“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back
to its old dimensions.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes~
When I was a kid I heard an expression that caught my ear and my imagination. An adult (whom I don’t remember) was talking about “mountaintop experiences,” and how life-changing they could be. Growing up in the Midwest, Colorado was my family’s favorite vacation spot, so I knew the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. One summer while riding up above the tree line on the Fourth of July, my dad let us out of the car to have a snowball fight.
So anything compared to such mountain tops made a clear connection in my mind to something pretty terrific. In the years that followed I had some experiences that were indeed life changing because they opened my mind to something new…a perspective that I had been completely unaware of before.
What experiences have you had that “blew your mind,” as the expression goes? Perhaps it should be called “blew your mind open.” Can you point to experiences that have turned out to be pivotal points in your life?
While listening to “From the Top,” a public radio program featuring accomplished young musicians, I heard a teenaged opera singer say that she had been amazed as a 10 year old when her parents took her to hear an opera for the first time. When she heard the music, she said, “That’s what I want to do!”
A woman who had grown up in a small sleepy town in Alabama attended a church program with her family one summer evening. The program featured a slide show of the work of a missionary couple who had come stateside to raise money for their cause. The pictures and lecture illustrating the landscapes and cultures of Africa fired the little girl’s imagination. Showing her a world radically different than her own, she was truly amazed. Years later after leaving Alabama for a college in New England, she chose a career with the State Department and has traveled the world, working in many posts, including one in Africa. She credits that “mind blowing” experience in the church basement as opening the door to a fascinating life.
Recently while talking with a man about living in the wheat belt of the Midwest, he told me that his brother, who had always lived on the East Coast, had roomed with a kid from Kansas while he was at college. Hearing about the wheat harvest and days and nights in the fields, and about the family farm culture, his brother accepted an invitation to go home with his roommate for the next harvest. He was so taken by the experience that he immediately moved there after graduation, got involved in wheat farming and the small community and has lived there ever since.
Sometimes these mountain top experiences don’t involve a change in geography or occupation at all. Probably one of the biggest influences of new ways of seeing something is as close as your library or bookstore. Or it could be looking at a photograph or painting that fires your imagination and inspiration. Reading the work of Joseph Campbell and listening to his interviews with Bill Moyer was life altering for me. Watching the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” was another paradigm changer. What have you read, heard or watched that has inspired key changes in your way of thinking or being?
Are there people whose relationships have influenced or changed you? You may be fortunate in having an elder member of your family whose life example shaped you. Or you may have had a teacher whose wisdom and teaching provided a mountain top experience in your life. Sometimes it’s a brief and chance meeting with someone who says or does something that really sticks with you. These brief encounters can turn a light on something that can guide you to a different way of thinking and a perspective that may change your life in big or small ways.
And of course, bear in mind that YOU may be that person whose ideas or life example may provide inspiration to someone else. You may never be aware of it, but that doesn’t lessen the influence that you have.
You can increase the likelihood of “catching” inspiration by opening your mind to noticing possibilities around you. Be willing to expose yourself to a point of view or opinion that is radically different than your own. Getting entrenched in your own ideology may be a comfortable rut, but that’s not an enlivening or energizing way to live.
Start simply by taking alternate routes or back roads on your commute. Get out and walk or bike ride through a neighborhood or country road that you usually drive. Tune into an unfamiliar radio or television channel. Browse through the library and choose a biography or novel by an author you have never read. Reading biographies is a great way to catch inspiration or fresh perspective from someone you will never actually meet. Take a trip to somewhere new to you. Sign up for a class in a subject that is unfamiliar.
There is no end to the possibilities around you once you open yourself to them. Your mind and your life will expand and never be the same.