There is a beautiful scene in the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” that comes to mind this Holiday season with its deeply meaningful message.
The scene is a profound reminder that in order to truly experience the beauty and richness of the moments of our life, we need to be fully present in them. And, in this presence, there is an even deeper beauty and joy to be found. We find the gifts of peace, truth and spirit—God—in these moments.
In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the lead character, Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller), works as a photo curator at Life Magazine and is the sole contact with the magazine’s famed photographer, Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn).
(Spoiler Alert!) We learn early in the film that Sean O’Connell is “old school” and doesn’t carry a phone with him while he’s “on location” shooting photographs around the world. So, faced with a critical question about one of Sean’s photographs, Walter finds himself traveling the world to find Sean, which, ultimately, leads him to the Himalaya Mountains, where the two characters meet in person for the very first time.
High up in the Himalayas, Walter finds Sean nestled on a rocky slope, with his camera gear all set up and prepared to capture a photo of the rare and mysterious Snow Leopard, aka “the Ghost Cat that doesn’t let itself be seen.”
Walter settles in on a rock next to Sean, and, just then, the Snow Leopard appears! But, Sean isn’t taking a photograph.
Walter asks Sean, “When are you going to take it?”
We see Sean’s lips move as if he is tasting the moment. We can see the bliss and ecstasy in his soulful eyes. He is fully present, living in the moment and experiencing all of its glorious beauty. You see his whole body deeply absorbing every detail, his heart and soul completely and utterly enraptured.
After some time, Sean answers, “Sometimes I don’t.” “If I like a moment, I mean, me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
“Stay in it?” Walter asks.
“Yeah, right there. Right here,” Sean replies, with a tear in his eye.
Imagine with me for a moment, if you will…
Could Sean have experienced every delicious, blissful detail of that moment on the mountain if he had had his smartphone and social media apps up there with him in the Himalayas? Can you picture that? If so, might he have felt compelled, as many of us do, to capture an image of the subject with his camera phone (or maybe even “go live” with video), share it on social media, think of a clever caption to accompany it, and then, perhaps, wait eagerly for the responses from his friends and family? Does that sound familiar?
How could he have been fully present in that moment, if he had only witnessed it from behind the lens of his camera or smartphone? If at some point in the future, he was looking back over his life, would he have memories of all the delicious present-moment details that he had experienced from the many rich, meaningful moments over his lifetime? Or, would his only memory of these extraordinary experiences have been just the act of photographing them?
I did it myself the other afternoon. It is so easy to do. It’s almost become an automatic reflex in today’s highly digitized society. I found myself experiencing a sudden extreme weather event, with lightening, thunder, sunshine, and golf-ball sized hail, all occurring at the same time, within about the span of a minute. It was so exciting and not like anything I’d ever seen, so, naturally, I grabbed my camera phone to capture the moment! And, capture the moment, I did. But, afterward, I realized that I had just done exactly what I’ve been writing about in this article. I wasn’t present in the moment. I didn’t have a real experience of the moment other than seeing it through the lens of my camera. And, I was so focused on narrating and capturing the recording that I missed nearly the entire real experience. The moment was gone forever. And, let me tell you, it wasn’t the same watching the recorded version.
While there is something genuinely sweet about capturing special life moments and sharing them with friends and family on social media, there is a balance. It’s nice to share and be social, but not to the detriment of sacrificing your own personal experience of the extraordinary moments of your life.
The bliss and ecstasy of truly experiencing a moment—of experiencing God in a moment—will stay with you for a lifetime. The short, fleeting elation—“the high,” if you will—when you are more concerned with “capturing” the moment with your camera or video, or posting it to social media, will probably stay with you for a day, maybe two…
It is not possible to experience the precious moments of life and receive their gifts, if we are only “partially present” (i.e. viewing the moment through the lens of our camera or on the video display of our smartphone, or thinking of the clever phrase to accompany the photo of “the moment that just passed us by” when we post it to our social media for all our family and friends to see).
Once every glorious moment of our lives is gone, it’s gone forever. We can’t hit the “undo” or “back” button and try to relive them again. We may get to experience a recording of the moment via a photo or a video, but that recorded version will never be the same as experiencing the beauty (God, spirit) in the actual moment.
I challenge you to “BE THE PRESENT” while in the presence of your loved ones this Holiday Season—and every day of the year. Look your loved ones directly in the eye, listen deeply to every word they say, and allow their divine presence to be fully seen, heard and cherished, in the NOW moment, by your divine presence.
As your son or daughter, sister or brother, mother or father, spouse, friend, loved one, partner (fill in the blank) are opening their Holiday gifts under the Christmas tree, singing carols, lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, performing an impromptu dance, telling a story of days of yore, or simply enjoying the holiday break before clanking champagne flutes and saying cheers with you on New Year’s Eve, may you give them and yourself the gift of your full, complete and utterly divine God presence.
Holiday Blessings to you and yours!
Copyright 2017 Valerie Rickel. All Rights Reserved.
Valerie Rickel is the founder, creator and soul of SoulfulLiving.com.