Are you Experienced?
March 4, 2012 9:00 PM   Subscribe

What's the greatest experience in life I'm missing out on?

Every once in while I experience something where you just pause and think "this. is. awesome." Some examples of mine:
- in the stands during the last few minutes of a Team Canada hockey game with a close score, everyone standing and cheering
- going into a completely pitch-black cave with absolutely zero light
- turning around after an awesome concert by my favorite band and seeing a sold-out arena chanting in unison
- sitting in a forest during a rain storm, hearing the rain pitter-patter on the surrounding me while staying completely dry

It's often little things, but it's an something you words can't describe and you must be there to understand. I'd like to avoid things like "watching my son grow up", "earning my PHD", "growing old with my wife", or other cliche type things. I'm hoping for specific moments I can seek out directly or set myself up for. So, what's the greatest moment I need to go experience right now?
posted by Kippersoft to Society & Culture (118 answers total) 231 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Being at sea in the middle of nowhere, days from land. (Not so awesome if the weather is terrible and/or you suffer from seasickness, though.)
posted by lollusc at 9:09 PM on March 4, 2012 [22 favorites]

Just a few:

-see the All Blacks play in New Zealand (NZ rugby team); never had the chance to see them while I was in NZ, but NZ rugby is straight up beautiful (and I don't really like watching sports!)
-hiking the Appalachian trail for many reasons
-making a quilt from scratch
-eating s'mores around a campfire (apparently if you are European this doesn't happen often!)
-being with someone who has never experienced snow for the first time when they see snow for the first time, esp. when there is a lot of it--so magical i don't have words

i could go on :P enjoy life! (:
posted by fuzzysoft at 9:16 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm hoping for specific moments I can seek out directly or set myself up for.
Sorry to rain on your parade, but I don't think you can seek out such magical moments. Those moments are made for you by the serendipitous coming-together of all sorts of tiny things at just that moment at just that time. If you seek, you shall not find.
posted by dg at 9:21 PM on March 4, 2012 [14 favorites]

I've not done it again, yet, but sky-diving really was very cool.
posted by smoke at 9:22 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

huge lightning storms in a warm tropical place
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:26 PM on March 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with dg that you most likely cannot seek the part of these experiences that make them magic, but if you go in openly without to much anticipation, i think you can succeed.

-taking the train from Toronto to Vancouver and watching the landscape gradually change as you go through each province. waking up and looking out the window and suddenly seeing the Rocky mountains, when last night all you could see was the plains.

-canoeing at night on a silent lake under a full moon and clear skies

- hiking, specifically reaching the peak of the mountain you have just climbed. also rock climbing.

- also: read up on science and philosophy if you really want to experience wonder.
posted by costanza at 9:27 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here in the North Cascades there are some untouched and unmarked groves of really really old, giant cedar trees. they are enormous, silent sentinels of the deep forest at its most primordial. happening upon one on a long hike, when there's no one else around is a rare and rather timeless experience.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:33 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ocean swimming at night with bioluminescent plankton.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:33 PM on March 4, 2012 [29 favorites]

Best answer: Northern lights. Simple answer, difficult to arrange (involves travel), but totally possible-- I am watching them out of my window right now, and as often as I see them I'm never able to fully explain the experience.
posted by mireille at 9:34 PM on March 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

Traveling in Asia, sitting in the (open) doorway of a train at night watching the rice fields go by...

Lots of moments like that where you are so free and the world is so big and so interesting. But they also correlate with youth (especially the freedom part) so get out there and travel.

(Note: most of them have to do with people and's the landscape of the world itself that seems to be so awe-inspiring).
posted by bquarters at 9:34 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Taking LSD or similar, in a positive environment.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:37 PM on March 4, 2012 [17 favorites]

Being somewhere with no light pollution and really seeing the Milky Way. Montana, for example.
posted by the jam at 9:37 PM on March 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

I'm going to second NZ stuff and hiking the Appalachian trail. On that tip - Mount Greylock camping in April for fiddle head fern season (pick your dinner from the forest!!)

- Falling asleep on the beach, at night. Camping there all night and seeing the sun come up.

- The sunset at Big Sur, especially if random hippies are playing out the day Greatful Dead style.

- Every time I've been wilderness backpacking/camping - name a country or mountain range.

- Kayak camping was AWESOME.

- We had a sailboat growing up. Sailing to destinations over a week or two was SO AMAZING, even if getting to the same destination by car was familiar and only took hours by auto. Going by sea changes your consciousness permanently. I long to pick this up again as my son (11 months) gets a little older.

- Wilderness Hot Springs. Google for out of the way locales you must hike to.

- Every time I was at the top of the World Trade Center. (no longer possible.)

- The first time I went repelling off actual mountain cliffs was THRILLING.

- Snorkling. (I don't scuba, but I know that is a compelling experience that beats snorkeling.)

- Small aircraft - scary, but fun. More scary. Scary is memorable.

- Great sex with the right person at the right time.

- My first meal at Jean-Georges' first restaurant in NYC, JoJo, during its first year open - THIS is why I eventually quit television and went to culinary school.

Hope that is enough. I have more. Thanks for making me look back!
posted by jbenben at 9:37 PM on March 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Being present when someone gives birth is pretty fucking awesome, especially if the someone is either you or your partner and the baby is your baby.

If the someone is you, it will probably also be painful while being awesome.

Also, swimming with dolphins, but those dolphins you usually swim with at resort spots don't live awesome lives, so --

Active volcano.

Being in an earthquake, although that fits more into the classical definition of awesome, "inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear."

But really, everything I've ever done pales in comparison to being present for the birth of my child.
posted by incessant at 9:39 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

* Speeding a motorcycle at the late night in a big city. Feeling the wind and the bright lights and space.
* Surfing. The calm right before a big wave hits.
posted by xtine at 9:41 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've always enjoyed major sporting events not just for the sports, but for the occasional moments of crowd unison. I was at a baseball game where it started raining just enough to bring out the tarps but not so much people started going home. I don't know how or why it started, but all of a sudden all 20,000 or so people were singing "Blame It On The Rain" in unison without prompting from the PA or music system or anything. I also love smaller things like sarcastic cheers and ovations. The biggest ovation I've ever been a part of was some 17 inning minor league baseball game where nobody could get and keep the lead, so when the game finally ended, everybody was lustily cheering even though the other team won because we got to go home.

Otherwise, what about things like:

Being in a country you've never been in before where you don't speak the language or know your way around. (May be more terrifying than exhilarating depending on your predilections).

Going somewhere on the spur of the moment without planning, making reservations, or anything, just going with it. (As above, may be more terrifying than exhilarating, depending).

Picking a random highway in a random direction and just driving, stopping off at weird tourist attractions and roadside farmer's markets and out of the way diners.

Taking a really long (multiple day) train trip. You'll see things you'd never see otherwise.

Same for a road trip, multiple days through particularly scenic parts of the country. For example, there are stretches of Utah that are awe-inspiringly beautiful, but you'll only see them driving.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:41 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've only had one experience which I considered to be spiritual in nature (I'm not religious in any way, so the typical things that others consider spiritual don't apply for me). It was also one of the most intense experiences I've ever done.

Its called an Energy Pull, though I've also heard it called a Spirit Pull. In more extreme cases it involves being suspended by hooks (and thats most of what google will give you if you search). The way I did it was with an extremely close group of friends, so there was a lot of camaraderie between us to begin with.

