On a recent family vacation to Disney World, I found myself sitting in a black motorcycle seat, pressed forward against a chest restraint, legs locked into place, about to enter into the motion simulated, virtual reality world of an Avatar ride. I am generally apprehensive about any ride that makes me feel terrified or motion sick, but I suppose these are the things we do for our children. To the right of me was my eleven year old daughter, and to the left of me, my husband and my nine year old son.
Before I knew it, the ride began. I felt a jolting acceleration, and all of a sudden, through my 3D glasses, opened up a vast universe of endless blue sky, water falls, ocean, and mystical creatures. We could feel ourselves diving and swooping through narrow crevices and rushing headfirst towards the water. I felt myself soaring through the sky, as drops of water sprayed my face.
As engrossed as I was in the ride, and in trying to keep my lunch down, I couldn’t help periodically glance over at my kids to make sure there were okay.
I looked over at my daughter, and I saw her mouth wide open in amazement. And perhaps without even her conscious awareness, she cried out, “Wow! Beautiful!”
My daughter is in many ways like me. Often in her head, over-processing ideas, thoughts, questions. Generally taking a left brained approach to life, wanting to know what comes next, why it comes next, and all the possible outcomes beyond that. Debating the risks, benefits, and alternatives to every decision. Constantly inquiring and planning (and sometimes scheming too).
Like me, often leading with her head, rather than her heart.
Which was why I was so taken by her surprised, spontaneous expression of curiosity and wonder and beauty.
In the moment, what I loved was her complete immersion in her experience. The way that she felt, the way that she allowed the feeling to sweep over her, and the way she expressed herself without self consciousness or monitoring.
Sometimes, I wonder why I have navigated so much of life in my head. I have cautiously planned out each step, and made rational decisions, with perhaps one or two exceptions. In many ways, it has been a calculated life. My decisions have gotten me to a good place…I have a rewarding career, I have my health, I have family and friends, I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. I have privilege that I try to be aware of and use for good. And so I suppose living this way has been rewarded, in a sense.
But, what are the trade offs? Where is the surprise? Where is the sense of aliveness? Where is the connectedness to all that is bigger and greater and magical?
Truth be told, it has been awhile since I have felt breathless with wonder. And I don’t think it is because wondrous moments don’t exist. They exist everywhere, from the mundane to the extraordinary. I think it is because when we live with every step planned, with a degree of certainty and security locked in, we miss the opportunities for the scenic route. We miss all the life that is unfolding while we are trapped in our heads thinking. We stop noticing the moments that take our breath away because we are holding our breath in anticipation of the next, cautious decision.
What would it be like for me to drop into my heart, even just for an instant, like my daughter did on that ride? What does my heart know that my brain doesn’t? What wisdom lies in the cellular memory of this body, that is being eclipsed by the mind pushing ahead?
I think this, like most things, is a practice of small, moment by moment, noticing. It could be pausing for a minute on an evening walk to feel the wind. It could be closing your eyes and paying attention to the subtle shifts and signals that your body sends when you hold a child’s hand or kiss a lover. It could be letting an old familiar song take your heart back to a time when that was the soundtrack of your life, and letting the feeling wash over you for a just a second.
Or maybe it’s none of those things, and my spirit will simply know the feeling when it arises.
As time goes on, I am less concerned about where my rational decision making will lead me. I don’t know that I want rational anymore, as irrational as that may sound. Perhaps that is because I am less worried about the end destination, and more interested in investing my whole heart in the experience of each uncertain step.
And maybe when the body and heart lead, we will feel that soaring…not just in a virtual reality ride, but in real life too.