Sensational Living®

August 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


My modus operandi has always been to try to squeeze as many new experiences into my life. While that approach at face value has both pros and cons, trying new “things” is a great way to live a rich and fulfilling life. It’s also a great way to gain a vast array of experiences that will allow you to interact with others with intelligence, understanding, empathy and sympathy.

When I was a healthcare management executive, I was once critiqued for not liking “change.” My apparent resistance to change was interpreted by both my staff and supervisor as a “fear” of trying new things. My supervisor assumed I was afraid to leave my “comfort zone” (though he never stated that explicitly). How sad that this particular analysis of my behavior ignored the years of my having to “fix” the “experiments” of others. A previous supervisor would try new things, screw them up, and then announce, “Bret, I need you to make this right.” Furthermore, these accusations of “fear of change” did not correlate with the fact that I consistently generated new initiatives for my accounts, nor did they correlate with the fact that I had given people carte blanche to try to methods and techniques as long as they demonstrated proficiency and understanding of how “things” were currently done. Without that foundation, they lacked the knowledge to put things right if something went awry. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, errors or worse; just be prepared, as you try new things, to fix your own activities.

That said, when you are doing activities for yourself, the sky is the limit in terms of trying new techniques, new methods, new approaches, or just completely new activities. Go for it! You won’t regret it.

I know I do not regret the decisions I made in order to travel over the years, which in turn have laid the foundation for my travel consulting via GOD-DESS. Specifically, those decisions include dipping into reserve funds and going into various forms of debt. For my various careers, I had to travel considerably. When traveling for work, I always had my way paid either through grants or through the corporate account. However, if I wanted experiences above and beyond those required by my job, ethics required that I pay for those experiences myself. As a graduate student in paleontology, I traveled to Europe multiple times to study museum specimens, attend conferences, and give lectures. I could have just done my work, and returned home, but I didn’t. I added on personal time, visited other cities, saw great works of art and architecture, attended plays and concerts, and ate amazing food. Occasionally, I looked up old friends, while meeting a variety of interesting new people. Often, I shopped. In these cases, I spent my own money, which meant dipping into reserves I was fortunate to have in those days.

This practice of piggybacking my own travels on corporate travel became a fine art when I became a healthcare executive. I sometimes had to make a dozen or more trips around North America annually. I went to places like Boston, New York, Toronto, Miami, New Orleans, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, among many others. Once, after working in Boston, I visited the Acadian Wilderness, Bar Harbor, and Mount Desert Island in Maine. Other times, I investigated Cape Cod and Provincetown. In New Orleans, I HAD to devote a lot of personal time to the French Quarter (and “other” activities). While in San Diego, I often took side trips to Tijuana. From San Francisco, I have thoroughly explored the northern California wine country, the Redwood Empire, and the northern California coast (if you want travel advice for the West Coast, I can help you!). From Seattle, I visited all portions of the Olympic Peninsula, and even took an extended trip into Oregon and northernmost California. Ah, what memories!

Those memories include an amazing array of spectacular wildlife, cumulatively including elk, bison, eagles, ospreys, California condors, too many songbirds to list, foxes, gray whales, finback whales, minkes, dolphins, sea otters, seals, … the list goes on. I saw awe-inspiring natural wonders, like the Avenue of the Giants (redwoods), snow-capped mountains, the Everglades, shell-strewn beaches, cranberry bogs, masses of pitcher plants, temperature rainforests, tropical rainforests, deserts, bayous, and more. Then there are the manmade wonders: the American Museum of Natural History, the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the ancient petroglyphs of Cape Alava in Washington, wineries and distilleries all over North America, many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, Native American ruins, the St. Louis Arch, and other architectural masterpieces. My life is so much richer, though for a while my bank account wasn’t. It was a small price to pay.

I’m also a great experimentalist when it comes to food. I will try anything once. Most things I’ll try twice. I’ve eaten rattlesnake, alligator, ostrich, sea urchin, sea cucumber, every mollusk you can imagine, seaweed, fungi in every shape and form, and every cheese I can get my hands on (no matter how stinky!). How else could I come up with a project like my book-in-progress, “Fun with Phyla,” unless I was seriously experimental with food? I do believe my wildest culinary adventures are forthcoming. Let’s not get started with my beverage experimentations … my wine experiences alone could fill hundreds of pages, not to mention the constant sampling of various teas, coffees, and assorted other tisanes.

Sampling so many gustatory delights, and awakening all of the senses can be an almost spiritual experience. I don’t mean this in any sort of blasphemous way. Rather, I am referring to the vast majority of spiritual beliefs that put an emphasis on the mindfulness of our daily activities and of our sensory experience. It has been said that “God is in the details,” yet so often we have had such specific religious concepts pounded into our psyches (a process known as “conditioning,” also used by brainwashers and by Pavlov on his dog) that we lack the freedom to explore the details of other spiritualities. I had the opportunity during my formative years to explore a wide range of spiritual traditions, and that studying is ongoing to this very day (as a teenager, not only was I fortunate to have non-dogmatic parents, but I was truly blessed to work in the public library where I could read a variety of texts and tomes on a wide range of topics). As long as we remember that spirituality and religion are about personal growth and maturity, we can avoid the dogma that so many choose to inflict in the name of religion.