Each individual recieved 2 piercings, most of us had ours placed on the chest with either hooks (a bit larger than fishing hooks) or barbells (the sort you would see in a tongue piercing) and a string looped around each piercing and connected to a longer string with a carabiner (used by rope climbers, also sometimes on keychains...) that was later connected to a large ring.

A friend who is a native american shaman performed a blessing by burning herbs (sage, etc) and moving the smoke over each individual with an eagle's feather as we were told to focus on cleansing ourselves of negative emotions and thoughts, opening our hearts and minds to positive energies. Then we stood in a circle and each person connected to the ring at the center of the circle and stepped out so that there was tension on every line.

In more extreme cases a person might pull hard and stretch the skin, experiencing quite a lot of pain. In our case we only pulled enough to feel the tension and focused on the fact that as we all relaxed into the sensation our breathing began to synchronize and we could feel the lines moving a bit with each breath, each movement of our friends. It brought about a heightened sense of connection with one another.

As the sensation or emotion of the moment became too much, each person could unlink from the circle and step away for a bit until they were ready to come back. Most of us stayed there, standing outside in the cool night under a full moon, breathing deeply, thinking of whatever things our minds were on at the time, focusing on the sense of connection and the experience of the moment. As the circle dwindled down to just a few people the feeling intensified as I eventually found myself left standing only with those that I loved the most, and sharing in that sense of being connected with them all, and a feeling of pure contentment.

Afterward many of us ended up snuggled together on the couch quietly talking about the things that went through our mind, the way we felt, etc.

If I could capture those feelings in a bottle and carry them with me forever I would, because I don't know if I'll ever find something like that again.
posted by myShanon at 9:42 PM on March 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to rain on your parade, but I don't think you can seek out such magical moments. Those moments are made for you by the serendipitous coming-together of all sorts of tiny things at just that moment at just that time. If you seek, you shall not find.
I totally agree. Most of the truly magical moments aren't something you just go do. However, I think you can put yourself into a situation where you much more likely to experience them (kind of what I meant by saying "set myself up"). Without ever going to a concert, I would have never experience that, without traveling north, you might never see the northern lights. Nonetheless though, you make a very good point. :)
posted by Kippersoft at 9:46 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you ski or snowboard? Getting fresh tracks is kind of a religious experience. Dropping off a cliff into a canvas of untouched snow is just... magical, especially in back bowls.

See the Pyramids. No matter how many pictures of them you see, nothing beats seeing them. I felt like I was getting punched in the chest in the best possible way.

Rent a convertible and gun it along a desert highway (not in AZ- cops are the worst). Preferably on the way to Vegas. Start blasting Elvis when you get into town.

Also nthing going somewhere with no light pollution (WY for me) and looking up at the stars. I had no idea what you could see with the naked eye. Mind-numbing.

Thanks for making me realize that my life has been super awesome (at times).
posted by libertypie at 9:56 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Looking out at the night sky late, late late on a warm summer night, in an area without much light pollution.
posted by peppermind at 10:01 PM on March 4, 2012

Sex! Sexy sex!
posted by vrakatar at 10:01 PM on March 4, 2012

Swimming in a bioluminescent bay.
I agree! Come to Vancouver Island (up in Comox/ Hornby Island) at the right time of year, and swim in the fireflies of the sea. Makes you light up. lovely.
posted by chapps at 10:04 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cycling often does this for me. There's something about the speed and balancing on two wheels that makes me whoop. Most likely to happen on the downhills in perfect weather.
posted by kjs4 at 10:06 PM on March 4, 2012

Snorkeling at Jellyfish Lake in Palau (or snorkeling/scuba-diving pretty much anywhere lovely, although it may take a few tries to get in the groove / see something fantastic)

cliff jumping (or anything that scares the tar out of you)

Spending a lot of time alone outdoors

Sacred Harp singing

Quaker silent meetings

having a garden so you can pick a lot of your own snacks off the plants is pretty rad, too. watermelons are best sun-warmed, not iced.
posted by momus_window at 10:06 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have a bad habit of bursting into tears at those times, the emotion just gets overwhelming. But these are my big, big moments:

- seeing the Olympic torch relay run right past my house, and suddenly realising what a big deal it is and how unlikely it is that I'll ever experience that again;

- being at a sold-out concert by my favourite band when they sing my all-time favourite song, and having a dear friend of 40-something years hugging me as we sang ourselves hoarse;

- Carols by Candlelight in the Cathedral Cave at Wellington Caves (NSW, Australia), which has a natural pulpit and a bible which was left there I-forget-how-many-decades ago and is now on the way to petrification;

- trekking into a glow-worm cave;

- watching my blonde fair-skinned toddler being rocked to sleep and sung a lullaby by the biggest, baddest-looking Fijiian dude you can imagine;

- seeing that same kid as a teenager invited onto stage by her then-favourite band to sing with them. (And watching the youtube clip still brings me to tears.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:08 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sitting on the bank of the Vedder river next to the mister. There wasn't any sound except the river and the ditditdit of swallows dive bombing towards the river then swooping up before they hit the water. It was cold, yet sunny and it seemed like we were the only people around for miles.
posted by deborah at 10:11 PM on March 4, 2012

Riding motorcycles has brought me these moments on a fairly regular basis. Curves taken just right, chasing friends across the city, riding down the coast while the sun sets, watching the sun rise from a mountaintop with hundreds of bikers, moto camping, I could go on and on...
posted by mollymayhem at 10:16 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

- Being caught in a rainstorm while hiking in Kata Tjuta in Australia, and drinking from the streams of water rolling down the giant rock domes. It was so amazing I started laughing and didn't stop for 20 minutes. I was giddy. It was bliss.

- Rounding each turn in the path to Iguazu Falls in Argentina, to see yet another vista of the falls. The difference between the (already amazing!) photos of the place and the experience of being there is so great as to be baffling. This experience also produced what can only be described as giddy joy.

- And I'd not want to recreate this, or wish it on anyone, but the feeling was amazing: being in a car accident where the car was hit HARD, thrown and spun FAR, thinking during those looooooong 2 seconds that this is it, coming to a stop, looking down and realizing I'M NOT DEAD! (I had actually fractured my pelvic bone, bruised 3 ribs, and had glass in my underwear, but I was in the BEST mood at the emergency room. BECAUSE I WASNT DEAD!! The ER team thought I was nuts.)
posted by JuliaIglesias at 10:17 PM on March 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Politics can do to me what religion does to other people. Both election night (which I experienced on my college campus in upstate New York) and the inauguration (which I experienced right there on the National Mall) of President Obama made me sort of weepy and giddy.

Turning on my brights when you're driving at night with the snow coming down heavy is breathtaking to me.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:19 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

-Sleeping outside at night under the stars. Preferably in a hammock.
-Visiting a really nice planetarium
-Listening to certain vocal soloists, especially singing bittersweet operatic type songs and especially very gifted sopranos, has moved me to tears
-So this one is a do-not-try-this-at-home type of thing for sure, but I'll just add it anyway- swimming while a thunderstorm is brewing (or the less dangerous alternative, swimming during a gentle shower)
-So simple, but- I once got the chance as a teenager to go Christmas caroling at a nursing home on Christmas eve, and I'll never forget it- there were tears on both sides by the end
-I have actually had the "snow white experience" of going somewhere and sitting in nature, staying still, and having a bird, butterfly, or even a deer come into the clearing and very near me-definitely magical, and easy
-Once, there was a streetwide blackout, and all the neighbors came out of their houses carrying candles to talk. It was amazing.
posted by stockpuppet at 10:29 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Driving without lights well away from light pollution at night with a full moon and clear skies after a fresh snow fall. It's bright enough that you can safely drive without lights and everything is lit up blue and silver. The cherry on top of that sundae is when it is cold enough that the snow is sparkly.
posted by Mitheral at 10:29 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Standing on the cliffs, above the tempestuous sea in Tintagel, Cornwall, after roving around on the misty moors.

