I did something quite out of character the other day.
I called off of work for no reason other than a spontaneous urge to do something interesting. Typically, I'm not one to call off or miss a day unless I am so ill or concerned that I could not possibly work effectively. When asked about that trait, my punctuality, or my overt lack of work-life balance, I often respond with something along the lines of, "Showing up on time is the bare minimum." And oftentimes that response is met with a bewildered look, probably because a simple glance at my face shows my true feelings: abject misery, exhaustion, and deep despair. It's abundantly clear that I need to take a break, but the world must keep spinning, I must keep paying my bills, and I must continue to take care of my own needs and the needs of those I love.
But let's not belabor this point, for this is not to be a sounding board to describe my deep unhappiness with the state of the world or the uncontrollable aspects of my life. Rather, this post is meant to illustrate one of the few moments in my life where I truly felt in control, where the world once again revealed to me its true nature: an infinite playground full of nothing less than complete splendor and freedom. A playground that not only can I reach out, grasp, and hold tightly, but one that I am a part of and deeply connected to.
After I ended the phone call in which I expressed my inability to come to work, I felt liberation. I had acquired freedom for the day, and quite peculiarly, made the conscious decision to grant it to myself. I had no particular plans, but I knew that I didn't want it to simply be a replication of most of my days, in which I sleep it away or distract myself with technology's extraordinarily addictive surrogate solutions to meaning. I spent some time with my cat, made sure that he was loved and cared for, grabbed a good book to read, and stepped out of my door and into my car. I wanted to go someplace quiet, where a solemn and meditative reflection was not only possible, but inevitable. I decided on a place I had been a couple of times prior, a cove near the river about an hour's drive out.
When I had arrived, I was immediately greeted with an unfamiliar silence around me, and breaths of fresh air that, in my absence from peace, seemed to have become foreign to me. I walked to the bank of the river and took in my surroundings. Directly in front of me were flowing ripples of deep blue, with an endless assortment of mountains behind them that faded away into a distant haze. Quite a stark contrast to the drab grey grid and overabundance of noise that often consumes the world around me. Though the weather was fair, an occasional gust of wind would cut right through me and send a cool chill down my spine, so I walked along the riverbank to find a spot to sit that protected me at least a little bit. I found a break between the rugged crags that lined the bank and sat in a spot nestled between two large stones, underneath a tree. I took out the book I had brought with me and felt at peace, the sound of flowing water and rustling leaves providing an ethereal backdrop for my reading.
It felt as though time was still. There were no deadlines. There were no pressing matters. There were no worries in my mind. It was just me in the present, encapsulated in an indescribable tranquil beauty that only our planet Earth can provide. Every so often I'd look up from the words in the book and my eyes would inexplicably well up with tears, dripping down onto the pages of my book and seeping into the loose gravel beneath my feet. This was what life was about. A pure and unadulterated immersion in the beauty of existence. I was completely enamored. Of course, no moment lasts forever, and an oddly persistent bee kept flying near me and stole me away from the otherwise undisturbed serenity I was experiencing. But that bee was simply just living its own life as well, so I got up and walked away, leaving it to experience its own state of bliss free of distractions.
Returning back to the main area of the cove, I spotted a man not far away, pacing around with a metal detector. My initial gut feeling was to leave him be, as perhaps he had sought a quiet place to find repose from the loud modern world, but I fought against that instinct and approached him. He was an older guy, and I asked him if I could observe him metal detecting. His eyes lit up and he was more than happy to show me his findings, which consisted of some heavily oxidized pennies and a quarter from the 1970s. Unfortunately, it seemed that he was mainly finding bottle caps from beer bottles, and we both expressed our discontent about those that don't seem to make the slightest attempt to leave natural spaces better than they found them. We engaged in a back and forth conversation, discussing where we came from, what we like to do, and things of that nature. As it turns out, we had quite a few similar interests, most notably an appreciation and reverence of the natural world. He wistfully expressed his desire to get out into the world more and I joined him in that sentiment.
Eventually, he decided that he was going to leave me to my devices and search another area that may result in some more valuable spoils. Before doing so, he expressed to me that he doesn't have anyone who would join him in his exploration and interest in the natural world. Being well aware of the difficulties of making and keeping friends as an adult, I asked him for his number so we could keep in touch. We shook hands, exchanged numbers, and agreed on the idea that we should go out and look for some gems in the mountains together someday. We exchanged a gentle nod before parting ways.
Again I stared into the distance and thought about all of the things in life that we take for granted. The beautiful human connection we share with people. The beautiful nature that surrounds us at all times. And just the remarkable miracle that it is to be alive. To exist at all in this amazing world, and more importantly to be aware of it, is nothing short of miraculous.
To finish my day, I once again walked alongside the riverbank until there was no easy way to continue along it. I looked to my left and saw some steep and rugged rocks that I felt compelled to scale. I took hold of them and trekked as high as I could, an impossibly large smile plastered on my face throughout the entire experience. I could not believe how free the world could actually be. How liberating it can be to simply explore, adventure, and experience it the way it was meant to be experienced: unrestrained and without worry.
For so many of us, the world exists within a screen. We are constantly exposed to and fed what companies have determined is best for our happiness. We are told that material needs and entertainment are what fill the need for meaning within us, but those things are truly nothing more than very poor simulacra of the actual reality and meaning that surrounds us everyday. We are slowly abandoning the world that we evolved in, that humans so harmoniously existed in for the vast majority of human history. We are abandoning it in favor of industry, of technological hegemony, of meaningless and soul-draining activities that do nothing but distract us from the true experience of life. While the Internet has made connection "easier," it has taken away so much of the genuine experience of life. I feel as though any sense of community we have with one another is being eroded day by day. The surrogates that modern society has provided to us cannot even hope to come close to the satisfaction of true experience, of the genuine connection that we can have with other humans and the Earth.
No day attached to a screen has ever felt as liberating and as free as that day was. It will always be cherished and remembered as one of the best days I've ever had in my life.
Every single day I feel a little bit more awake and aware than the day before. I can only hope that one day, every moment of my life can feel so free.