A couple of weeks ago, I got to hike through the beautiful desert of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. My friends and I hiked through sand for eight hours the first day, slept under the full moon, and climbed a rock mountain the second day.
At one point during the trip, our tour guide asked us to spent half an hour in total silence while we hiked. During this time I began to think about the value of moments.
I have always been one to reflect on my experiences and deliberately analyze the value they have for me. I think of specific lessons learned or skills acquired. I think of how good cultural exposure is for us. As I explore new corners of the world, I ponder how these experiences add to my worldly wisdom. I consider any time spent doing something new a deposit into the bank account that is my lifelong education.
I had some different thoughts about the Wadi Rum trip, however. Typically, I would look at a trip like this and think of how it was something new – I’ve never been to a desert like this before; I’ve never seen rocks like these before. In the past, I might have found value in the trip based on these facts – that it is time spent outdoors (a deposit into this nature-lover’s account in the Bank of Sanity) and time in a new place.
Let me provide another example of this kind of thinking. At the end of my sophomore year of college, right after finals, I went on a three-day backpacking trip in New Hampshire. When I returned to my desk in my dorm at Tufts, I felt a wave of guiltlessness pass over me as I opened the lid of my laptop. Because I had spent three days totally immersed in nature, I felt much better about sitting at the computer. This made me realize that I normally do feel guilty – on a subconscious level – about sitting at the computer. I saw the trip into the mountains as a deposit into the Bank of Sanity mentioned above. It allowed me to carry on with life a little saner, a little happier.
This Wadi Rum trip was something different, though. As I contemplated the value of these desert moments, I was not satisfied thinking that it would just allow me to carry on with my life a little happier. I didn’t want this trip to seem anything like a check mark on a to do list. I didn’t want it to simply enable or justify more time spent in urbanized, modern, technologized captivity. I began to ponder the potential for this time to have inherent value. Maybe trekking through Wadi Rum is simply good for my soul. I like this conclusion better than those I’ve come to before. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what I do after this, it doesn’t even matter that I’m in Jordan, in the Middle East, doing something new and exciting. Perhaps all that matters is that crumbling rock, this soft dune, that hearty flower, this scuttling beetle. Perhaps all that matters is the peace growing in my heart, accountable only to the quality of this particular moment.