09/12/2013 01:41 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

'Oh Wow!'

There are pluses and minuses to getting older. One of the big minuses is that we tend to compare everything to something that happened in the past and completely miss the "Oh wow!" moments. "He reminds me of..." "That reminds me of the meat loaf we had at..." "Doesn't this remind you of the time...?"

When we look out the window as we're driving someplace, instead of seeing what is presently in front of us -- such as a new building with great landscaping -- we bemoan the fact that the vacant lot that was always there is gone. When we see our children, instead of viewing them as the wonderful human beings they are now, we remember them as they were when they were children living at home.

Ahh, the good old days! But are you still living in them? Today is all you've got and the only thing you have is this moment. If you've ever been in an earthquake or experienced a tornado, you understand what I'm saying. One of the most pointless things I ever heard was said one evening when I was at the beach at sunset. Two men were walking in front of me. One turned to the other and said, "You should have been here last night. Now that was a sunset." Well, so much for being in the moment. There's no way to respond to that. The other man wasn't there the night before and he couldn't go back. This was the sunset he was looking at. And yet, how much do we miss, and particularly as we get older, because we're not in the moment?

I was driving my granddaughter to ballet class the other morning and we were on a freeway overpass. "Oh, wow, Grandma Dianne, I'm bigger than the trees and I can see the tops of the cars." Out of the mouths of babes. When was the last time you ever thought about being bigger the trees and that you could see the tops of cars?

It's not easy being in the moment. Advertising wants you to stay in the past and they have a vested interest to remind you of the past. Television ads tell you it's "just like Mom used to make" or it'll "make you feel young again," etc. They're trying to use nostalgia to see their product.

I think there's a very good reason that gerontology experts urge us to learn new things. When we learn a new language or travel to new places, we're going beyond our frames of reference. We're forced to be in the moment so we can learn the language or enjoy the new place we're seeing. Many years ago, my husband and I were at an international Rotary conference in Tokyo. We were much younger than the others from our group and we took the subways and ate in exotic places. They felt uncomfortable outside the hotel, so they ate all their meals in the hotel dining room. So much for being in the moment in a foreign country! And it probably reminded them of...

Talk to someone who's survived a harrowing experience, and they will often tell you that they felt more alive in that moment than they ever had before. Every part of their being was focused on survival. By contrast, when we keep doing the same things, we're bound to compare them to how we did the thing in the past and nothing is new.

Several years ago I went on a trek in Nepal to see the Mani Rimdu Festival. I had no frame of reference for the bitter cold and the difficult trek. Was I in the moment? Oh, yeah! I had to be to survive when I met yaks on narrow cliff paths. I remember one time, my Sherpa grabbed me to keep me from going over the edge when I stumbled. I was definitely not comparing that with anything in my repertoire of memories because there was no memory to draw on. When I returned to my normal routine, I realized that everything about that trip was new to me, from the charming Nepalese children along the path wishing me "Namaste" to learning how to conserve my energy at 14,000 feet in altitude. And that's why I loved it. "Oh Wow," I was totally in the moment!

I imagine every religion and spiritual discipline has a take on this. Here are two that come readily to mind: Zen Buddhism refers to "Beginner's Mind," and Christianity in Matthew 18:3 "...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Food for thought!