Watching the ocean crash against the shore in Malibu at sunset, with a school of dolphins swimming in the distance.

Night-swimming in East Hampton, with a warm fire on the beach waiting for my friends and myself.

Looking out over the ocean at the top of the Wonder Wheel, on Coney Island after the best beach day ever.

Obviously anything to do with the sea is a goos time for me.
posted by devymetal at 10:39 PM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: Once, I was in London alone for a week with no evening engagements, so every night I'd just walk around for two or three hours. If the mood struck me, I'd go through a shop (Tesco's, say, or M&S) and just look at all the food. I bought a Soreen loaf once: that was a mistake. On a better day, I bought a tiny overpriced cup of jellied eels, which turned out to be fantastic. One day I made it all the way across the city up to Primrose Hill, fell asleep, and then woke up under the stars with the city lights stretching off into the distance. One day I stopped to watch a women unfold her Brompton right outside Chelsea Station downwind of about five pasty carts---that was a good day. One night I just sat in my hotel room listening to the BBC proms, drinking peppermint tea and eating Irish soda bread, Stilton, and this weird candy bar for dinner.

In retrospect, I suspect this is something you can actually recreate: go to a foreign city, either purely for pleasure or on some kind of business where you can't take your work home. Classes doesn't work because you could be doing homework, and that's not conducive to the sort of carefree mood you need to cultivate. Walk around and see what happens.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:43 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

-Standing on FDR Drive watching the New York City fireworks on the 4th of July. (Now that they shoot them from the Hudson River you'd have to do it on the West Side Highway)

-Watching a Cubs game from a rooftop

-The very end of a championship game that my team wins. (See: Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, 2010) Also, the very end of a game my team wins that they were totally not expected to win. (See: Indiana beating Kentucky this season, or Indiana beating Duke in the 2002 NCAA tournament)

-Going to a used bookstore and finding a copy of a book I'd been trying to find for ages...especially if it's a book out of print.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:30 PM on March 4, 2012

Finishing a marathon

Being part of a huge fun run like City2Surf or Bay to Breakers where you are one of 80,000+ people running together.
posted by trialex at 11:32 PM on March 4, 2012

It's not something you can count on, but I've been down in the Florida Keys enough to occasionally encounter a manatee (or one time, five, including a baby!) while swimming or sailing or just lounging on a dock. It's awesome in the old sense of that word. I've also had sea lions and dolphins swim pretty close by out in California. It's a pretty visceral shock-turned-thrill when you're just out body surfing and a huge black form looms up in a wave 10 feet away.

You would not be disappointed on an African safari either. No nature show can prepare you for the feeling. Like, you're in the back of a jeep and you come past some brush and suddenly there's a bull elephant standing right there, the size of a bus. Your driver stops for a moment and the elephant begins tossing sand around with his trunk and walking slowly toward you, and then the driver guns the engine and takes off as the elephant's ears widen and he stomps after the fleeing jeep, and you think, "Whoa."
posted by stargell at 12:11 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Watch a total eclipse of the sun. Very weird, very inspiring, oddly scary.

And it's a powerful reminder that this earth we think of as solid and static is actually hurtling around the sun at 100,000 km an hour
posted by JohnnyForeign at 12:16 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are a dog person, finding what some call, your "heart dog".
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:22 AM on March 5, 2012

- Volunteering in a ward that serves critically ill children. It will break your heart in a good way.
- Viewing the aurora borealis in the far north where it takes over the entire sky.
- Visiting the Nevada Atomic Testing Grounds to see just how crazy life was in the 50s. You have no idea how many craters there are nor how huge.
posted by benzenedream at 12:28 AM on March 5, 2012

Lying out is a dark country field during a meteor shower.

Walking in the rain without an umbrella or raincoat. Opening your mouth and letting the rain fall in. And stomping through every big puddle. Bonus if the sun comes out while it's still raining. Double bonus if there's a rainbow. Triple bonus if it's a double rainbow. Mega super bonus if you're tripping!

Scary but fascinating: seeing a tornado drop down out of a black cloud mass. Best if it's going the other way.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:39 AM on March 5, 2012

Days out into the ocean, by sail, until you can't smell land anymore. Then coming back to land.

There is something primal about landfall that can make you reconsider much of what you take for granted about 'modern' life.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:16 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Performing great music in a large group to a large audience to a very high standard with people you like. Particularly if the rehearsal process was difficult, and the performance astoundingly good.

I'm not sure if that's something you could go out and find now, but it is something anyone can begin to work at. For me the experience is particularly pleasurable because it's the result of years of work for us as individuals, and it all comes together in performance.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:44 AM on March 5, 2012

An amazing choral performance, particularly "Ode to Joy."
posted by kinetic at 2:33 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you ski or snowboard? Getting fresh tracks is kind of a religious experience.


Also, being elected to public office.

Your first solo flight as a paraglider.

Rolling home having done a century on your bike
posted by dmt at 2:34 AM on March 5, 2012

Swimming with dolphins is amazing. Not sure about the places where you pay to do it. Happened for me in the Gulf near Tampa. They didn't get within touching distance or anything, but it was still pretty amazing that they were there, doing their dolphin shit, while I was there with a couple of friends doing our human shit. I guess "swimming with dolphins" is overselling it a bit. How about "being near dolphins" or "having a semi-close encounter with dolphins"?

Also, later that night, while we were still on the beach, a lightning-heavy thunderstorm rolled in off the Gulf and passed us to the north. Those two things combined made that one of the best days of my life.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 2:41 AM on March 5, 2012

I once did a stand-up comedy act.

Hearing several hundred people laugh at jokes I have written is one of the most incredible feelings I have had.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:25 AM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Look, I tried to avoid this cliche, but I can't stop thinking about it now so I have to get it down here - seeing your firstborn child for the first time. That squished face, those perfect rosebud lips, that gorgeous tiny thing which is yet to be imprinted by the world... that was my ultimate experience.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:29 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This seems very artificial compared to many of the experiences described above, but I think the Celebration of Light in my hometown of Vancouver is magical. On a few warm, clear summer nights, well over a million people flow down to the beach toting towels and blankets, and everyone settles in on the sand and grass as they wait for the sky to grow dark. Then the show starts, a ballet of fireworks choreographed to music that is blasted from giant speakers all along the beach. The fireworks are set off from a barge in the bay and as they burst in the sky, it's like they are coming down right on top of you. And you feel every booming explosion deep in your chest, and the reverberations from the surrounding mountains.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:53 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

And Nthing riding a motorcycle. There's nothing quite like driving a machine where the 100+hp engine is situated between your legs. One of the purest, most joyous moments of my life was gunning it around a 270 degree curve and feeling the bike reacting to every minute movement of my body. It felt like this roaring machine was a perfect extension of me. Driving a car feels remote and disconnected in comparison.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:08 AM on March 5, 2012

Emerald Cave (Ko Mook), Thailand.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:10 AM on March 5, 2012

I couldn't ride a bike until I was 26. Being able to get one one and get it going, and stay upright, was amazing. I never thought I'd be able to do that.

