Sometime in my late teens, 18… 19 years old, I made a commitment to myself - I would always say yes to opportunities that seemed to be "once in a lifetime." This decision has paved the way to many, if not all, of the experiences I’ve said yes to; starting with the decision to leave college after my freshman year (gasp!). Yup, contrary to what most of my peers were doing, I decided I needed to take time off from school and relocate, which meant moving across the country from the Village of Fredonia, NY to the big city of San Francisco, CA. I vividly recall moments and thoughts, including: "Living here is like living in a post card!" and it was. I landed a job working in a restaurant at the end of Pier 39, one of San Fran’s many tourist attractions. Every day at work, fog permitting, I had a clear view of the San Francisco Bay. Left to right we could see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge. It was incredible! California, San Fran, being far from my family…. it was all new to me! Life was exciting. Things seemed appealing and vivid - even shiny! You might agree that once-in-a-lifetime moments, have a special way of captivating our attention. Our brain and bodymind are on "high alert" when met with new things. Stimulated, they soak in the experience. This is distinctly different from the way they feel and respond to experiences that are more familiar. See, our head brains are incredible organs, ever processing and communicating a multitude of signals, setting us up for optimal functioning. To do this efficiently, the brain uses its skill building associations. As a result, we link aspects of life events together – say, having breakfast with your partner on a daily basis –we become a sort of expert, predicting what they may say, what they will eat, how the whole interaction will go. Now don’t get me wrong, associations are an incredible thing. They save energy and are so necessary! The challenge is that they these predictions occur on a level that isn't fully conscious, they become "the map" and we risk becoming dismissive. The thought arises, "I know how this is going to go" and we begin to tune out; shift into autopilot. Part of us is asleep! When this happens, we miss out on the opportunity register the full truth of the experience.
What if every moment of our life was once in a lifetime?
Think about it! The difference between looking over a map and putting hiking boots to the ground is way different. Though the map may be super cool, the hike itself is much fuller; it includes many surprises: wildlife, weather, sounds, scents, views, changing terrain... In truth, novelty exists in every moment. Each relationship, each experience - even those that involve people, places, and things we’ve encountered many times – is fuller than we may have anticipated. Despite elements of familiarity, each moment is fresh and fleeting. Okay, okay – we get it! Right?! So, what do we do? What would it be like if we lived from the recognition that every moment happens once-in-a-lifetime? In truth, no matter how familiar an experience may feel – not a single moment is ever the same. Take for example each breath moving through our bodymind systems at this very moment. We experience each breath the first and only time. Even though the act of breathing is one of the most shared and familiar experiences we have. This breath is here now – now it has passed, and it is gone - another has taken its place. Now, of course, there will be more breaths as long as we are alive. And of course, these breaths – this one and this one and this one… seem incredibly similar – the air flows in – the air flows out – however, as similar as they are, the breaths are not the same. Not even one will ever be experienced again. From this perspective every moment is once-in-a-lifetime. It is up to us to activate our awareness, waking up to each moment so that we may choose to experience the unique fullness of each. For in truth, we live in ever present moment that will never be again.
Engage the practice of seeing through the lens of the Beginner's Mind.
We can learn to engage our surroundings as if it were the first time – by engaging the practice of Beginner’s Mind. Beginner’s mind is a perspective inviting us to step out of the role of expert, to toss the map, and to step into the role of learner. Through openly engaging this practice, we expand our capacity to pick up on the new - shiny, vivid, exciting, ever-changing aspects of our family, friends, job and world that keep us connected, curious and deeply engaged - even the thousandth time.
To work with the practice beginner's mind, select an area of life: your partner, child, parent, a work environment, your self – and practice engaging with it as if experiencing it for the first time, open to all there is to learn.