Music and art can also be spiritually uplifting experiences, and I don’t mean liturgical chants or clergical designs. I mean the impact of music and art on our minds, spirits and souls (it’s your choice how you wish to define those three terms). As a teenager in southern Missouri (dealing with bigotry, discrimination and prejudice), escaping to the privacy of my room where I would listen to the “happy sounds” of ABBA while creating my own “happy” paintings and sketches essentially saved my life. Taking a course in Asian art as an undergraduate (despite the protests of my engineer father) opened my eyes to new mindsets and philosophies; at the same time I learned that the musical scale system of various Asian cultures was entirely different from the Western scale I was accustomed to (but entirely untalented with!). My extensive travels exposed me to a variety of music and art that many only experience through books or recordings. My mind was opened to completely new worlds of sensations and experiences. I became a better human being for myself, which will enhance the quality of interactions I’ll have the rest of my life.

Being an evolutionary biologist with an orientation toward ecology and plant-animal interactions, I have found growing plants and other aspects of gardening to be an excellent way to have new experiences. From my childhood first experimenting with horticulture in the windowsill of my bedroom, to my teen years where I first experimented with outdoor gardening (trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and a host of fruits and vegetables and herbs), to my adult life where I do gardening consultations, plants have pervaded my entire life. There have been plants given as gifts, and cuttings exchanged, and a vast array of relationships bound together because of one plant, or another, or the memories of plants. As the plants grew, so did the relationships. As my expertise grew, so did opportunities to share that expertise with others, such as the public talk I gave earlier this year on “Indoor Gardening for a Rainbow of Thumbs.” I have received letters and calls from the various attendees telling me of their experiences with the cuttings I gave out at the talk. At this stage of my life I see that this isn’t about the plants at all, but about the network of people created by the plants.

Sports offer a similar vehicle for some people. It isn’t so much about the game, but about the camaraderie and companionship among the players. I don’t have a lot of experience in this arena, though at one time I had some proficiency with such sports as swimming, diving, tennis and badminton. I have tried a host of other sports, to be able to say, “I have tried a new thing,” but now I can say, “Been there, done that.” I have many friends who enjoy spectator sports, and cite the pleasure from very reason I mention above: hanging out with friends and people-watching (in Chicago) while enjoying a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, or seeing the Bulls (or Blackhawks) play in the United Center, or experiencing the White Sox do their thing at U.S. Cellular Field, or da Bears play in the Flying Saucer, er, I mean, Soldier Field (if you haven’t seen pictures of the “new” Soldier Field, search the web … you’ll be “amazed.”), or your favorite team in your favorite city in your favorite stadium. Even though most of this is outside the realm of my usual activity, I include it to illustrate the wide range of possibilities when you begin to “try new things.” If you have attended games before, try changing part of your focus to the architecture, or the people around you, or the new friends you make at the concession stand, or the food you decide to prepare for your tailgate party. Or, as someone who has just returned from maneuvering through traffic around Wrigley Field prior to a Cubs game, may I suggest something? Try public transportation! If you’ve never done it, try it! You’ll enter a world you never knew existed!

There’s also a type of ineffable experience that I simply classify as “adventure.” This is usually a small-scale activity that takes me somewhere local I’ve never been. Living in Chicago, I am presented with so many opportunities to explore new neighborhoods that I am never at a loss for a new adventure. I just head out, either by car or public transportation, and spend a few hours or the whole day wandering streets, visiting shops, sampling various foods, viewing an array of sites/sights, and talking with a grand assortment of people. At the end of the adventure, my life is richer, more full, and more satisfying.

This type of exploration is virtually cost-free, and is infinitely more satisfying than many vacations or expensive trips I could choose to take. Furthermore, in many ways I end up being a better person for having visited a neighborhood in depth rather than superficially visiting another city (as a travel planner, I don’t do anything superficially, but you know what I mean). Instead of worrying about expenses, timing, whatever, you can focus on the people you meet. You can be mindful of the relationships.

AHA! There is the emergent pattern! Once you make up your mind to try new things, you actually have to pay attention to what you’ve done before, and what you haven’t yet done. You have to pay attention to the people with whom you’ve done things, and the people who have not been part of the adventures. You have to pay attention to your daily habits/behaviors, including shopping, spending, working, and playing. You can really pay attention to who are your friends, who are mere acquaintances, and who has become your family (I’m not talking about blood relatives). Bottom line? You will have to become mindful of your daily existence. Once you do that, your entire life will become more pleasurable, more exciting, and more rewarding overall.

That’s a rather significant consequence for just making up one’s mind to try new things. However, by outlining some very minor ways to start, I hope that this won’t be intimidating. Don’t try EVERYTHING at once. Just one thing at a time … and try it with gusto … that’s being mindful, to focus on the task at hand. If you need some help with that focus, you know how to reach me: 773.508.9208 or email me. Please tell me about the new things you’ve tried!