This Is Essential

Is it the presence of the positive or the absence of negative that makes an experience more enjoyable?

This is the question I asked myself after returning home from a camping weekend with my family and several friends.

The positives were abundant. Beautiful weather allowed for long healthy hikes down gorges and up waterfalls. We walked barefoot on riverbeds and watched the shadows of hawks flicker on canyon walls. Our children ran and played without care and their imaginations spawned original productions for our campfire entertainment. Thoughtful conversations flowed freely with new friends and old. Even setting up camp was a stress free exercise (courtesy of very generously loaned equipment.)

The negatives were nowhere to be found. There was no fighting, no complaining, no distractions, and no intrusions from the outside world. There was nowhere we had to be, nothing competing for our attention. There were no phones or other screens, and therefore no negative news or needless worry.

It was a small taste of what Thoreau referenced when embarking on his experiment of living in the woods –  “I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”

The essentials for us meant:  Living only in the moment, taking care of our children, helping each other, and fostering a deeper appreciation of the life around us and within us. 

There is a story that has been attributed (probably falsely) to Michelangelo.  An art critic walks into the artist’s studio, sees a large block of marble and asks, “What are you making?”  The artist responds saying, “David.”  Marveling at how he could chisel this mountain of stone down to a human form,  the critic asks “how does that become David?”  To which Michelangelo says, “I chip away anything that doesn’t look like him.”

In other words, get rid of anything not essential.

This is easier said than done with the demands and realities of modern life. At the same time, we shouldn’t have to go camping to see what is essential all around us.

Each experience is our own little block of marble capable of becoming a masterpiece.  The question is whether we will be able to chip away enough to be able to appreciated it.

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