moments: savoring vs. capturing

the presidential inauguration happened to fall on a work day for me this time around. between things, here and there, i caught glimpses of the motorcades, the swearing in, the parade. as the week went on i watched all the recaps and perused all the photos and two images have captured my attention. one is of the president, lingering at a doorway, observing the setting he has just moved through, seemingly “taking in” the moment for a remarkably long time. the other is of the president and first lady dancing at the evening’s ball. what was noticeable to me, however, was not the dancing couple but rather the sea of i-phones and other screened devices being used by those in attendance to capture the moment.

the juxtaposition of these two vignettes has me thinking about the way in which i experience moments.

whenever i have had the great good fortune of being with someone right before they accepted an honor, walked down the aisle, first met their baby, set foot in a new land, attempted their first day without the help of a coping mechanism that has hurt them, or opened themselves to any significant experience, i have encouraged them to notice. once they are noticing, i have suggested that they savor. notice, savor, repeat. for, if there is one thing i know to be both increasingly true and rare in this life, it is that there is nothing like savoring a moment so that it’s potency can live beyond the limits of time and space. 

when my son was quite young my dad taught him to savor. they practiced with all manner of treats: hot chocolate, gummy bears, m and m’s. they’d see who could make each bite last longest and they’d compare notes about what they experienced as they savored. what savoring does, you see, is force you to notice things in a new way. when you slurp down a cup of hot chocolate without intentionally bringing yourself (and your senses) to the experience, you miss all the subtle yet beautiful things about this magical beverage. you forego recognizing how your hands feel against the warm porcelain of a steaming cup, you miss out on the silly annoyance of the steam fogging your glasses or the spoon you used to stir clanging against your cheek as you lift the mug to your lips. the smell is never registered nor are the shapes made my the frothy bubbles skimming the surface of the liquid. when you’re slamming versus savoring you might taste the beverage, but you sure aren’t noticing much about it.

when we savor we are experiencing the now, the moment. when we bring all of our senses to that moment our experience gains a new level of significance. when we stop to notice, really notice, how we feel or what we are doing or what is going on around us, we engage accordingly. our awareness prompts us to extend the experience if it is a pleasant one and to end it if not. to bask in it if it’s life affirming and to learn from it if it is not. if it’s a moment we hope to remember, savoring it can help us to “bank” some it’s significance and to call it up later. further, the process of investing in the sensual experience of the moment, helps us to honor our full selves by attending to more than just our uni-dimensional physical, emotional, or intellectual states of being. a moment wherein we are loved or known or connected intimately with can be experienced in so many ways. if we savor it we reap a benefit now and attend to the experience in such a way that we can call it up later and benefit again. to remember how it feels (and smells and looks and sounds) to be loved (or heard or known) can help us feel loved (or heard or known) even after the moment has passed.

think of the last moment you experienced that made life feel meaningful. what do you remember about the environment you were in? was it warm or cold, noisy or quiet? were you alone or with others? what made the moment matter? what did you feel? were sounds or tastes or smells or sights involved in ways that had an impact? if so, what were they? savoring includes all this and more. it includes all of us, fully alive, present in a moment.

capturing a moment, in comparison, differs greatly. capturing feels greedy. it takes hostage. it computes an experience in a rigid, uni-dimensional way. it archives and is “pocketable.” photos and videos are the best example of captured moments, presenting an accurate record of an experience exactly as it physically occurred. there is nothing inherently wrong with capturing moments and, at times, it’s meaningful to do just that. frequently, a glance at a photo can help you recall that which was savor-able about the moment. at other times, however, we are so caught up in capturing that we forget to experience. to be present with our full sensual selves. to savor. grabbing for our phones and frantically fumbling for the “record” button keeps us from noticing, in rich detail, the complexity of the moment at hand. as a result, we end up with lots of photos and relatively few fully embodied memories. 

and so, as we embark upon a new week full of experiences to be had, i encourage you to notice moments large and small. to pay attention to feelings deep and shallow. to smell smells, to see sights, to hear sounds. to linger and notice and observe. to be fully in the photos and videos you are taking. to pay attention to how it feels to be known or not. to embody the love that you feel for others and to recognize how it feels to be loved. and then to savor these experiences. to make them last long. and to create savor-able experiences for others in return. in so doing we build memories more bold and rich than any merely captured image could ever contain.