[blockquote align=”none” cite=”Bruce Lee – Tao of Jeet Kune Do“]“Not being tense but ready. Not thinking but not dreaming. Not being set but flexible. Liberation from the uneasy sense of confinement. It is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”[/blockquote]
My daughter Sara and I are 200 miles from the nearest road, hiking in the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador. We are completely in the hands of our Achuar guide, who constantly slashes at the thick undergrowth to open a narrow path for us. This is native territory to the Achuar, an indigenous people who first made contact with the modern world after the year 2000. We are on a trip with the Pachamama Alliance, an organization that has partnered with the Achuar to raise awareness in the developed world about the vital importance of the rainforest and how we must change our own way of life in order to preserve it.
Our guide pauses every now and then to point out things we never seem to notice on our own. A bird. A monkey carrying her baby. A huge termite mound. Amazing! How does he see these things—usually at a great distance—while blazing a trail and making sure we are still following him?
Exuberance is a mood characterized by a radically heightened awareness, a capacity to be fully present wherever you are. Not distracted by thoughts of the past or worries about the future. Not even to base your comfort on anticipating everything you need to know but operating with a keen awareness of all around you.
Before we had set out, our guide had gathered us around him and said, “The jungle can surprise you at any moment. Stay alert, be fully aware of everything within a nine-foot radius—all around you, including above your heads. Dangers exist in the trees, as well as on the ground and submerged in the waterways.”
His words jerk me out of my head and back to the present moment. We are not in Disney World! I start out pretty anxious—fear keeps me focused, but also very tight. I’m breathing too fast and stumbling a bit as I walk. I worry about my daughter and whether she is paying attention. My fear uses up a lot of energy. How am I going to sustain this level of heightened awareness for five days in the jungle?
Maintaining this level of “right here, right now” presence takes a lot of conscious effort at first. But after a few hours, I find it to be more natural. I’m starting to actually enjoy the focused energy in my body, the feeling of all my senses operating on full alert. I begin to imagine myself as a creature of the jungle, moving on “cat feet”, noticing everything without disturbing anything. I love being so engaged in the “now”. My stress drops away. I am in the zone, moving with whatever shows up. I take a lot of comfort from my fellow travelers and the calm expertise of our guides. I believe we can handle anything together. This is really a great mood. I am exuberant.
I feel a palpable connection to Sara and our fellow jungle explorers. As we walk the freshly blazed trail, we help each other across ravines, stop to hold back branches, and point out obstacles. We join our guide in spotting animals and unique rainforest plants and trees. Conversation is minimal, but our connection to each other is strong. The sound of our breathing together provides a rhythm for our shared experience.
We keep a good pace following our guide. When our friend Cherie takes a tumble, we immediately stop, help her up, and surround her with support. One of the group cuts a sapling; our guide carves it into a walking stick for Cherie. Nothing needs to be said. No one has to supervise or issue instructions. We simply do what needs to be done, spontaneously and naturally. We are keenly tuned into each other and to our surroundings. I feel like I could hike all day and all night without getting tired. We are all exuberant.
Being fully present is a pathway to exuberance. Conversely, an exuberant mood also opens up our senses to full awareness and attention and releases anxiety. And when a group or community is fully present altogether, extraordinary things are possible. Deep connection with each other and the environment we share produces a flow and a natural rhythm. No energy is wasted: we do just what is needed at the right time and a minimal amount of resources are expended to keep us on the path to our common destination.
Think of a time when you experienced being fully, radically present with others and the environment around you.
- What did you notice?
- What became “normal” that you might have previously found extraordinary?
- What did you learn about recreating this mood—this fully alert state—again?
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