I got the same feeling when my boyfriend and I managed to get our kite to fly.
posted by mippy at 4:32 AM on March 5, 2012

I call this experiencing the transcendant and sublime. It can happen anywhere, but you have to remain open and observant. Last week it happened for me seeing an old stripper do this incredibly moving and erotic (clothed) dance routine at a fundraiser party for her old mentor.

The beauty of these experiences are that they can sneak up on you. As many have said nature is the most common trigger, but dawn in the city, crowded streets that seem to move in unison... it's all out there.
posted by readery at 4:43 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first time I did fire poi was the closest I have come to a religious experience. The sound of fire rushing past your head ears is one of the more eerie, beautiful, indescribable things.

Being in Grant Park the night Obama was elected. I've never seen that many happy people in one place before.

I spent a quarter in Germany. When I first arrived, I spoke next to no German. It was terrifying. I was living with a host family and the first couple weeks, we could barely understand each other. Two and a half months later, on the overnight train to the Frankfurt airport to go back home, I sat next to an elderly Schwäbisch man. We talked the entire way, and I understood almost everything he said, despite the strange accent and non-standard vocabulary.

Getting drunk with your best friend and singing "Whiskey in the Jar" very loudly and out-of-tune.

This last one is going to be overly specific: There was a screening of the film adaptation of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart in it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Patrick Stewart came to give a little talk beforehand. He stayed for the movie and sat in the row in front of me. Seeing his bald head placidly sitting there within arm's reach while a disquietingly realistic model of his decapitated head was being waved about onscreen was definitely one of those "This. Is. Awesome." moments.
posted by coppermoss at 4:48 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know some people mentioned motorcycles, but I find driving a car late at night on the highway to be quite thrilling. I love the sound of the engine while inching closer to its top speed. Just watch out for other cars and/or state troopers.
posted by Anima Mundi at 5:07 AM on March 5, 2012

I have attended one of those "Sing Along With Handel's Messiah" nights, where the orchestra plays and the audience sings along with the choir. Singing the "Halleluja Chorus" with a large roomful of people is incredible!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:40 AM on March 5, 2012

Going over 100 MPH on a snowmobile on a lake with a full moon! (What a rush!)

Watching a sea of fireflies on a soybean field.

A passionate kiss for the first time with someone you have fallen madly in love with!

Watching your child sleep!
posted by sybarite09 at 5:47 AM on March 5, 2012

Seeing Michelangelo's David

Watching the sunrise over the clouds from the top of Haleakala volcano in Maui

Amazing sex
posted by greta simone at 5:55 AM on March 5, 2012

Standing on a frozen lake as the sun goes down. As it gets colder, the ice freezes thicker. You can hear the primordial sound of booming and whistling as the pressure cracks reverberate back and forth across the ice.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:59 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any 1000+ person, spontaneously organized bike ride, such as one of the remainingly vibrant Critical Mass rides (Chicago, Miami, San Fran come to mind.) World Naked Bike Ride in Portland, Oregon also still fits this bill.

Close fits: A midsummer Zoobomb or Midnight Mystery Ride in Portland or the better attended Pedalpalooza rides.
posted by Skwirl at 6:07 AM on March 5, 2012

Finish a marathon with good crowd support (hearing hundreds or thousands of people cheering for you really makes you feel what professional athletes experience).

Successfully navigate a wilderness or big city or foreign city using your own sense of direction and orienteering.

Watch active lava flows form new land.
posted by mmascolino at 6:16 AM on March 5, 2012

Watching a spacecraft launch, ideally with people inside.

Watching TV right when the news crew interrupts to tell everyone something good has happened/is happening (like the Berlin Wall being smashed or the Iranian hostages being released).
posted by K.P. at 6:17 AM on March 5, 2012

Bungee jumping.

I did it once, in Greece, off a bridge where my bus had stopped by delightful coincidence. I was fresh out of school and didn't have enough cash on me. My family didn't want me to do it, so they refused to cover me (just until we passed the next ATM, please!). Plus I was wearing a skirt!

The guys working at the bungee jumping place were so lit up my enthusiasm that not only did they lower their price for me, one of them actually took off his shorts and loaned them to me so I could jump!

Everyone counts down for you, and you jump on 3. I asked them to just push me instead, but they refused, and they counted for me all together, loud, louder, JUMP! And you just fall forward into the air, and learn what it is to fly.

For several years afterwards, I was able to re-experience that vivid sensation of flying just by closing my eyes.
posted by 168 at 6:19 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been very lucky to have had a bunch of experiences that I'd put in the top "greatest experiences of my life", several of which have been related to my chosen profession, because for me at least, my personal and professional achievements often overlap (which may or may not be pathological, but it is what it is):

1. Being present for the birth of a child. I know that I didn't do the hard part, and that the role of a physician or nurse midwife or doula or whathaveyou in the process, while helpful, is probably not 100% necessary since women have been doing it alone for eons. But, it was still pretty freaking awesome to have a front row seat for the start of a new life.

2. Attending someone's death. Again, death happens without assistance. But an easier death - one that is, hopefully, less painful for the person dying and less painful for their family, is not always easily achieved. And while I don't feel the same "high" as with delivering a baby, it is still profoundly satisfying to me as a person to have been a participant in a "good death". Like delivering a baby, my role was likely incidental, but still, I hope that when my time comes, someone is there to hold my hand, give me morphine, and whisper in my ear that it's OK to let go. Being present for death is an extremely humanizing experience.

3. Being present when a life is saved. There have only been a very small number of times where I'm pretty sure that if I wasn't there, death would've ensued. Not that I did something that nobody else could've done, but these instances were more a "right place, right time, right observation" thing. A real, bona fide saved life, for me, makes me feel like I've somehow altered the timestream, especially when it was a child, because who knows, that child my grow into a world-improving adult.

These aside, I think that instead of listing discrete experiences, that one can also make categories where "greatest experiences" are more likely to be found.

4. When you're oing the unfathomable/diving into the unknown: Several of my "greatest ever" moments came as a result of committing to do something that I didn't think it was possible for me to do. Riding my bike from Minneapolis to Chicago as part of the 1997 AIDSRide was my first ever athletic achievement and finishing it still rates as one of the greatest moments of my life.

5. When you're doing something that involves conquering a fear: Somewhat related to the above, but instead of confronting the unknown, confronting a known internal enemy and winning allow for true human growth as an adult.

6. Pretty much anything related to being a parent, which for me, encapsulates #4 and #5 above. And part of this has to do with the fact that we adopted our daughter from Kazakhstan, which took us from the abstract concept of "a child" to stepping off the plane with her in our arms 10 months later after a freakishly long and arduous process where we put everything on the line. But that moment when a Kazakh judge told us, in Russian, that our child was our child .... well, I get a mental and emotional crick in my neck because I have to look all the way up to see what was the highest point in my life (so far). And as a result, every time I see her at the beach, or hear her singing a Beatles song, or when she absentmindedly hooks her arm around my neck when I'm reading her a story in bed, or whenever some other thing happens that makes me stop and wonder how this little miracle made it from an orphanage in the middle of nowhere to the center of my life, it confims the fact that that was the greatest moment ever, because it transformed every subsequent day of my life for the better. The good thing is that people certainly don't need to schlep to Kazakhstan to have this type of experience. And I don't think one even needs to have a baby. You just have to be willing to take someone into your life that you love more than yourself.
posted by scblackman at 6:25 AM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I loved reading these.

