My then new friend Greg ecstatically described “The Gatekeeper” roller coaster ride as we waited in a long line of thrill-seekers. During the wait, I made sure to place my wallet and keys inside a flap pocket of my cargo shorts. I double-checked the Velcro closure several times. “The Gatekeeper” is a looping coaster ride on which riders go upside down six times. Greg explained that he loved the feeling of weightlessness and the side to side jolts.
During his description, I felt nothing but trepidation about what I had agreed to do. However, I knew that sooner rather than later, I would be indulging Greg’s passion for record-breaking coasters. We finally reached the front of the queue and were seated onto the “car” and strapped into our seats. Each “car” is a double-wing vehicle that seats two people per wing. It is unenclosed, so the riders are surrounded only by air and the aircraft-type safety straps.
After the pod of wing cars was filled, the ride abruptly began. There was no turning back. Right away, the cars dove into a 180-degree drop that was reportedly around 65-miles-an-hour. From that point there were repeated inversions, including a half loop topping out at 170 feet up from the ground. Greg had warned that the inversion was the world’s highest inversion of all roller coasters in existence.
The two-minute ride felt more like an eternity. Being strapped into a seat, bolted onto a horizontal surface without an enclosed car made me feel especially vulnerable. I was totally at the mercy of the mechanical device that must have been inspired by some sadistic engineer’s nightmare.
The ride slowed to its end allowing Greg and I to exit the wing shaped contraption. It took a few minutes for us to recover our equilibrium. We did so by strolling around the midway of the park, scouting out more thrills for Greg and terror for me.
I had met Greg a few months earlier on a dating site. We hit it off and carried on a long distance relationship. He lives in Sandusky, Ohio which is on a Lake Erie peninsula west of Cleveland. The drive from my home in Norfolk, Nebraska takes just over a day. Greg often talked about his love of roller coaster parks and his passion for “Cedar Point”, where “The Gatekeeper” was located. So, I had forewarning of what was in store during a meeting with my then new friend.
To experience an activity is different from the experience of an activity. The description of the ride at Cedar Point amusement park is a memory of the past that I can use as reference. To experience the roller coaster was an action that took place in the present tense at that time. Experiencing the coaster is different than the experience. Experience is already in the past tense. Experiencing is the present tense unfolding of observation and action. I am experiencing scary thrills on the roller coaster is different from recollections of the ride. The experience is a memory of a past event that happens in my mind as I write about it.
The impact and vividness of experience is a mental shadow that appears as a mental illusion that mimics the actual, past event. To experience something mentally morphs into an experience. However vivid the experience is, it prevents the unfolding of experiencing the present. An experience takes place in the imagination and blocks experiencing the present moment. If I wish to actually relive the experience, I will have to travel back to Ohio, meet up with Greg, and ride the roller coaster.
The experience would be different because Greg and I are older, and circumstances would be different too. I would probably compare the present experience with the past experience because that is how my brain works.
The mind works as a process of continuity. That is it is constantly experiencing. We usually live our lives as an expression of continuity. We understand our experience of life as a string of events and thoughts. The conundrum is that to fully experience something in life is to let go of that continuity. Experience must be put on hold in order to experience life fully in the present.
To experience is a matter of the absence of thought and self-reflection. To experience is a state of being and not something to achieve. The mind ceases conceptualizing and is free to engage fully in the present. To experience is not a meditation, nor a mental concept. To experience is simply being present in the moment.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, author, musician, painter, photographer, and poet, Viggo Mortensen. “Life is short and the older you get, the more you feel it. Indeed, the shorter it is. People lose their capacity to walk, run, travel, think, and experience life. I realize how important it is to use the time I have.”