Most people live the majority of their lives through ideas rather than direct experience. When I was younger, I had the idea that I liked camping. When I was a child, I did like camping so it gathers I did. However, as I grew older, some of the magic had worn off, only I hadn’t quite recognized it. By the time I reached high school, I was organizing a big camping trip with my friends each year. I’d look forward to this trip in the preceding months, enjoying the planning, the enthusiastic discussions, the retelling of old camping stories. I was enjoying the idea of camping. But after each of these actual camping trips, I’d come home feeling a little empty. I was chasing the Big Camping Trip, but where was it?
One year when I was around 20, I began paying more attention to my internal process. We were loading up our camping gear for the big trip, and I asked myself, “Am I having fun right now?” Surprisingly, I was not. Then we were driving to the campground I checked in with myself again: “How about now?” I still wasn’t having a great time, but this was just the lead up, not the Grand Event itself. We finally arrived at our destination. Ah! This is where the real camping starts! We set up our tents, gathered firewood, built our fire. We ate hot dogs, played music, discussed life as we knew it. Each step of the way, I found myself checking in. “Is this the Magic Camping Moment?” The answer was always the same: “Not quite yet…”
I came home that year changed. By paying closer attention to my direct, immediate experience of camping, rather than losing myself in ideas about camping, I realized something very simple: I no longer like camping. That was the last big camping trip I took with my friends.
When your actual experience doesn’t match your ideas, an internal conflict stirs. This is an opening, an invitation to get to know yourself better. Rather than avoiding this internal conflict by doubling down on your ideas, ask yourself a question: If all my ideas about life suddenly fell away and I was left with nothing but my direct experience from moment to moment, who would I be?