I've found that the more I meditate/practice mindfulness, the more I have these experiences. They don't come when I'm walking around with a Iphone to my ear (or listening to music). But if I'm simply out for a walk, determined to really see what's around me, the sight of a tree silhouetted against the sky can do it!

More memorable examples:

Watching the sun set over the Golden Gate bridge. One of those rare, clear days for San Francisco, and the sunset that night turned the color of peaches and flames.

The moment I found out my first book would be published. A happiness so complete, after so many years of hoping, that everything, even the air and the light flowing through it, seemed to crystallize and glow.

The rare times when dancing that I realized I was utterly in sync with my partner, and we were flying.

Hearing the most gorgeous music in the world, live, and seeing people below me in the audience spontaneously begin to dance in the aisles (though it wasn't that kind of concert!).

As a teen, when I sneaked out at 2AM to meet friends in the woods. The snow had just stopped falling; the pine trees, so high above me, were laden with snow; underneath the snow was unbroken, a pure field of white; I could see perfectly, despite the hour; and it was quiet, so quiet, like I was the only person in the woods, though I knew my best friends were waiting on the other side of the lake. Sheer perfection.

...And also the morning I woke up to discover the melting snow had snap-frozen in the night, leaving the bare branches of trees encased in a thin film of ice as clear as glass, so that everywhere on campus, the trees sparkled and glittered.

Thanks for asking this question. Recalling these moments is an amazing way to start the day.
posted by artemisia at 6:27 AM on March 5, 2012

This might border on Clicheville, but if you are a teacher or a coach, it can be pretty awe-inspiring to watch one of your students/players do something they've never been able to do before, knowing that you had a hand in making it happen.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:37 AM on March 5, 2012

Nthing the marathon. I ran the NYC one last year, and it is so hard, and so long, and the last five miles are absolute hell, but you get through it because there are people cheering you on the entire way, and when you cross that finish line, suddenly nothing hurts anymore, and the sheer joy in knowing that the 10mths of training all led up to that one moment is just pure awesome.

I'd also definitely recommend sky diving, scuba diving, and cliff jumping. And while it might be harder to recreate, winning any sports tournament with a team is an awesome experience, especially if your team makes a comeback to do it.
posted by Grither at 6:51 AM on March 5, 2012

There's a spot on the A8 autoroute here in southeastern France, just after Antibes and going to Nice, where you round a corner at the top of a hill, start going down that hill, and you see the Baie des Anges open up before you, with the French and Italian Southern Alps behind them and the Mediterranean to the right. I've lived here for 12 years; taken the bus to & from work for 6 of them... every. single. time. I remember to look, it brings tears to my eyes. The sky and sea are never the same; it's always breathtaking and inspires a profound sense of being-in-the-moment.

The Hoh rain forest in Washington's Olympic Park. Incredible.

Doing something you've trained for a long time; something you love enough to have sweated and groand and been aggravated about. For me this was performing at music competitions and actually winning awards (the awards were secondary, though definitely an experience too; the performances themselves were the experience, likewise there were a couple of group performances I still remember for their poignancy). Others' suggestions of things like long cycling rides and marathons are similar – it's the hard preparation, done because you love it, building up to that wonderful, long moment of performance that makes it wonderful.
posted by fraula at 6:57 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are in good physical shape, riding a bicycle in the mountains is amazing. I remember fondly one foggy day that I rode in the Blue Ridge mountains and actually passed through a cloud. It was a little disorienting but the moisture was a relief too. An then... emerging above the cloud line and seeing the most clear scene. You could do it in car, but add the adrenaline of hauling yourself up the mountain and it was pure bliss.

That has been almost 10 years ago. Not sure if I'll ever have a climb quite like that again, but it keeps me trying.
posted by dgran at 7:04 AM on March 5, 2012

Ticker tape parade in NYC. I went for the 1994 Rangers Stanley Cup one. Was incredible!
posted by Stewriffic at 7:06 AM on March 5, 2012

Another one I just remembered: Swimming in an underground, yet partially open cenote in the Yucatan, MX.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:13 AM on March 5, 2012

Finally getting up the nerve to cut open a mysterious hatch in the ground and finding an old ABM site, perfectly preserved.

My stepfather coming out of his coma for a minute and giving me the only hug he ever gave me.

A flash of lightning revealing a tornado just a hundred yards from the highway.

Watching my boy stare at the sun immediately after his birth. (All that chaos, and he's more interested in the sun.)
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:21 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Riding through the city in the middle of the night with a bunch of other crazy cyclist. Best feeling ever.
posted by carmel at 7:29 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Doing a crazy WOD (workout of the day) with all your crossfit friends, finishing and not being able to move because you're so exhausted.

Finishing a WOD last and having everyone cheer you on at crossfit.

Competing/attending a crossfit competition.

Competing/attending a cyclocross race.
posted by carmel at 7:43 AM on March 5, 2012

The greatest experiences of life (my version):

- Falling in love
- Having that person fall in love with you
- Making a deep difference to that person
- Making a deep difference to anyone, even just someone you randomly encountered
- Doing a piece of work that you yourself know is awesome, using everything you've got

I'm not a parent, but from what I hear having a child is up there with falling in love for a lot of people.

Also, worst experience of life:

- Falling in love, and not having that person fall in love with you

As for things like being there for a great game or places to travel to, a lot of that is not about the thing itself but about what you bring to that experience and what it means to you.

For example I've known people who found flying on Concorde a wonderful, mind-blowing experience, and others for whom it was meh. And ditto for most any "unmissable" experience you might care to name.
posted by philipy at 9:05 AM on March 5, 2012

Having a child - even one not your own - say "I love you." I was a nanny and this never, ever got old. The first time especially was just pure MAGIC to know I'd earned that little person's trust and respect.

And yes, it's a cliché, but holding my son for the first time and singing "Happy Birthday" while looking into his goopy (from the eyedrops) eyes... just, pure magic. I'm told I was crying, but I don't even remember that.

Coming home after spending a year living abroad.

Completing something big and having your loved ones share it with you. For me this was an art show - I've done it twice and both times I was just so high on emotion during the openings that I forgot to eat my own cheese. And I really love cheese.
posted by sonika at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

from what I hear having a child is up there with falling in love for a lot of people.

I loved my son more than life itself from the moment he was born. I met him and I didn't think it was humanly possible to feel any more love than I did at that moment. I would have thrown myself in front of a thousand trains for him and I'd only known him for five minutes.

And I don't know how it's possible, but he's about to turn a year old and I love him so much more than I did then. Infinitely more. It wouldn't be humanly possible to have any more love. And yet... something tells me that a year from now, I will. It's completely beyond description.

Not to say that you need to have a child to feel that kind of love - a lot of people feel it for their partners or other family members. And don't get me wrong, I love my husband more and more every day. But it's just nothing like the visceral feeling I have for my son where I sometimes literally *ache* from just being head over heels for him.

Allowing yourself to be that vulnerable to another human being is something that yes, absolutely, should be experienced.
posted by sonika at 9:18 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having a child - even one not your own

I'm not a dad, but I am an uncle.

First time I fed my first baby niece some baby food gloop with a spoon almost brought tears to my eyes.
posted by philipy at 9:18 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of cynical, so maybe these feelings don't happen to me as much as others (camping under the stars was not so great for me and some things are "cool" but I don't get *the feeling*).

The only time I've *really* had the feeling was when I volunteered for Boston's Gay Pride Parade which was in the height of the gay marriage decisions. Being with hundreds of thousands of different people (gay, straight, young, old) all coming together for a common cause gave me that intense feeling.

