When I was ten years old, I traveled with my Dad and brother through Malibu, California, and I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t care at all that there were massive trees, sweeping ocean views, or lizards and all other kinds of unique creatures frolicking about. What I really wanted was to get back to reading my books, which at the time were probably fantasy paperbacks or Hardy Boys novels.
A few days ago, I returned to Malibu with my brother, and had a radically different experience. We hiked for a few hours to the top of a hill overlooking the ocean and several lush valleys. When I first took in the view, I had to close my eyes for a few moments because my senses felt overloaded by the beauty of the scenery. When I opened my eyes again, I was so overwhelmed by the existence of such a place that I found myself crying. I stretched out my arms and let out a shout of joy.
When I recovered from my ecstasy, I reflected on why my experience of this setting was so different from how it was when I was a kid. After giving it some thought, I realized it was because I’ve begun to let the world affect me. In other words, I’m actually allowing what happens around me to have an emotional impact. This new approach to life let me fully experience—and be blown away by—the majesty of my surroundings.
This experience also helped me understand my relationship with the world when I was a kid. I recognized that, when I was younger, I decided—consciously or otherwise—that it was safer and easier not to allow the world to affect me. If I didn’t let the world impact me, I didn’t have to feel sad, angry or neglected. Somehow, I actually switched off my ability to feel in response to what was going on around me. It was as if I were a turtle viewing the outside world from within the safety of its shell.
Although retreating into my shell protected me from getting hurt, it also prevented me from really experiencing joy and fulfillment in life. I’d be puzzled and frustrated when I’d see other people bliss out at the sight of an amazing wilderness scene. When someone told me how deeply in love they were with an intimate partner, I’d harbor the nagging suspicion that they were lying or exaggerating—come on, I’d think, no relationship with a human being can affect you that strongly. These and many other examples gave me the sense that I wasn’t fully human—that I was only experiencing a watered-down version of life.
Eventually, I resolved to take action to find out whether more richness was possible in my experience of the world. I took up a number of practices to achieve this, but one critical move I made was to deliberately put myself in environments I tended to avoid before. These were places like the wilderness, social events with a lot of people and stimulation, and sports games—places where I tended to feel, and obey, the impulse to dive back into my books and escape the world.
When I got into one of these settings, I’d feel the boredom and frustration, and the desire to isolate myself again, mounting. But instead of obeying that impulse, I stood where I was, breathed deeply, and allowed the tension in my body to arise and pass away. When I fully allowed my frustration to be, without running away or distracting myself from it, I was surprised at how strong it was. It seemed as if every cell in my body were screaming to get away from the environment I’d put myself in—as if just standing in the middle of the forest actually put me in danger.
But when the tension finally died down, it was replaced by an almost overwhelming sense of wonder. I was suddenly aware of how beautiful and complex the world around me was, and this awareness was so overpowering I could hardly keep my eyes open. The colors seemed so vivid, and the details so sharp, that I felt as if I’d only just begun to truly see.
This, I realized, is how human beings are meant to experience the world. And I resolved never to go back to my old ways of thinking and perceiving—even if this new approach to being in the world might expose me to intense and sometimes uncomfortable emotions.
This new perspective has done more than just help me appreciate nature. In all my activities, I feel more motivated and fulfilled, and less pessimistic and cynical. Because my experience of everything I do and see feels more alive, I’ve begun feeling peaceful even when doing mundane things I used to loathe, like shopping and fixing my car. When I reflect on how my experience has transformed, I’m reminded of Wayne Dyer‘s discussion of how our perspective ultimately creates the quality of our lives in Real Magic: Creating Miracles In Everyday Life:
Keeping in mind that thoughts are yours to create, and that your mind is the repository for all that you experience, take a good look at how you use that mind. . . . Not only do you become what you think about, the world also becomes what you think about. Those who think that the world is a dark place are blind to the light that might illuminate their lives. Those who see the light of the world view the dark spots as merely potential light.
More than anything else, I want to use my coaching and writing to help others access the way of experiencing the world I’ve described. If we did nothing more than learn to “let the world in,” and fully experience the depth and beauty of our surroundings, I’m convinced life would be more livable—and perhaps even enjoyable—for many of us.