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All-or-Nothing Moments

Woman sitting in a car on a mountain

Last semester, through the guided teaching of my Wilderness Writing professor, combined with the therapeutic benefits of nature, I discovered the importance of choosing wisely our zero-or-a-hundred moments. Rapelling off cliff faces into aspen trees below required me to be all in; the drive home at dusk from a faraway forest thrived in my passivity; thought-provoking prompts in my leather-bound journal required everything along the spectrum, capturing in words everything that these experiences had to offer me. The class became the catalyst for all these realizations, as we were taught the beauty of written reflection. As vivid as our experiences are, our written reflections are what capture their importance in time. Though the color of memories may fade, the words that capture our colorful experiences do not lose their detail. Without written reflection, the realizations I have had through my own all-or-nothing moments would have been bound by time stamps of the past. It is through written reflection that our experiences transcend these limits, and become lasting parts of who we are.

“All or nothing”—a phrase found in everyday conversations; in “yes” or “no” answers between young lovers; in decision-making moments of avid thrill seekers before they jump from planes. It is written reflections of moments like these that transform them into lasting experiences. One of my most impacting all-or-nothing moments came one Sunday morning as a 21-year-old. I woke up in my childhood home in Australia and decided I wanted to go to NASA. . .in Florida. I was a flight attendant at the time, so with five days off and some free flights in my back pocket, the logistics weren’t too hard—I was on my way to the airport in twenty minutes. My second all-or-nothing moment for the day came when I realized, in line at the boarding gate, that I’d left my credit card at home.

Last week, as I sat in my car at the beach-like bank of a silent, frozen lake watching the sun set beyond distant mountains, I reflected on that saying—“all or nothing.” Wrapped in a handmade blanket in the driver’s seat of my Subaru Outback, journaling as the moon became my natural source of light, I realized that sometimes an all-or-nothing mentality, or as I sometimes say, “zero-or-a-hundred,” doesn’t have to mean you either give up or give everything. For me, “all or nothing” can mean following your intuition and choosing how to immerse yourself in an experience. Some experiences require being active in the moment; others, reflective. Finding a good balance of passive reflection and active creation in our experiences can shape our whole sense of being. That is the only way I can describe why sunsets make me feel so content; why floating in the ocean away from urban noise makes me feel like the only person alive; why facing my fear of heights can simultaneously bring fear and ecstasy. In the contrast of such experiences, we are made; by finding a happy balance between action and reflection in the all-or-nothing moments in our life, we learn who we are.

On that Sunday afternoon in my Subaru, overlooking the darkening lake, I sat at a happy, healthy zero on the spectrum, absorbing everything the moment had to teach me. Sometimes the most beautiful things in life require nothing of us, but to just be present in the moment. This nothingness can bring some of the best learning experiences. I have experienced this during sunrise in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, on a sailboat under the stars on the New York harbor, in lily fields of tropical Japan. If I’d been otherwise occupied in any sense, I would have surrendered the experience, rather than surrendering to the experience. Reflection and experience combine together beautifully when we are purposeful with our zero moments. You can learn a lot about yourself through stopping and reflecting, if your only dictator of time is the setting sun, or the ocean’s waves, or the autumn trails of a nearby canyon. In this sense, nature does the teaching, and we learn by simply being there. We then let these lessons live on, through our writing.

On the other hand, my Sunday-morning trip to Florida was a less passive learning experience. At the boarding gate, I had a decision to make—I was either all in, and would figure out how I’d get by once I was there, or I could leave the airport and head home. In this instance, there was no passive or middle-ground option. Ultimately, I got on the plane and had one of the greatest, fleeting solo adventures. I met a lovely man who had taken the first Australian astronaut into space, I walked through space shuttles that have traveled further than I ever will, and I sat at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. For this trip, being all in, rather than going home when things took a turn at the boarding gate, allowed me many zero moments later on, as I reflected on everything that happened. Had I not written about these experiences as they came, my memory of them would be somewhat hazy, and the lessons would be lost in a distant memory.