An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.20 Certain places are sacred

Matthew had this to say about photography and being present:

I took a trip to Tokyo last fall, the first time I had ever left North America. I took lots of pictures, but there were times where I purposely stopped myself.

Meiji Shrine and Hiroshima Peace Park are two where I took precious few pictures. One of the reasons is that other photographers have taken more (and better) photos of these places than I ever could and I can find these all on the Internet.

But the strongest motivation to keep my camera in my bag is that I like to think certain places are “sacred”—in a way that transcends religious definitions of sacred—and the constant thought of “hey, I should take a picture of that” would pull my mind out of the place where I wanted it to be. I think that speaks to what you mentioned: There are certain memories I want to experience without thinking about what other people (or even a future me) will think about them.

This is an interesting idea. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to make decisions because future-me will thank current-me. And sometimes it’s good to realize that future-me will not be pleased with current-me if I do this other thing. But sometimes it’s best to just be there in the moment and let the experience be what it is, never mind what future-me will think.

Some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in “sacred” places were when I just quieted my mind and soaked in the concert hall or the art museum or the trees or the room and experienced them as they are. It’s rejuvenating, and the memory is stronger because I was so focused on being there.

He concludes:

Photographs simultaneously root your memory to a place in time, but also make it that much harder to be “present” at the time because the very act of taking a picture means you’re thinking about the future and not the present. I don’t think either is bad, good, or otherwise; they’re just the tradeoff we make.

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There’s another tradeoff I was thinking about this week. We talked about contentment and anticipation recently, and I came across this post from Leo Babauta about the tradeoff between being content with who I am and pushing myself to be better. He writes:

I had been working for more than a year on changing all of my habits, with lots of success. All those changes were rooted in my dissatisfaction with myself. I’d had a lot of success, but the dissatisfaction never went away.

Leo made great changes in his life, and he was glad to have made them. But he always felt that there was more to be done. Giving in to that constant feeling of inadequacy would never give him the peace and contentment he also sought.

My life isn’t more awesome after achieving the goal. I always learn something from these pursuits, but the result isn’t the life that I fantasized about. I ran the ultramarathon, did the Goruck Challenge, got the leaner body, learned a bit of programming … my life isn’t any better. The fantasy was never real.

But that’s not to say that all the dreams and goals we have for improving ourselves are worthless. If we ceased to get better, I think we’d lose some aspect of what it is to be human. So how do we reconcile this dichotomy? Here’s one idea:

Meaning is all that matters. While the pursuits to do and be more that I mentioned above don’t really create meaning in my life … there are pursuits that create meaning.

The changes and challenges that give meaning in life are the ones worth pursuing. Building relationships with family, nurturing one’s spiritual sensitivities, creating a life worth living and sharing. Those things bring the enduring satisfaction that we yearn for and lead to happiness and contentment.

• • •

What’s something that your role model or friend has always made a big deal out of that seems to contribute to his or her wellbeing?

—Steve