For me, being present at the moment and engaged in living means the difference between observing and taking part. To be imbalanced either way is to miss out on something. If you are only observing, you are trying to enjoy life in a second-hand way. You are not part of what is going on. And for me, that feels like limiting my five senses to only one… my sense of sight. Let me explain.
When I was a boy growing up in the mountains, fishing the streams and rivers around our town was a huge thing for most boys. The thing is, for me sitting on the bank of a steam and watching my bobber for signs of a fish biting was about as boring as watching grass grow. I needed to be actively engaged in finding and enticing the fish to bite.
Years later I discovered fly-fishing, and it felt like I had come home.
Fly-fishing is a process that begins with selecting proper equipment, understanding the environment where you will fish, and enticing the fish with an irresistible artificial likeness of a real food source found in the vicinity. But, similar things are said by the folks who use bait and lures.
So what is the difference?
Well, for me it is the difference between watching someone ski down a mountain on TV and being that person skiing down the mountain. It is the difference between being engaged or just waiting for the fish to take my bait. It is being an active participant in the activity or being bored because the only interesting activity is below the surface, out of sight.
I don’t claim one way is better than the other. I feel more engaged when I can see the fly on the water as it reacts to the eddies and swirls of the current, then seeing the flash of color the instant before the fish takes the fly and I set the hook. I prefer dry fly-fishing where the action is on top of the water, instead of wet fly-fishing where the action is below the surface.
Some years later I tried bass-fishing. Maybe it was the appeal of sitting on a boat instead of climbing down into river canyons that mountain goats avoid. Maybe it was the wish to have a cool bass-boat like my friends.
Once I had signed my life away for a bass-boat and hocked my underwear to buy the tackle, my education began. I discovered that setting the hook when a bass bites is worlds apart from what I had known while fly-fishing.
With fly-fishing, the angler sets the hook with a subtle flick of the wrist. Not so with bass-fishing. When a bass bites, you had better jerk the rod back over your head with both hands, using all the subtlety of an arresting cable on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Anything less will guarantee the fish will spit out the lure with contemptuous snorts of laughter.
If I used the bass fishing technique for setting the hook while fly-fishing, the results would be just as disastrous;
A. I would litter the river bank with fish lips, and
B. Lipless fish carcasses would litter nearby tree branches.
…not good for my dignity or reputation.
Bass fishing came to a sad and abrupt end when that other kind of bank asked for their boat back, and my so-called fishing buddies evaporated like ice cubes on a summer sidewalk. Looking back, I have to admit that sitting on a boat waiting for an invisible fish to bite had the same level of boredom I suffered through as a kid. But, I enjoyed the laziness and ego boost of owning a new bass boat.
Learning from my bass fishing experience, I try to make better choices in other areas of my life now. I enjoy food but find more satisfaction when the food is something I make instead of something I pick up already made in the store. Whether it is making my bread or smoking my beef jerky, I want to take an active part. I want to have a lead role selecting ingredients and the techniques of the food preparation.
Just as important, being present and active usually means simplicity. Expensive gadgets almost always replace satisfying involvement with distracting convenience. My dear Mother, like many Italian cooks, took this one step farther. Mom would seldom use measuring spoons. Instead, ingredients were added with a pinch of this, or palm full of that. The results were always amazing.
So, if you sometimes feel you are missing out on something but can’t pinpoint what it is, try changing up that activity you enjoy or find interesting. Get more involved in the process of that enjoyment. Instead of reading about story writing, try writing a story. Instead of opening a can of soup for dinner, buy the ingredients and make a pot of satisfying home-made soup.
Don’t limit yourself with judgmental thinking that your efforts will not be perfect. Instead, commend yourself for being present at the moment and being engaged in living. In the process, you will learn a little about yourself.
That is living in the moment and being engaged.