Take a Mental Picture!

These days most moments are captured by our phones and posted immediately to Instagram and Facebook. No experience seems to go undocumented. We have become so addicted to taking pictures of everything, that we almost go through withdrawal if we can’t. Is this trend about saving memories, or sharing our experiences with the world so we can get a “like” from others?

I believe it is a little of both. We are afraid that if we don’t capture each moment it will be forgotten, but we are also competing for the best life experiences against our peers and strangers. We not only want to see the best sunsets, vistas, and landscapes, but we want everyone to know that we did, so we can humbly brag about it. For those who don’t get out, these pictures serve as a way to live vicariously through our friends, but to also feel jealous and insecure about our own lives. The problem is, are the people that are so busy taking the pictures of their life, actually living? Or are they just tactically documenting scenes to rub in other people’s faces?

It seems to me like we are no longer able to enjoy a moment for what it is and be present in it, because we are so busy trying to capture it and make sure everyone sees it along with us. This unfortunately takes away from the powerful practice of storytelling. If everyone has already seen all the pictures from your trip on Facebook or Instagram, what is the point in recounting the scene for them in person. This eliminates the need for socializing and catching up, when everyone already knows what you’ve been up to. Even when you are the one making the posts, it is frustrating to find that when you go to share a story, your friends tell you they already saw/heard about it on your page.

I’m very guilty of falling for this addiction of picture taking and moment capturing. I’ve gotten so bad, that if I see a beautiful sunset, or a perfect picture from the car window, I get frantic looking for my phone to snap a picture. I feel extreme disappointment if I can’t catch that moment in my screen. Last Saturday, I ventured into the mountains with a group of friends for some snowshoeing on a trail to a frozen waterfall. Every stretch of the hike was picture-perfect, yet I risked frost bite if I removed a glove to pull out my phone and capture it.

So, I was left with a drug addict’s itch of withdrawal. I kept rubbing the phone in my pocket. I was jonesing for a picture. How could I possibly let all this beauty go undocumented? It felt like a crime to not share it. Then Ethan reminded me, ever so kindly, to just take a mental picture. I hate when he says this, but he is right. I need to learn how to just enjoy the beautiful moments for what they are..moments. I can’t save them all in my phone memory. I need to just observe and absorb the scenes around me, content that I alone am experiencing them.

As my snow shoes crunched across the matted down snow, I surveyed my surroundings. Heavy blankets of snow weighed down the arms of every tree, pressing their branches at their sides. They stood like soldiers, stiff and awaiting instruction. The river that gushed by us wore a shield of ice and every boulder was white with snow. The narrow path made it difficult for us to pass hikers coming in the opposite direction. We had to scale the snowy cliff or balance on the edge to let them by. I attempted to take a picture with my new waterproof camera, but the lens fogged up and the pictures looked blurry. I tried removing my phone and glove to take a picture, but the cold bit at my finger tips and made it difficult to press the screen. I gave up.

Instead of trying to share this scene with everyone through my pictures, I’d rather paint them the scene with my words. I paused every now and then to simply scan my surroundings and snap mental pictures. Our constant movement, scrambling under arching branches and playing limbo under fallen trees, warmed up my body and soaked my layers in sweat. The wind lifted snow flakes from tree branches and floated them over our heads. People marched by with shivering dogs wearing booties and sweaters. We felt bad for the short-haired dogs that ran up to rub against our legs for body warmth.

We cautiously crossed narrow wooden bridges with snow covering the thin planks and tempting our feet to miss the plank and fall through the crack. My snow shoes were very long in the back and made it challenging to walk one foot in front of the other. I managed to make it safely across the bridges though. On either side of the bridges, you could see the silky white water rushing underneath the layer of ice and around the snow-clad boulders. It was a winter wonderland.

When we reached the waterfall, people clogged every path, snapping photos of the opalescent blue icicles jetting out of the overhanging cliff. The waterfall crashed against the rocks grumbling like thunder. A fern-wrapped arch stood at the entrance to the main path like a wedding alter. Couples kissed and smiled beneath it. I separated from the group to climb up the icy slope to view the waterfall up close and feel its frigid spray on my cheeks. My sweaty layers froze against my skin now that I was standing still. I managed to get out my phone and snap some close up pictures, while my hand stiffened with frost bite. I stuck the phone back in my pocket and tried to simply absorb the whole scene with my every being. My mental picture was one of peace and tranquility in the wilderness.

I felt a sense of calm as the stillness of the frozen forest hung around me. The waterfall demanded my attention. The icicles hung from the arched cliff like stalactites in a cave. Their thickness turned the ice a sky blue. The arch of the cavern looked like the mouth of a great white shark with jagged sharp teeth. Water still poured beneath the shields of ice and crashed to the rocky floor. You could hear the water pounding on the rocks like a wave crashing on the shore.

Pictures really didn’t even do this place any justice. In these situations, you need to just take it all in and enjoy the moment, because nothing can compare to it. People looking at the pictures could not feel the overwhelming awe that this place inspired within you. I won’t share the name of this place, because as all great places that aren’t well known, once you broadcast their name they become overrun with tourists.

This adventure served its purpose to remind me to live and not just stare at life through a phone screen or a lens. The best lens is my own eyes. People need to get out and seek their own adventures, instead of living vicariously through their friend’s posts on social media. It is exciting to share our experiences with each other, but if a picture can’t capture the scene, try describing it with your words. We need to be living, not just snapping pictures to prove we are living. Life behind the screen, muffles the reality. You’re better off just putting the phone down and breathing in the fresh air, listening to the calls of a bird cutting through the stillness of the forest, and touching the cold crystals of snow beneath your feet. That is living. Forget about your social media performance for points, and just experience life.

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