By Jack Steward
A lot of times people talk about living in the moment. This is a great mentality to embrace because it means focusing on what is happening around us right now instead of dwelling on the past or what will come to us in the future. This is a state of mind that will allow us as individuals to look at each moment as a gift that should be appreciated. The future isn't guaranteed but we always have the present. But what does it mean to live in the moment? I have had my own ideas about this concept but recently found new understanding on a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana.
Recently, we had the opportunity to go on an adventure with our friend Joe Stone from Missoula, Montana. Joe is an adventure seeker who truly embraces the idea of living in the moment. A few years back, Joe was involved in a speed flying accident that left him as an incomplete C7 quadriplegic. After extreme perseverance fueled by his love of the outdoors, Joe is back in his happy place - the mountains and rivers of western Montana.
To me, living in the moment is looking at the glass half full. As an optimist, I try to find the positive in every situation but I have found that I don't always practice what I preach.
We invited Joe to come out on a whitewater kayaking adventure on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which borders Glacier National Park. Everybody seemed so excited as we geared up to hit the river but I was feeling pretty nervous. I'm confident in many situations - some that may seem ridiculous – like ice climbing or crawling through caves. Being alone in my own kayak through whitewater with massive rocks makes me uncomfortable (to say the least). When I got into my kayak, I found myself wanting to leave the moment - I wanted to be safe and sound on the riverside with this experience behind me.
After an hour of calm water, it was time to hit our very first set of rapids. I had been mentally preparing but couldn't shake my nerves so I decided to go last. As I watched Colton and Joe make their way through the rapids (Joe more so then Colton, but that is a story for another time) I knew it was my time to go for it. I took a few deep breaths and paddled hard towards the big waves ahead of me. The first one tossed the kayak upwards, finally landing with a splash on the other side. Next was the biggest wave I had ever had to navigate on my own. I paddled my raft with purpose, hitting the wave dead on and propelling myself safely over the top of it. I was so relieved to have made it through in one piece!
We decided to take a few minutes to dry off and prepare for more action ahead. Joe asked us if we felt truly in the moment. Well, I made through without capsizing and actually had a great time, so yeah, I'm living in the moment! What he said next totally changed my perspective of what it means to be present in all situations.
Joe explained that he feels truly in the moment when he is headed into the unknown. When you are nervous about something, you have to use all of your strength and will power to navigate the uncertainty around you. When you are headed into the unknown, you are completely present in the moment and experience the beauty of what it means to be alive.
I had always thought that living in the moment was just being present. As human beings, we don't like feeling out of control but it is in those moments of uncertainty that test our courage and lead to real growth and progress. It's easy to feel like you're in the moment when you're hiking a trail through the mountains - but our thoughts drift. You might be seeing the beauty of the mountain in front of you, but also thinking about bills that need to be paid, or the work that awaits you in the coming days. When I was headed for those first rapids, the only thing I was focused on was the challenge ahead, and within all of that uncertainty I was having the time of my life. I'm not so sure that this is the final piece of the puzzle, but it is one more step towards being present in every situation.
There are so many ways to apply this train of thought. A couple of days later, Joe and our whole crew went out to dinner together. By the way, if you ever get the opportunity to eat dinner with a bunch of adventurers and thrill seekers, go for it. We sat there for hours exchanging stories of all of the different adventures we had gone on over the years. At one point, I was telling the story of our mountaineering expedition up to Sahale Peak in North Cascades National Park. I was telling Joe about the extreme elevation gain, the rain, the cold and how hard it was to keep moving up the mountainside. I said, "Traversing that glacier with a lack of sleep and very little food? That was not fun."
Joe asked, "What wasn't fun about that?" I had to think about the question. He then began to explain how for him experiences like that might seem like no fun, but the pain of the situation always leads to personal triumph and discovery. When you're calves are burning or your arms feel like they are going to fall off, you know you're headed to a special place. Once you experience this you begin to see pain as part of the journey. It is something to be appreciated – instead of avoided. When I thought back on how powerful it was standing at the summit of Sahale Peak, I realized I knew exactly what he was talking about.
I used to think that living in the moment was just about counting your blessings and taking life one step at a time. After our trip to Montana, I now realize that living in the moment means embracing difficulties as well. When you head into the unknown, you open yourself up to personal growth and discovery. Once you embrace this idea, painful experiences can be appreciated as a gateway to something more incredible then you could have ever imagined. It gives you the strength to try to achieve something special, even though it might make you bit nervous.
As for this moment, I'm packing my bags for a four day rafting trip through the Alaskan wilderness. Colton and I will be navigating a tandem raft through the most powerful rapids we've ever tackled. Naturally, I'm a bit nervous. Game on.
To learn more about Joe Stone and his mission to merge disabled and able-bodied communities through the love of the outdoors, visit www.meetjoestone.com