Last night at dusk I found myself in search of the elusive woodcock. Encouraged by friends who are avid birdwatchers, my family left the the parking lot of our local Audubon Center and set out about a half-mile into the slushy April woods of our Southeastern Massachusetts home. There were about a dozen of us in our group, including two twelve year-old boys, our son Christian and our friends’ son, Arlo.
As we made our way out to the field, it became clear that we should have dressed a little warmer on this windy spring evening, especially since we were instructed to stand still and quiet in the hopes of seeing the male woodcock perform its crazy mating flight pattern.
Direct experience gives us the opportunity to see an object, a place or even a person just as they are, to feel a sense of connection to the present moment that makes us feel whole, connected, alert and yet also relaxed and content. This state of calm, alert, and vivid connection helps build healthy neural networks in the brain.
The sky began to turn from pale blue to shades of orange along the tree line. Standing there in the cold and quiet with friends and strangers, my mind started to wander. “How long will we be out here? I should have ate something before we left….” Then I would come back to the present moment for a few seconds: “What a unique experience, just standing out here with a group of people in silence. Wow! the colors of the sunset are amazing… and the bare branches are really gorgeous.”
I was just starting to feel peaceful, entering the “flow” and enjoying the direct experience of the moment when Arlo dropped out of a tree directly into a stream, completely soaking his sneakers. This was hilarious, but shortly after my mind was back to “okay, what’s next” mode. “I’m really, really hungry…. and Arlo’s wet feet are going to make him hypothermic and we will have to bivouac him out of here…. that won’t be fun….” Then an instant later as the sun sank lower, some birds (not a woodcock) started saluting the dusk, and I found myself once again, forgetting everything but the present moment.
In spite of some family drama I have been worrying about, in spite of being cold, I left the woods feel thankful for a taste of what Buddhist teachings sometimes call mindfulness, or direct experience, and Western psychology sometimes refers to as the “felt sense” or being in the “flow.”
Direct experience gives us the opportunity to see an object, a place or even a person just as they are, to feel a sense of connection to the present moment that makes us feel whole, connected, alert and at the same time relaxed and content. This state of calm, alert, and vivid connection helps build healthy neural networks in the brain.
This practice helps cultivate a side of our nature that is unbiased, neutral, calm and centered. It is an important and powerful stress-reduction technique. Direct experience practice has a cumulative effect that can help us have a better handle on our emotions, and even build stronger bonds with loved ones and our community.
Benefits of direct experience:
- Negative emotions, like resentment or fear fade away, or at least soften
- We feel more connected with the people around us
- We are most likely building a strong, positive memory that we can call upon during a difficult time
Many moments of direct experience add up to a life well lived. Although technology has many benefits, it is difficult to cultivate an understanding of direct experience through our laptops and smartphones. Direct experience practices are an important counter-balance in the new era of technology and can actually help us get the most out of the high-tech era. Practicing direct experience intentionally builds the capacity to reset your nervous system in times of stress, and overcome setbacks.
Each day gives us many opportunities to enter the soothing state of direct experience. Take a look at some of the following resources to help you build your ability to be in the “flow”
We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!
Being calm helps foster more moments of direct experience. This month the Foundations Well-Being Program focus is calm.