Otherwise... on a lesser level:
maybe a couple of shows/concerts.
Or when I'm with my family and we all are laughing so hard over something that we can't breathe.
And when I went to NYC for the first time when I was 18.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:39 AM on March 5, 2012

Driving or riding in a car being driven at 10/10ths (racing) speed. It's better than a rollercoaster.

Good options to do this are racing/track driving schools, and the local autocross.
posted by colinshark at 10:26 AM on March 5, 2012

-NYC Gay Pride parade immediately after gay marriage was legalized in New York. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" playing at a thousand dB and solid dancing people for blocks and blocks... the joy was tangible. Also the streets in Boston right after Obama was elected.

-Reaching 16,000 feet elevation in eastern Tibet. At 5:30 AM. I am never going to forget what it felt like to reach the peak and suddenly see the sun so crisp and clear through the thin air.

-Every couple of weeks I'm suddenly bowled over by how much I love my husband and I feel like I have to sit down and take a few deep breaths. Then I have to run over and give him a hug.

-Biking really, really fast in the middle of the night. Downhill.

-Running hard and then jumping in to freezing 57 degree northern ocean.

-Eating really good food when you're extremely hungry. For example, eating nutella towards the end of an arduous hike is AMAZING.

-Snorkeling can be pretty amazing. I was totally awed by paddling around a coral reef.

-I wouldn't say this is "awesome" in the modern sense, but maybe "awesome" in the more archaic sense... but helping to save somebody's life. There have been a very small number of times in my life when my calm, steady, grounded presence was absolutely required, and somehow I managed to produce a calm, steady, grounded presence even though I was totally terrified. That really amazes me - it wasn't so much that I *did* it... it just kind of happened. A hidden human potential.

-Sitting by the ocean when a storm is happening, and letting yourself get pounded by spray and salt. It's incredibly loud, kind of scary, and totally awesome. Provided you don't actually put yourself in danger of getting swept away.

-Sailing in a very small boat so fast the boat starts to plane and shake. Amazing... but only awesome if you're in control of the boat.

-Sleeping outside in the middle of winter under a huge pile of blankets.

-Cross-country skiing through the woods in new snow, and getting warm enough that you can just wear a t-shirt in the cold air.
posted by Cygnet at 10:48 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of people have mentioned motorcycles and high speeds, but I say drive a convertible at or near the speed limit in the country on a warm, clear night with lots of stars and at least a partial moon. Works alone or with someone special. It's easy, relatively inexpensive, and anyone can do it. Rent a car and make it happen. Make and model of the car don't really matter, as long as the top goes down.

Also, do a night time manta ray snorkel tour out of Kona, Hawaii. It'll set you back about $90 (once you're actually in Kona) and it's life-changing. Anyone can also do this, though it might take a moment to conquer your fears. The second you see a ray, you'll forget about everything else.

Haven't done it yet, but watching grizzlies feeding on salmon close-up in Alaska is on my list.
posted by LowellLarson at 10:52 AM on March 5, 2012

Almost all of mine are musical in nature, now that I think about it:

-Going to the cathedral at Avignon, and hearing a medieval mass sung (by an awesome choir) that had been written for performance in that very cathedral hundreds of years ago.

-Participating in a mass choir version of Faure's Requiem. Especially that first phrase, having 120 people sing it subito piano.

-Being at a traditional singing session when one of those kinds of songs gets sung where everyone knows the chorus. 100 people making up harmonies on the spot, singing at full volume, and even slowing the tempo of the song down so they can savour every last note.

-Singing the Bach-Gounod version of Ave Maria for a friend getting married, accompanied by a string quartet playing the music pizzicato.
posted by LN at 10:53 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

-Playing the Mahler symphonies in a full orchestra. Also Night on Bald Mountain, The Pines of Rome, Beethoven 9, and quite a few others that are unusually thrilling to play.

-Playing the entire Schubert 2nd Piano Trio in E-flat with every ounce of passion I've got.

-Singing in the cathedral in Edinburgh with a full choir.

-Singing Bach chorales unaccompanied late at night in the dark in full harmony in the middle of summer.

-Sitting around giant bonfires. REALLY giant ones.

-Running around in torrential rain storms in the middle of summer when it's really hot.

-Sitting in a tree house while the trees sway in the wind.
posted by Cygnet at 11:08 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Knowing God through His word in the Bible.
posted by dracomarca at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

- "That U2 concert" being one of my moments is especially corny, but here's the thing: they close all their concerts with their song "40", and the whole audience sings along, and they did this thing where they each left the stage one by one and then left the lights out for a while for us in the audience to keep singing.

But just that song wasn't what did it. It was after the concert, as we were all filing out and there were 200 of us all crowded into the lobby of the stadium, and first one person started singing the chorus again and then a group next to them joined in and then the rest of us did and soon the entire lobby of the New Haven Collesium was singing in unison again and we kept it up for a good minute or so before it broke down; and then we were all filing out into the street, and some people head east to their cars and some head west and some crossed the street to the parking garage, and someone somewhere a couple blocks away started singing it again and then the crowd around them picked it up and it got louder and more people joined in and then for a good minute or so there was an entire five blocks of a New Haven, CT street where everyone on the street was all singing the same song together. I don't care what song it is, if you're part of a huge crowd that is all united in singing something all together spontaneously, it is awesome.

- Some moments in theater are especially "peak", when you know that you've somehow managed to catch lightning in a bottle. You don't even have to be the one on the stage doing it, even if you're tangentially involved it's a rush; I was the stage manager for a production of Hamlet once, and on one night, when our Queen Gertrude toasted Hamlet and unexpectedly drank from the poisoned chalice (it's a plot twist), I heard someone in the audience literally gasp in shock. The company lived off that one reaction for a week. Although, some of the technical bits I've had to do have been a rush as well; being able to time a complicated light cue just exactly right, say.

- Or being able to trouble-shoot a problem totally on the seat of your pants and have it not only work, but work seamlessly. The first show I ever did, we lost an entire bank of lights halfway through act 2 because of a freak electrical short, and the lighting guy and I spent the next ten minutes completely re-designing the lights for the show to make up for it, while the show was still going on. Not a single person noticed anything was amiss, and we were walking around for the next three days with huge smug smiles; we never said anything to anyone about it, we just kept grinning at each other like, "yep, that was bad-ass."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to nth "stars" and "sunrises/sunsets."

The most memorable combination of the two was this: I was living in Bozeman, Montana. My boss had the company holiday party at his gorgeous house on the foothills of the Bridger Mountains. We went tobogganing down the private road leading to his house. There was very little light pollution, the sky was perfectly clear, and the stars were amazing. There was a meteor shower that words could never do justice to.

A coworker asked if I wanted to go tobogganing down the road with him. This was the traditional kind of toboggan with metal rails. I was 100 lbs, he was about 200. So 300 lbs goes flying down the snowpacked road on metal with barely any steering (there was a curve). We miss the curve entirely, hit a snowbank and (from other peoples' reports) I go airborne. I hit my head on a rock and passed out. My coworkers rushed to my aid in a Chevy Suburban and drove me back to the house. It's incredible how much your head can bleed. We probably went through five towels, and it hadn't stopped. They wisely decided to take me to the hospital, and it required 8 stitches. Holy mother of god, it hurt.

I lived alone at the time, and with the risk of concussion, they needed someone to watch me. So I stayed at my boss's house. Sleeping was pretty much out of the question, so about 6 am I got out of bed and went into their living room. They had floor to ceiling windows that faced southeast. I watched the best sunrise I'd ever seen slowly climb over the mountains, illuminating the town with orange-pink rays. I lived in a basement apartment at the time and had never seen such a thing.

