When I drive through the mountains, every view is different. I can take the same drive 100 times, and each time I will discover something new. When I find a spot to my liking, I can sit and meditate on life uninterrupted. If I'm lucky, I will have found a spot without any cell phone service, a luxury that is quickly diminishing as the world grows more interconnected. Disconnecting allows me to stop using my phone as a crutch, or rather a distraction, to thinking. I often find myself using my phone to consume podcasts, articles, Twitter hot-takes, and watch educational YouTube videos, which I then call thinking. This is not thinking. This is just entertainment, distraction, idleness of mind and body.
When I visit the mountains, I almost always visit a trail. On a trail, I an move with purpose. Every step matters, every view is new, and the entire body and mind become involved. Unlike walking on a park sidewalk, where one can use their feet while their upper body remains practically motionless, hiking requires your whole attention, awareness, and bodily involvement. Your eyes must watch where you step, your hands and arms must be ready to catch you, you have to use your body to move over a giant bolder. You also have to follow a regimen to avoid injury; drink water consistently, but not too fast, or you'll get sick; rest when needed, but not for too long, or else you won't make the whole hike; reapply sunblock as needed, lest you get burned.
As you walk on a trail, there is often a peak, a point of interest, or some beautiful site that attracts hikers to the trail. Knowing this peak or end-goal helps satisfy the goal seeking pats of the mind, knowing that at the end of what can feel like a hike of forever, you will see something magnificent. The satisfaction delivered I mount the peak (and avoided injury while doing it) is the moment at which my head is most clear. It is when I feel most that life is worth living, that the beauty of the world, not as it has been developed, but as it is, is perfect. Not perfect as in ideal, but perfect in the Leibnizian sense of the word. It is perfect because it exists. I can sit on a peak for hours, looking at the 360 degree view, finding something to catch my attention. Like staring at a painting in an art museum, I can stare at the same view, blink, and suddenly experience something entirely different and new from what I had just seen. The landscape remains the same, always the same, yet my perception and my experience are constantly changing, filling in gaps and taking note of subtle changes in rock formations. When I am at the peak, I feel small, yet important. No, I myself am not important. I am not some great being or leader or part of a cosmological design of the universe. I am important only in the sense that I am connected. I am connected to the mountain, to the trees, to the snow, to the small ponds and streams, and the roaring rivers. I am connected to the other hikers I've passed along the way, strangers who I will never see again. At this moment is when it is most salient that I am finite and I will die, but that it is okay. It is okay that I will die, just as it is okay that someday, far in the future, this mountain will no longer exist, and even further in the future, this pale blue dot will no longer exist. Everything that we were and are will pass, but I was still able to have this moment.
Yet, while basking in this sense of perfection, of nature, of meaning, of timelessness, and ultimate annihilation, a dark truth crawls behind all of it. When I descend and leave the peak behind, I will go back to a different world, a different mindset. I will go back to a world that feels too small, petty, uncaring, course. A world in which I am not connected, neither to strangers on the street nor the roads or cars or shops. Even as I try to enjoy the moment at the peak of the hike, thinking about the future begins to corrupt the preset moment. Then I remember the Zen Buddhists. Though not a Buddhist myself, they have taught me, both through stories and koan, that the preset is all there is. I will never be enlightened or become a bodhisattva, but I can live in the moment, in the present, in today. If I worry about tomorrow, about the things I cannot control, I will never be present.
As I descend, as sunlight is waning, my head comes down with me. I am withdrawn from the moment, that fleeting, wonderful thing that I felt. As I descend, I gain perspective. My body begins to take on its regular movements, fully embracing the hike, and I am back to the trail. As I become a part of the trial once more, I remember that this is a moment too. Each step is a moment. Each day is a moment. Now is a moment. It is always "the moment."