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To Be Truly Alive, You Must First…

Yesterday I wandered the land at the edge of Lake Texoma on the Texas side. I came to the land with ideas, perceptions, and judgments. I left schooled on how to listen.

First, I thought mostly of my family, who occupy both lands. And the many trips I’ve taken over this moving border. My connection to my family informed my perception as they were not far from my thoughts.

I recalled the car rides home after Christmas in our white Ford Explorer as I played with my new Barbies in the backseat. I saw myself grow from a child to an aloof adolescent. I thought about how I’ve changed, they’ve changed, and our relationships have changed over the years. And about how tenuous it is to change in relationship and all the fears that evokes.

Then I saw the trees and remembered my recent romp in California. And I impressed on them my desired experience. I looked at the landscape and requested a similar experience because California was so good.

I splattered the landscape with these layers of experience, judgment, perception, and history. And I remembered what a tendency it is for me to do that, to see the world through hazy eyes, colored with past experiences.

I could feel it in my body. Tension, which normally releases quickly, lingered with an edge. As though it were fighting with the world around me, not quite sure where it fits in, where I fit in because I wasn’t actually letting nature in.

She spoke to me and told me I wasn’t listening. How can I be anywhere if I’m unwilling to see with fresh eyes, listen with clean ears, and feel what’s around me? When lost in thought no connection with nature can be made.

So I let it go. I let the memories move away. I stopped trying to pull feeling from past experiences. And I quieted my mind. I opened my senses to the land, the trees, and the birds. I felt what was there. I smelled the plants. I saw the greens, reds, purples, and browns. I heard the songs of the wind, birds, and clouds. My entire body opened to hear, to take in the world around me.

And She told me how this happens too often with people and experiences in our day-to-day lives. Memories, good or bad, sneak in and cloud our perception so we rarely truly see one another for who we are today. We cling to past experiences because it was so good and we don’t want the memory to fade, or because we’re too afraid to face reality as it is today.

It’s not always conscious. In fact, most of the time, it’s completely unintentional. It’s almost habitual. Constantly living in an alternate universe of past (or even future) experiences through thought.

Unless we quiet our minds and engage our senses, true presence can’t be obtained. Likewise, we can never fully know ourselves and the people we share life with.

Remarkably, we are not set up in our modern times to engage in such a way. Our senses are incessantly bombarded with varying stimuli. A stream of demands compete for our attention. Is it a wonder then that we feel so disconnected in an increasingly technologically connected society?

When I put away my phone, put down my to-do list, and stop the history book in my head, I can sink into my bones. I can feel into my skin as the wind touches my cheek. I can linger over a flower as the vibrant orange illuminates my eyes. I can drop to the ground to find the recognizable smell of trees and brush that wafts in the warm air. And I can pay attention to the siren song of a tiny, lone bird perched in a bush-like tree.

Being alive is about being present. And presence starts first with listening.