The untimely passing of the groundbreaking architect Zaha Hadid has me reflecting on the nature of experiences. What are they? How are they created? And most of all, how do we learn from them?
Every spring awakens the burgeoning forces of life, transforming itself once again, indomitable, and ripe with the possibilities for new experiences.
And when it comes to experience, philosopher poet David Whyte put it perfectly in his poem "Everything Is Waiting for You"—
"Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone..."
It is our task to show up and be present to what unfolds, whether by design or serendipity in our life.
One experience I’m most grateful for is to have been involved in a project Zaha Hadid did with The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.
The stark, sweeping chair she designed for the center’s 2008 fundraiser auction clearly embodies her signature style—and it is as glorious she was.
I knew it then, and feel it even more so now—my proximity to one of the true visionaries of our time was an extraordinary experience.
Drop Me In The Water...
As much as you and I love our spa experiences, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the word ‘spa’ is actually an acronym for salus per aquae, or “health through water.”
At the northern end of Napa Valley, you’ll find Calistoga, a beautifully relaxed place where generations of adventurers come together to take the waters (and taste the vines).
The tradition of soaking in springs is an experience we humans have cherished since ancient Roman times—who made soaking a daily art form—and the “balnearios” of the Aztecs. In fact, the 16th-century Aztec emperor Moctezuma was one of Mexico’s earliest spa enthusiasts.
Today, as we slip into the warm buoyant embrace of Calistoga’s mineral-rich waters at Indian Springs, it’s easy to see why the indigenous people of the Wappo tribe referred to them as being “a healing place.”
Clearly, we have a primal regard for the experience of geothermal waters, and it’s no wonder.
Even our bath time can become a spa experience, drawing away our stresses, quieting the chatter, suspending us in a timeless place with body, mind, skin and spiritual benefits.
See, we can create an experience without even leaving home. And again, in the wisdom of Whyte:
"Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity."
The Wild Side of Experience
Indeed, we need our wildness, too—and to be attuned to our needlessly unfamiliar, primal nature.
Just west of Calistoga, in the rocky ranges of the Safari West wild animal park, there is little separating you from the canopy of wide-open blue sky and the beasts who roam below it.
In nature, the experience of change is always present. Nothing stays the same, everything evolves no matter your point of focus—animals, weather or the very earth itself.
While there are ways to engage more mindful experiences in the interest of conservation, ecology and the welfare of all creatures, there’s little question that nature is capricious and wild, leaving strength and survival to maintain balance and order among the species.
So, I learned there is an experience in becoming re-attuned to our bodies and regaining access to the menagerie of primal instinct and adaptability that keeps us sharp and prepared for anything.
But is an experience simply a part of being? I don’t think so. We can’t be passive in our experiences, we must be alert. And with the coming of spring, now is the time to get out there and DO.