It was almost worth the stitches, although I've never been tobogganing since.
posted by desjardins at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

Experiencing a really good live music performance. Also, singing with a large group of people.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ball pit. That is all.
posted by scblackman at 12:40 PM on March 5, 2012

Best answer: Mine are mostly natural-world things:

- Unplanned wildlife encounters. Whenever I see, in the wild, a creature of a kind I've never seen before, it's utterly thrilling. But it's hardly any less thrilling the next time I see one, or the next... it takes me a really long time to become blasé about wildlife.

- Planned wildlife encounters. Seeing a sperm whale surface, open its eye and look at me was indescribably moving; I was on a whale-watching tour and it was absolutely to be expected, but even so. Similarly, seeing dolphins, watching little blue penguins coming in from the sea, spotting koalas high up in the trees... unforgettable.

- Snorkelling, as per jbenben.

- Rainbows, sunrises, sunsets, and those astonishing light conditions you sometimes get just before or after a storm. Moments so beautiful I can't put it into words.

- Shooting stars, seen from the depths of the countryside... when I hadn't even known there were meteor showers expected.

- Getting to the top of Mount Takao near Tokyo, at the height of the autumn, with the trees a jaw-dropping blaze of colour, and seeing a picture-perfect hazy view of Fuji, rather like this one.

- Actually, any time you get to see Fuji, it's awesome.

And a few human ones:

- That moment when you realise you've really learnt something well enough that you can use it; for me, it feels like magic. Decoding an advert on a Japanese train! Giving someone directions in a foreign language, and being understood! Recognising a bird from its song alone!

- Seeing a famous landmark or artwork with your own two eyes after a lifetime of seeing it in photos.

- Speaking of art... for me, experiencing any of James Turrell's light installations definitely fits your criteria.

- And I'm with SisterHavana on the "This book! I've been looking for this book for YEARS!" thing.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:03 PM on March 5, 2012

When I was a kid, I grew up inland, with the Great Lakes being the closest large body of water. When I saw pictures of the Carribbean and Mediterranean, I assumed they were painted; water wasn't blue like that. Seeing clear/blue water as an adult? Win.

Burningman, on the Esplanade Wednesday night or so? Outstanding.

Motorcycles at any speed on a 80F day? Most excellent.
posted by talldean at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2012

- Biking up a HARD trail to a turquoise-colored alpine lake in the mountains (Montana again)

- Hiking in Yellowstone, rounding a corner and coming across a small herd of elk on the trail. There was no other way back to the car, so I had to scramble down a hillside to make it past them. It was awesome and scary being so close to these huge animals.
posted by desjardins at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2012

Go to a slot canyon! Seriously magical.
posted by rosa at 4:37 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time; pictures can't capture it.

Reading a beloved book for the second or third time and suddenly seeing connections and complexity you didn't notice on first reading.

One nightfall, one particular summer, when the meadow in front of my rural house was glowing with the light of thousands of fireflies. I never saw as many before or since.

The "aha" moment when an intellectual issue I've been wrestling with for a long time is suddenly resolved, and I know I'll never be able to go back to my old way of looking at the problem again.
posted by apartment dweller at 6:37 PM on March 5, 2012

Acid or mushrooms
posted by AceRock at 7:25 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two that you can't plan for, but I found awesome in a crap-your-pants - oh-wow! way: Experiencing a major earthquake, having lightning strike ~100m away.

Some thing you CAN do: Sitting in a 40 degree C hot spring while it's snowing.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:32 PM on March 5, 2012

Best answer: Swimming with (non singing!) jellyfish. Early morning in Ankor Wat. Watching bats fly around at dusk from a rooftop near the Taj Mahal. Dusk in a train in a tropical country, doors and windows open. Sitting under arbutus trees watching the ocean, South West Canada. Driving over a deserted beach in Northern Queensland Australia. Looking at Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and figuring out how the paint went on. Sleeping on the beach in Crete (bonus if you can time it for butterfly mating season). Walking around the crater of a still puffing volcano. Taking an outdoor shower on a super hot day. Really looking at the colour of arctic ice.
posted by Cuke at 8:27 PM on March 5, 2012

It's hot where I am and probably cold where you are but this is a totally free, I-can't-explain-why-it's-so-good, two minutes of awesome:

Get out of a cool shower. Pat yourself semi-dry. Lie on your bed naked. Get your partner to grab the bottom corners of your bed-sheet and fling the sheet high into the air as though making the bed, and let it slowly fall and settle down over you. IT FEELS UNREAL!

Also. Lie outside on the ground on a night when there are lots of stars out. Alter your mental orientation to the ground by imagining that you are not lying ON the ground, but are instead being gripped by gravity ABOVE the sky. The stars are arranged below you - guaranteed to make you feel like a Supreme Being.

Also, drink a glass of water whilst peeing. It is one of those weird zen experiences that brings you into a new relationship with your body for the minute or so of peeing.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:27 PM on March 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your awesome ideas! I'm still reading through them all (I had no idea it'd get such a great response). Judging by the number of answers and favorites, this could be a great resource to look back on for years to come. Thanks again and please feel free to continue adding to the collection! :)
posted by Kippersoft at 8:51 PM on March 5, 2012

I FORGOT ONE. Skinny dipping with your friends in the ocean. You'll never feel closer to your friends, your body, or nature. But I won't say how I know.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:28 PM on March 5, 2012

Fully understanding a joke made in a language that is not your native one. That's one of those that you notice afterward, though, rather than at the time.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:32 PM on March 5, 2012

Camping in Joshua Tree in the winter: Freezing nights and crystal clear stars, hot and clear days.

Rock Climbing in Tonsai, Thailand: The feeling of completing something so physically and mentally difficult is by far the most memorable experience so far in my life. It felt like a pure meld of physical and mental powers.

Star Gazing in the countryside. Seeing the milky way outside a city for the first time. Absolutely breathtaking.
posted by ruhroh at 10:49 PM on March 5, 2012

A couple more:

-Seeing Niagara Falls. I went there on a day trip while on vacation in Toronto. I'd seen photos, but they were so much more spectacular than I expected when I saw them in person.

-Attending a major event that you helped put together. I was on the committee for my 20 year high school reunion last year. We pulled it off - start to finish - in less than 6 months. We had a great turnout (about half the people who were there hadn't been to the 10 year reunion!) and classmates kept coming up to those of us who were on the committee to compliment us. It was such a great feeling knowing that I helped make it happen. (A bonus: most of the other members of the committee were not people I had been close to in high school, but we worked so well together planning this.)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:51 PM on March 5, 2012

For me, the best experience of my life has been walking around Paris alone, retracing the steps of literary giants.

And yes, I think it had to be alone; I always feel more able to absorb experiences when I don't feel obligated to verbalize my thoughts and point things out to someone standing next to me or negotiating where to go next. Maybe that's because I haven't found the right person, though, I dunno.
posted by shipsthatburn at 1:35 AM on March 6, 2012

Driving at 100 miles per hour for the first time. Looking down at the speedo - I'm an Aussie, so we usually do 100 km an hour between towns/cities - in a US-built car and watching the speedo hit 100 miles per hour was awesome. (No, officer, I certainly did not do that.)

I envy you, Kippersoft. You have all this ahead of you. Go forth, kick arse and take names, and have some spectacular experiences. Life is too short, so make the most of what you have, and it seems like you have the drive to do it.

