Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Life And Experience

Another birthday and come and past, and I realize that I am losing a piece of myself for every year that I age. It's not that I am losing a sense of who I am. On the contrary as I know myself better and have more confidence than ever before. It's more a feeling of losing that sense of mystery that comes with experiencing something for the first time. It's the lack of surprise, shock, or state of disbelief that comes with being unprepared for a new experience.

The more new things that are experienced mean that I have more life experience in general. The more life experience I have, the more I am able to anticipate what may happen depending on the decisions that are made. While there are still opportunities for surprises, I am realizing that I that there seems to be less and less of them.

I am beginning to cherish every experience that brings me out of my comfort zone and helps me to realize that there is more to life than just the everyday. On the Appalachian Trail, I frequently had the sense that I was in the moment and had a sense of wonderment regarding the world that surrounded me. I also felt like it was the best time of my life. Abraham Maslow described this as a peak experience.

In the preface of Abraham Maslow's Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, he briefly mentions this phenomenon of losing one's sense of wonderment as people become older. He also mentions something about peak experiences that I had not considered before. As we all know, mental health has been known to be a significant contribution to our overall health. Maslow said that there is a definite cognitive element about peak experiences (even though they can also be purely emotional).

This made me wonder if peak experiences are almost necessary for positive mental health. If you lose your sense of wonderment, how does that effect your outlook on life? I am guessing that it has a huge effect on one's life.

How do you keep that sense of mystery in life that may help to keep a positive outlook? While part of this may be to get out and experience new and different things, I wonder if making a conscious decision on how to live life would effect not only the type of experiences I have, but how I define those experiences (as far as being "new" or not). There is also a question of how the element of youth and inexperience comes into the mix. Looking back, much of the wonderment of a new experience was because of being unprepared and frankly, I don't want to go back to that time of being unprepared as it can also create a sense of confusion in life.

Maybe I have to learn to redefine the meaning behind my experiences. I am in a time of life where although I am not considered "old," I am no longer considered "young" either. Instead, I feel as if I am in a position to define my life as old or young simply by my approach to life.

I feel that I am at a crossroads and this is the time to choose what my future is going to be like. Ten years down the road, will others consider me old beyond my years or will I be able to surprise everyone when my age is revealed? Instead of wondering, I need to decide what direction my life will go in instead of just going with the flow. So I decide that I will go forth and live with a youthful vibe while approaching things with maturity. After watching Oprah yesterday (a rare occurrence, that), I know who I have to look to for inspiration.


Bernulf said...

First of all, congratulations on your birthday :-)

With a sense of wonder, I think it is there to be found and experienced by anyone who is prepared to find it; and it's in only half-silly tones that I say wondering where to find a sense of wonder is a wonderful step in the right direction. I think the other thing that comes in handy is developing an on / off switch for scientific learning: we know from science that there is this great force called gravity, and there is centripetal force and so forth; but look up at the moon sometime and allow yourself to ponder on what keeps that great big ball of rock from smashing into the Earth. Or listen to the wind passing through the trees and try to make out what the trees are whispering to one another.

Those are some of the things that help me keep things in perspective, maybe they'll help you :-) I think we are jaded with our scientific knowledge - and someone working in the psychological community would probably be bound to find it harder to retain a sense of wonder, since you've probably already had to write papers on the mechanisms and processes that enable one to wonder and learn in the first place. The good news is that you could go out and do something absurdly young and silly in public and come away with the confidence that you haven't gone crazy ... it's an advantage most of us don't have, we have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best ;-)

Kay said...

Losing my sense of wonderment was one of the motivations for my moving back towards an "earth centered" religion. Developing a personal (and shared) mythology is something I'm doing to try to help it grow and to hopefully keep it healthy. It is tough.

I don't think peak experiences are necessary (or even desirable) for getting a sense of wonderment, though. I think an overall philosophy or worldview provides a better base which allows you to view ordinary everyday experiences through new eyes. Peak experiences are great, don't get me wrong, but they can be few and far between, no matter what we do.

Perhaps I'm just rambling here and trying to convince myself. I don't know. I too am at a crossroads and am trying to find my path. :)

A book I'd highly recommend, though, is "The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life" by Thomas Moore.

Happy Birthday!

ColoradoCelt said...

I know so very well how you feel right now. I am soon to be turning 35 (dear gods) and sometimes that seem so very old, sometimes not.

