There are moments in life, if one is lucky, where time seems to stand still and the moment you’re in is perfection. I feel fortunate to have had a few. Outwardly, they seem unremarkable. It’s the interaction of the mind with the moment that makes it special, and that interaction is the mind taking no action, but simply taking in what’s around it. Looking, listening, breathing. I lived one of these wonderful moments on a beautiful fall morning at a headland near the mouth of the Columbia River.
I was on a solo trip and had just climbed Mt. St. Helens. The day after the climb, I drove to Long Beach, Washington, where I was fortunate to wind up in a nice campsite at Cape Disappointment State Park near the mouth of the Columbia River. The site was right on the ocean, in sight and hearing of the roaring surf and the sea birds. I spent a peaceful night there and woke up only a few times, listening to sporadic rain showers tapping on the rain fly and above that, the distant calls of migrating geese.
After a sunrise walk along the beach, I packed up my car and drove the short distance to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at old Fort Canby. I toured the exhibits there and then wandered up the cape toward the Coast Guard Station. I walked on a trail past Deadman’s Cove and up a steep old concrete road that led up to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. When I got to the lighthouse, I was happy to find that I had the place to myself. After checking out the historic light and the newer observation deck, I wandered over to a short chain link fence on the edge of the bluff. It had been a mostly overcast morning, but now the clouds were breaking and sunlight was shining through. Below me, the sea crashed into the dark, rocky cliffs of the cape. Gulls and cormorants squawked, wheeled and zoomed low over the frothy waters.
Warm sunlight on my face, I watched the birds flying to and fro from their white-stained cliff roosts. Looking out to the northeast, I saw people on the distant Columbia River north jetty. To the southwest, I watched fishing boats bob on the sparkling swells beyond the Columbia Bar. The sunlight felt so good. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds, to the surf, and to the faint ringing of a buoy bell far away. The bell was intermittent, coming and going with the breeze that swooshed through the nearby fir trees.
In that wonderful moment was a profound peace. For once my mind was out of the way and the beauty of now was everything. And then my mind noticed it and in the noticing diminished it. But I still had the feeling, and still do. Experiences like that remind us of what can be when our minds are still and we place ourselves in peaceful, quiet settings. When we take the time to look, listen and breathe. Since having a quiet mind is a matter of the brain not-doing, one would think it would be easy to achieve. Of course it’s not, at least not for most of us. Too many things fill our minds, thoughts whirl and intrude.
Our society and way of life generally doesn’t encourage moments like that; it’s up to us to seek them out and allow them to happen. The rewards are subtle, but also profound.