Monday, May 02, 2005

Canyons, Computers and Companions

Two weeks ago today three friends and I were heading North in Arizona. Our destination was one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. The plan was to spend three nights camping on the South Rim, two days hiking around and one day even further North near Page taking a 3 hour raft trip down the Colorado river. At $15 a night for a well furnished campsite and a $20 entrance fee, the Grand Canyon actually make a good choice for a break-away vacation for anyone in Arizona or neighboring states - I'd recommend it.

As with most holidays the week passed quickly and I have to admit that since a couple of nights passed slowly, with temperatures dropped below zero, we camped only two nights and bailed out into a motel the third. The rafting was wet but good and the views of and hiking within the Canyon was spectacular. Let me be honest with you though. When I first saw the Canyon - the moment I walked out from the woods and to the rim, expectant of what I would see - my breath wasn't taken away. I looked out and I saw a large Canyon, but I wasn't blown away by it. It was big, very big, but not what I'd been lead to believe - one of the seven greatest natural sights of the entire world. I'd been 'wowed' more by movies I've seen than my first view of the Grand Canyon. I think it's quite possible that I could at that moment have turned around, having 'seen' the Canyon, and left not all that impressed. However, let me now say that I think they did in fact get it right by calling it a natural 'wonder'. What I found as I walked there was that one needs more than just a cursory glance at the 'gap' to appreciate the Canyon's size and atmosphere. If you only drive up to the village, walk to the rim, take a few photos and spend 15 minutes 'appreciating the view', then trust me, you haven't 'seen' the Grand Canyon. You really do need to take time and 'wonder' about you're seeing in order to appreciate it.

At the very least you should spend a day driving around the Canyon. That will provide you with a starter in realizing the vast enormity of the world's greatest chasm. There are many viewpoints around the rim and it's only when you've spent two hours driving and then look out of your window to see the Canyon still stretching out in front that you being to know the meaning of 'Grand Canyon'. The thing is around three-hundred miles long and at times ten miles wide! If you want to get a proper feel though, you need to get yourself down into the Canyon, even if not to the bottom, just to get a better sense of depth and perspective. Our river guide informed us that perspective in Arizona's canyons can be deceiving, and when you realise that those pointy rocks and outcrops in the middle of the Canyon, are really huge hills and crags high and wide, that you start to grasp what you're looking at. Put simply sizes, and distances can look a lot smaller than they actually are.

By now I think it's obvious we had a good time and a great experience, but I'd like to take you back to the start. If you recall I mentioned we were a party of four. Well, prior to the trip we had intended to be a party of five. Unfortunately, one of the five decided late that he didn't want to go. He was saving up some money and didn't want to spend the $100 to see the great, natural wonder or take trip down the river. He didn't enjoy camping, it would cost him some sleep and besides, outdoor trips and 'sights' weren't his thing. Fair enough, that was his choice and each to their own, but what confused me was, necessities aside, what else would anyone want to spend their money on? CDs? Stereos? A games console? I've heard it said that it is wiser to spend one's hard earned cash on experiences and things that you will carry with you your whole life, that will add to who you are and change how you view things, than to spend it upon 'things' - things that you might hoard, or make use of for a while. I think I agree. It turns out he's saving up to get himself a laptop computer, and a powerful one, so he can continue his work and hobby when he goes 'on the move' soon. Perhaps then my friend's choice to save for a computer makes sense when it is a purchase that goes towards work , and an ongoing pursuit as well as investing in the future, and I'm sure that was a big factor (he's not a stupid guy), but there's one more thing. The next week he dropped $80 on a red-eye trip to a theme-park with some friends. Once again, that was his choice, and I'm not here to make judgments on his preferences but I think it brings up an interesting question about how we make decisions. What it showed to me was that it wasn't so much his discipline in investing in his future that lead him to forego the trip, but that he just wasn't interested. He was more motivated to spend the money on a trip to a theme park than to see the Grand Canyon.