I find that one of the best things for this kind of time in life is solitary retreat. I go to a Nepalese Buddhist Temple here in Colorado for a three day weekend. It can be a very centering and perspective giving experience. I spent a lot of time in Meditation, ate salmon, rice, hazelnuts, and only drank water. Took a lot of hikes in the mountains and just came back to myself.

You might look around at any Buddhist, or Christian monasteries in your area, they often offer places for solitary retreat for very cheap.

Sojourner said...

Bernulf - Yes, nature does help to keep me sane as well. When I need a break, the local nature reserve is always a welcome sight. It's just be so darn cold here which makes it hard to get out. LOL

Sojourner said...

Kay - Maybe the process of defining and developing a personal set of beliefs is part of a healthy religion. Maybe another part of that development has something to do with personal growth. As your idea of what religion is changes, it is healthy to incorporate those changes into your life view. Developing my personal system of belief is something that I have been thinking about lately as well. I agree, it is difficult.

Looking back at what I wrote regarding peak experience, I realize it wasn't so clear. I didn't mean to imply that peak experiences are necessary for that sense of wonderment. I was more or less thinking about how peak experiences help with development through out the life span and used what I was talking about (wonderment) as an example.

(Here's where my psych classes come in to the mix. lol) We usually think of development from the time that we are born until we reach young adulthood, but we rarely think about development in regard to our adult life. All things that we experience do have an effect on us even if we may not know the actual effects - long or short term.

I would agree with you that peak experiences are not experienced often and not needed to have a sense of wonderment.

Sojourner said...

ColoradoCelt - Although I won't reveal my age (I am female after all! :)), I will say that I am of a similar age. I guess that I have been able to ignore my age because I was in college surrounded by "kids" who were a good 10 to 12 years my junior, yet I look like I am about their age. (Most people would guess me to be about 10 years younger than my cron. age. Heck, some people still ask for my ID to prove that I am legal to get into R rated movies!)

Graduating has brought the truth to the surface. :)

Thanks for the suggestion of a spiritual retreat. I think there may be a Buddhist temple in Minneapolis. Maybe I should check that out.

Kay said...

You look 10 years younger than your chronological age (which is somewhere around 35 ...)?

*Kay hits Soj!*

I'll be brave and admit that I turn 39 this summer. Argh.

Sojourner said...


Robin said...

I am almost 50 years old and have been rediscovering that sense of wonderment. For me, it comes from living in the moment, truly enjoying what I'm doing right here, right now. Everything becomes new and different when I look at with eyes (and an attitude) that are new and different.

Somewhere between 35 and 40 I lost some of that wonderment and wondered, "Is this all there is?" Perhaps that's part of the wisdom of aging -- learning the answer to that question. :)

Sojourner said...

Good point regarding the "wisdom of aging", Robin.

Bear said...

Sojourner, if the cold makes it harder for you to get out and spend a pleasant day shivering at the nature reserve, is it possible that what you are feeling now will vanish when Spring emerges?

Bernulf said...

*Sigh* That's what happens when you play around with Google account settings at a quarter 'til three in the morning ... just to avoid any possible confusion, the last comment from 'bear' was from me ... sleep may be overrated, but a rested mind is a treasure ;-)

Sojourner said...

Although spring would be nice, all I have to do is wait a few days and these bitter cold temps should be a thing of the past to be able to enjoy the outdoors.

Part of it is that I'm usually very active so it's hard for me to sit still for very long. :)

Bernulf said...

LOL - that reminds me of my wife! Always on the go and, if she isn't, she feels guilty for sitting around. I, on the other hand, have no problems sitting still. My wife used to jokingly tell people that I could sit and watch water freeze ... she stopped that when she found out that I actually have watched water freeze, and considered the experience a good one ;-)

Sojourner said...

Maybe I should learn to enjoy time spent in one place. :)

Your story reminded me about a day that I had been hiking. Instead of hiking most of the day, I ended up watching several lines of ants moving in and out of their hill. It was an interesting experience watching them gathering supplies for winter. Although it didn't seem it, 3 hours soon had passed. It was an enjoyable experience (even if I was sitting still).

Bernulf said...

"Maybe I should learn to enjoy time spent in one place. :) "

It's very possible to go many places without taking a step in any direction :-)

Sojourner said...

Ah, yes, true. :)