A couple of weeks ago, I went out for a walk to get some fresh air. It was a cold, misty evening with dusk starting to set in and the winter sun disappearing quickly. There is this field near my house just across the train tracks. Normally, it is completely empty apart from some overgrown grass and the odd puddle. This time though, there were two horses there: a mother and her foal. At first, they were just grazing; minding their own business until, after a minute or so as I was passing, they started playing. They were taking turns chasing each other around the small field, galloping quickly and then slowly and then quickly again. They were rubbing noses and then they would go again.
I live about 10-minutes from the centre of my city, so it is not often that I get to interact with wildlife in many ways, never mind a horse and her foal. The scene was perfect. The mist had descended a little more, there was nobody else around apart from me and these two horses at play. Luckily, I had my phone with me and as I was just pulling up the Video app, I decided to put it back in my pocket. Why? Because I realised that I was doing it to show my family when I got back. There was magic to this moment, and watching it from behind the screen in a busy house wouldn’t do it any justice. I knew that I could record it for my own enjoyment later but it just wouldn’t be the same. Besides, how many videos from special moments are lying dormant in your Camera Roll right now? I know I have a few. So I just decided to watch for another 10-minutes or so, before continuing my walk. It was truly special.
The impulse to capture moments
It’s only natural that we want to capture these special moments. Time is a constantly flowing river that ensures that the bad times will always pass but with that, so will the good. Our urge to own these moments comes from wanting to grasp at the best times before they inevitably disappear. But here is a little secret: the best moments can’t be captured.
This is why we have awesome memories. This is why we take pictures and videos of the best moments of our lives; so we can relive them again and again. With the technology that we currently have, it is a blessing to be able to capture moments in every detail, as our memory has a tendency to become a bit murkier with the details.
However, you should never feel compelled to have to capture the moment with a device. This is what’s known as “camera anxiety”. That moment when you’re scrambling around for your phone as the moment is passing you by, second by second. It might be an unexpected encounter, a spectacular fireworks display or a gorgeous sunset that is quickly disappearing.
Getting worried about finding a recording device in these moments is a pointer that you aren’t really there living it. You are in future mode. I need to save this. I need to be able to watch this back later. By the time I unlock my phone, get the camera out, pick the right setting, take the picture and look at the picture, most of the moment has already gone. Suddenly the moment has disappeared and all I have got for it is another photo added to my mostly-dormant library. As cliché as it sounds, the magic is in the moment, and you should only reach for the camera if you are sure it is going to capture that magic.
Most images on my camera roll are ones that I thought I would love to look at again and again. Some of them I do, especially videos, but most of them I don’t. Palm trees, beaches, monuments and archways are all cool to see in the moment, but rarely warrant a second or third look in my experience when they are enjoyed fully in the first moment.
The Best Moments Are Left In Place
And this brings me to my final point. The very best moments of your life are best left in their own place. You will know when those moments arise because like with the horses in the field, you just feel a state of awe, wonder and joy. These rare and extremely uplifting emotions only last as long as you stay in the moment. As soon as your mind wanders to the future or starts to scramble for your phone, these ‘high states’ are lost. It is better to accept and enjoy the special moments as they pass, rather than trying to capture less than half of the emotion that you felt at the time behind a screen. In the wise words of Anthony de Mello:
Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a few bars of the music. Don’t hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass. Whereas if a particular bar took your fancy and you shouted to the orchestra, “Keep playing it again and again and again,” that wouldn’t be a symphony anymore.
Our most potent and cherished memories still linger in our mind not because of what they are, but because of how they made us feel. The best way to capture the feeling of every moment is to be there.