Learning to Live in the Present at Arches National Park

Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016 

Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016 

There’s no easy way to describe anxiety to those who’ve never been gripped by its soul-sucking, panic-inducing, self-loathing clutches.

I had my first full-blown panic attack at age 20: Shortness of breath. Chest pains. Tingling and numbness in my left arm. Sounds like a heart attack, right? That’s what my boss thought, too, as she rushed me to the hospital.

The older I got, the more my anxiety progressed. Fortunately, though meditation, I was able to step back from my anxiety’s clutches, and examine and understand what triggers my anxiousness.

Fear of making more mistakes or of letting others down.
Reliving past failures.
Worrying about deadlines, tasks and chores.

Do you see a common theme? I was trying to live in the past or in the future.

But what about now--this moment? Was I really living my life? Was I really enjoying all life has to offer?

Do you see a common theme?I was trying to live in the past or in the future.

But what about now--this moment? Was I really living my life? Was I really enjoying all life has to offer?

While researching my next novel, I came across a video of ranger talk from Arches National Park ranger Karen Henker. In this video (around 1:14), Ranger Henker talks about four things that had to happen in order for us to see these arch formations. She talks about the importance of the rock type, the weather and lack of earthquakes in the southeastern region of Utah, but the final thing?

“The fourth one is probably the least intuitive--it’s that we’re here right now. This is a living thing that is constantly changing.”

I couldn’t get the ranger’s words out of my head. I thought about it as my husband and I made the mile and half hike to Delicate Arch, shortly after sunrise last October. I thought about it as I took in the sheer size of the arch for the first time--all 64 feet of it.

The moment the Arch comes into view along the hike. Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016

The moment the Arch comes into view along the hike. Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016

Even though my legs were shaking, worn from days of hiking and traveling through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, I made my way down the not-so-gentle slope toward the arch. 

Suddenly, I stopped worrying about what would happen if I tripped and rolled right off the mesa. I wanted to see it, up close. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to stand inside its window and look up at the underside of the arch. 

And so I did.

If you ever need to be reminded that you're really just a small part of this big world, stand under Delicate Arch. Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016

If you ever need to be reminded that you're really just a small part of this big world, stand under Delicate Arch. Photo by Bryan Cassell | 2016

I felt free.

I remember thinking, “I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to miss any of this.” All I wanted to do was soak in the Arch’s magnificence, soak in every minute I had right there. Right then. Because if I didn’t, when else could I? As the ranger pointed out, the arches at Arches won’t always be there.

This year, I’m focusing on recreating that moment of freedom and joy in the daily moments of my life. This year, I resolve to be present.

It wasn't very crowded in Arches during our Mid-October trip. We didn't have to wait long for our own photo ops with the Arch.

It wasn't very crowded in Arches during our Mid-October trip. We didn't have to wait long for our own photo ops with the Arch.