Right now I have 7,810 pictures in my iPhone which includes 219 videos, 23 “bursts” and 6 panoramas.
That’s nearly 8,000 photos that I have been compelled to take, to capture a moment. I believe in sharing beautiful vistas and the occasional proud moment but really, Meridith, 8,000 pictures?
I went to a concert recently and my view, from the back of the room, was of iPhone screens being held high above the heads of the other concertgoers. How many times have you (and I) watched a child’s concert, ball game or presentation through the lens of a screen? Now if you think back to the event that you were recording, did you really watch it? Did you allow it to affect every one of your senses or were you distracted by the need to make sure the screen was straight & view was perfect? The last time you stopped and took a photo of a beautiful view, did you point in each direction and click then drive on or did you actually take a moment to experience it? Did you feel the wind brush across your cheek, listen to the sound of the ground beneath your feet, did you smell the air?
Today’s technology makes our lives far more productive and makes keeping in touch easier. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve felt like they were on my trips with me and I have loved sharing my photos and experiences. Each time I stopped and took a photo of a field, giant Holstein or a turtle driving a snowmobile, I have made it a point to take a moment to put down the camera or phone, close my eyes, take a deep breath and make a memory—a technology free, truly sensory memory.
I fear that when my kids are older and I’m scrolling through my hard drive, that I’m going to be able to recall the events but not the experience.
One memory that I have that can be recalled with all of my senses is one from when I was eight or nine years old. My father, who worked for the electric company, was mindful of the weather, particularly storms. When a thunderstorm was approaching, he would open the garage door, turn out the lights and stand there, arms crossed, and watch the storm move towards us. He would often talk about how to track storms, how to tell if they were going to intensify or if they were simply going to cool the air and move quickly past. I remember the smell of the rain, the warm breeze that often accompanies a thunderstorm, the electricity in the air and, most of all, I remember the feeling of my father’s presence. It was a moment when I felt like he was sharing something with me, a secret knowledge or experience. To this day, when I hear a storm approaching or smell the air after a heavy rain, I am back in my garage, eight years old, standing next to my father. This memory is particularly special to me because my father died, unexpectedly, when I was fifteen years old.
I’ve had some difficult situations to navigate through lately and I found myself being calmed and comforted by the sounds of the thunderstorms that frequent summer in the Hudson Valley.
One night while watching from my friend’s barn, I realized what was happening: a memory that I have no photograph or recording of was comforting me because my recollection was so strong that no detail was missing. In that moment I decided that I would try to refrain from photographing moments. Instead, I’ll make sure that I’m present in the moment. I’ll make a conscious decision to imprint the sounds, smells, physical feelings and most importantly, the emotional affect the moment, location or person has had on me.
I’ve noticed a change in myself since starting this practice. Others may not be able to recognize it, but it’s not for them, it’s for me. I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed out, sad or just blah, that the recollection of a person, place or thing that brought me joy can lift my spirits almost instantly. This is possible because I am able to call on my memories, the memories that I consciously made, and I am transported back to that moment. I am in it—again. The smell, feeling and experience floods me. You cannot get that from merely looking at a photograph that you took out the window with an auto-focus camera.
Since that realization I’ve had moments that were transcendent—moments that still, now, send chills down my spine. Driving down Hollow Road at night, the smell and sound of a diesel engine filling every open space. Hearing G running through the yard, playing, calling out to his friends and siblings with his tiny little lisp, heightened by his missing front tooth. H’s hand in mine, as we sit and watch a show about killer whales. I don’t remember the show, but I remember the feel of her thumb rubbing the side of my hand. Just yesterday I took a walk while my kids were riding their bikes. Usually I’d just watch them to know they’re safe and their whereabouts but yesterday I watched them with my entire self. I watched G peddle furiously to catch up, I watched H’s hair blow back, I heard R’s fake siren noise and I drank it up.
As I write this, I’m sitting on my deck in the sun, listening to the breeze move through the trees. I looked up for a moment and watched the blades of grass move like ocean waves, being pushed over by the wind and then righting themselves. I called G over to sit with me and I pointed it out to him, showing him that he can see the wind with the help of the grass. Imagine my surprise when he snuggled up next to me and watched intently for a minute or so. Would this be his “thunderstorm” memory?
It reminded me of this time last year when I was in North Dakota. I pulled over next to a large field that was filled with purple flowers and grass. The wind was dancing through the field in patterns and I was mesmerized by the beauty of it. I remember standing there, I remember the feeling of pure contentment to be there, at that moment, able to witness the beauty of something simple yet beautiful.
I don’t expect people to throw away their cameras or iPhones. I don’t think people stop sharing photos from vacations or photographing their kids splashing in the waves.
I do, however, want to encourage people to take the photo and then put the camera/phone down, stop, close their eyes, breathe and be in the moment. Listen. Smell. Feel. Wake your senses that have been put to sleep by the artificial content of our lives. Watch the seeds from the trees ride the currents of the air down to the pillowy grass. Listen to the train in the distance. Watch the dust particles dance in the sunlight. Just once or twice a day.
Make a point of it and then, if you must, share the moments not with a photo, but with your words. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, upset or fearful call upon one of your memories and go back to that time, with your whole body. It’s an amazing way to calm yourself and it requires no money, no glass, no prescription.
My hope is that one day, people will share their memories with their words and accent the words with a photo. Let’s go back to a time when we were fully present, when we experienced a memory for ourselves and didn’t worry so much whether or not we could post it to our page.
Let’s make the words moment and memory more widely used than status update and tweet. Try it, for a month, and watch your days become more meaningful and your soul become lighter. Watch as you realize that you are living every moment of your day with your entire being and you’re not distracted by the need to tell or read what’s going on.
Be more interested in your moments than someone else’s moments.
Try it. Not for me, but for yourself; I promise, if you don’t like it, your camera/phone and status update will be there waiting for you.
I’ll see you soon, out there, in the moment. Until then…
Author: Meridith Ferber
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Arka De/Pixoto