound of my own breath, my dog panting next to me, and the feel of the rocks beneath my feet. I was definitely in the present moment. I was experiencing every moment of reality as it ticked by, like the beat of a bee’s wing. WOW! Is it just me. I don’t think so, I think this experience is universal.
The other night at a party, I struck up a conversation with a stranger. He relayed a story of a recent hike when he encountered a bear. He was very present. We agreed that these “unexpected moments” are the ones that we remember most. When I listen to other’s stories of travel and adventure it seems that the “unexpected moments” are the ones that stick out for them. A simple walk to the store, while you are fully present, can create it’s own special memory, possibly revealing an unexpected beauty that’s been there the whole time.
I was at lunch the other day talking with a friend about a book I read, “The 3-Day Effect” by Florence Williams. It asks if being in nature can make us feel better. Our discussion led to lamenting that we couldn’t be in the Forrest right now, and wanting to be in the forest more often. My suggestion is that we CAN do that while on the walk between the restaurant and our offices. There are trees, shrubs, and grasses along the way, we just need to notice all of this. So I gave it a test on my way back to my office building. I tried to tame my monkey brain from doing it’s inevitable wondering bouncing around, but be present on the way back. I wanted to notice all of nature on the way back. It turns out that my effort paid off, my walk was a lot more pleasurable and memorable.
Think about this the next time you hope that everything goes according to plan for your big trip. Maybe you don’t want things to go exactly according to plan.
If my theory is correct, why not create special memories of your life by being present more often. As you take a walk, fold laundry, or eat your lunch, be more present.
-- Christian Claborne
(aka chris claborne)