Now, it's been a couple of weeks since all this began, but just last week I was trawling through posts on a forum I frequent when I came across a thread simply entitled 'Great'. From the page count I could tell that many had become involved with the conversation and so I took a look inside to find out what it was all about. It turned out that a fifteen year old boy had just had a nine month relationship come to 'an abrupt end not of his choosing' and he wasn't in the 'greatest' of moods. I expect he was looking for some consolation and an opportunity to vent, forums seem to be good for that, but as I read the contributions of others, empathising and offering advice, I wondered what one should say, if anything, to a young teenager whose world, it seems, just suffered a major blow. As I typed I started to realise that he was right then in what might possibly seem one of the deepest, darkest, valleys of life he had ever known. From his perspective this was way off-the-scale in terms of awful things in life, but I knew that in fact, three months from now it's likely that though he might not have enjoyed the experience, it will seem far less significant and eventually it will pass from memory completely. What seems like everything, with time shows itself to be nothing.

I eventually came to a response for him, but what I want to bring up here is that these three experiences help to teach some interesting lessons on perspective. In reverse order, the first lesson - The Perspective of the Powerful Present - is one with which I think most of us are familiar even if we may not all be too good at putting it into practise. Many things that are towering before us right now may seem to be world-crushing giants, but are in fact only minor trials in the larger scheme of things. It is better to learn not to freak out or be intimidated into inaction or foolish action by that which tries to inspire fear in the present - nor to give up things of value for that which has not by time proved itself worthwhile.

The second lesson - The Blind Perspective - is when we operate from a position where we have not seen or experienced something ourselves. Those things which are of reported value are easier to dismiss or ignore and do not have as much 'pulling power' as lesser things which we have experienced before and found enjoyable. We are wiser when we learn to place correct value in those things which we have not yet had opportunity to evaluate ourselves. At this point trekking comes to mind. Sometimes when you're hiking one mile can seem like five and at other times five can seem like one. No matter how you're feeling though, only the foolish person would choose to make their turns and follow their bearings according to what they feel is the right distance instead of what the map tells them is the right distance.

Finally, the third lesson is taken from my experience at the Grand Canyon - the Hidden Perspective. Whereby those things which are reported to be of great value fail to appear so to the person who has had some encounter with them. The result is that the person may now firmly dismiss the object of great value because the matter seems proven to them. However, the truth is that sometimes a matter requires a patient, prolonged and determined effort in order to reveal their full value. It may also be true to add the corollary that those who apply themselves more fully to its exploration, more fully discover that which is hidden and more fully appreciate its value.

So many times in life and in faith I have found myself operating from these three perspectives, and the more I experience and live through the more I see the wisdom in living life with patience, listening to the voices of those good and wise men and women who have gone before, and in living with foresight. Of course, the motivation to live life that way comes in part from the experiences of the past where unpleasant results were achieved and I expect that all people, especially the young but even the old, will have to go through such 'mistakes' in order to learn the value of wisdom. I'll leave you now though with some of the thoughts which I posted for that young man in great trial of heart:

Time and life are investments and as with all investments certain rules apply.

People always hope for great things in the future, but most are unprepared to miss out on things in present in order to prepare for that future - the result - their dreams always remain dreams and they spend their whole life hoping.

Beware the perpetual circle of 'It's just around the next corner'. There are many sparkling promises but few that pay off, especially in the short term. The quicker a person can learn to see through the fancies of the present, stop repeating the same mistakes and take the longer route working to build that which you really want - the better - it will come with time and effort, it will not come 'quick and easy'.

Time is worth more than amount. That is, it's better start off investing early, even if it's with little, that to start late with a lot - this world will honour time more and you will get a greater return.

All that then, to say this - your time and your youth are your most valuable assets right now. I guarantee you that if you take them, and start investing in them and your life - by diversifying and building character and skills, interests and knowledge and other such things, you will become a person who rises above the majority. You will be more satisfied with things, and you will then attract the right people and, having learned discipline and true value, will be able to make the best decisions.

Continue in grace.