And feel free to put it on Youtube so the rest of us can live vicariously.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:05 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have a friend with a motorcycle and some zen/ego-free riding skills you trust: get on the back with some headphones crammed in your ears [inside your helmet, obviously], cue up some loud opera and hang on tight during a curvy country ride. I did this last Saturday - saw kangaroos and forests, smelled country air, felt the vibrations of a Triumph S3 under me, listening to opera at full tilt. All without having to be in charge of the bike - just leaning into the curves and feeling great [I have a strict no headphones policy for riding, so it's a pillion luxury for me].

If you go to Joshua Tree - good advice above - take a camera and a tripod and leave the shutter open all night when there's a good meteor shower. Apart from having the insanely good experience of watching a meteor shower, the photographs turn out amaaaazing.

Also, if you get an opportunity to go to a Bon Iver concert - do that. It's a spiritual experience listening to Justin Vernon sing and his band play. Wow.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:11 AM on March 6, 2012

If you know anything about your family's geneology -- visiting one of the Key Places from their past (i.e., the village your grandfather was born in, the house your great-grandmother sold, etc). Or as close to that as you can get (I have no idea where my Irish ancestor came from specifically, but I do know he came over during the Famine, and visiting the Famine Memorial in Kinsale seriously gave me a Jungian collective unconscious race-memory moment).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 AM on March 6, 2012

I feel this at least once almost every time I'm whitewater kayaking.
posted by SampleSize at 8:35 AM on March 6, 2012

Most of these are positive experiences, and that's great.

But I think negative emotions are just as essential to the human experience. Think about all the great poetry, literature, and art that comes from grief and pain. It isn't a good story if the protagonist always wins; they have to learn the lessons that only failure can bring, before they succeed. By experiencing the lows, that makes the highs seem so much higher.

Things like falling in love and being rejected. Being in love, and having your heart broken. Helping others, and sharing their grief, when something really bad happens. Losing the close game. Escaping a horrible job. Being turned down from your dream job.

You have to get out there and push your boundaries, and the only way to know you are doing that is to occasionally fall on your face. Without that, you'll never know what it's like get up and keep going, to overcome adversity, to keep trying until you succeed.
posted by I am the Walrus at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have travelled a lot and been all over the world, but the first time I saw the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal I was quite literally overcome. YMMV though.
posted by inbetweener at 5:00 PM on March 6, 2012

Best answer: I went cage diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. It was the first time I looked eye to eye with a predator which was higher on the food chain than I, at least in an ancient fashion. That is to say, I felt like I was being looked at and considered as food, for perhaps the first time.

I reached out and touched one as it swam by. That.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:30 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personal highs (two of which I mentioned in the Best travel experiences of your life? question)

* Kayaking with whales, and having one arc its tail near/above you, realizing it's below you (Glacier Bay, Alaska)

* Climbing Huayna Picchu to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu, then wandering the ruins in (near) solitude (Peru).
* Hiking to the top of a mountain, and seeing a pristene landscape spread out, with no sounds but the wind and birds. The steeper the mountain the better.

* Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) at sunrise, which will require you to arrange to get into the park before it officially opens. It may require bribing someone, or just knowing who to ask, I'm not sure. Our tour guy set it up, I think. Again, you're alone in this misty forest, and then the ground opens up with the falls in front of you. Awesome.

* The anticipation in the morning for a big warm-weather festival, and being at the festival grounds in the evening. For me, certain balmy mornings have a feeling of "Coachella weather," and remind me of getting ready for a day of music and people. By the end of the day, the peak heat has passed, and the evening is balmy. Skipping at high speeds in the grass, dodging clumps of people, while music booms in the background is fantastic.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:10 PM on March 7, 2012

One thing I haven't seen mentioned much: being part of building something larger than yourself. I've had this experience in a couple of different ways:

* Professionally: I'm a scientist, and I've been privileged to be part of a couple experiments where after weeks or months of work you get a result, or you analyze some data, and you put up a graph on the screen and you realize that this project you've put so much work into and that maybe you weren't sure was ever going to bear fruit, just works. It's best when it's something where the result isn't obvious until you've done a lot of data analysis and then after all that work, you can tell at a glance that it's successful. When it doesn't work it can be crushing (although more often it just means you go back to work) but when it works it's an awesome experience. The last time I had this experience it kept me giddy for a day or two.

* A similar, but slightly distinct experience is knowing that you've just discovered something new that no one else has seen before.

* Artistically, I spent a year a few years ago working on two big art projects for Burning Man. One was a 20' diameter circle that would pulse flames in times to people's heartbeats. We spent months working on it and when we finally set it up for the first time it felt so good to see it work (I think in the video you can hear us laughing and congratulating each other).

* Finally, it's kind of cliche, but I had some unforgettable experiences at Burning Man.
posted by pombe at 5:30 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some might consider this a negative thing, but I get a kick out of it:

Pick any of the visual experiences outlined above, couple it with internet/cell access and being able to share it with hundreds of your "closest" friends instantly via social media. Extra points when experiencing "it" alone and in an area where you can't believe you have even a single bar of cell reception. Something about the absolute solitude of experiencing "X" in a remote location and with the click of a button being able to share with so many others.
posted by teg4rvn at 8:29 AM on March 8, 2012

Back when I lived in NYC I would visit friends out in Brooklyn and stay out very late. Riding my bicycle back home to Harlem at 3 or 4 am through an empty midtown was really magical.
posted by splatta at 6:13 PM on March 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

Where I grew up, you generally had to drive up into the mountains to the ski fields if you wanted to encounter snow. When I was a teenager I did an Outward Bound course, and one of the things we did was a hike that involved going over/around three (smallish) mountains. On the last one, we were about as tired and cranky as you would expect, and right at the point where most of us were so exhausted we were about ready to sit down and let someone else figure out how to solve the problem of getting a bunch of stubborn teenagers down off that mountain, we realised there were tiny flakes of snow falling on us. There was a sense of accomplishment that we'd climbed so high we'd reached snow, but mostly it was the complete unexpectedness of it. Suddenly we'd all found some extra energy and all started scrambling higher trying to get to more snow so that we could play in it. It was beautiful white snow, too, not like the gross sludge up around the ski fields.
posted by lwb at 10:40 PM on March 8, 2012

[What a great thread!]

I had my first real moment like this as a teacher only last week, 11 years into my teaching career. My year 8 students were discussing their family history, and midway through their group discussions I came to the realisation that a large portion of them were the offspring of boat people who arrived from Vietnam in the 1970s to Australia. It was such a strong moment for me, because after the class I pictured these students and their bubbly, intelligent, curious personalities and related it to Australia's current dominant fear of boat people arriving on our shores - and it was the realisation that today we wouldn't treat their parents or grandparents with such tolerance, or that we wouldn't give kids like these an opportunity to grow here, blew my mind. I've never had such a powerful reaction or inspiring thoughts about students my entire career.

Other moments:
Camping with my boyfriend on the side of the road in farming country outside Girraween National Park in Queensland, in the middle of winter, valiantly having a fire and getting drunk while it rained and threatened to snow on us in sub-0 temps. That, and the fact that we scared the hell out of ourselves when we thought we were going to be attacked by axe murderers when a car pulled up on the other side of the road and people got out.

Walking through the streets of Munich after taking my 70-year-old mum to have a beer at Oktoberfest. I hated beer, and so mum had drunk 1 1/2 steins. She was tipsy and giddy and having the time of her life. In fact, a lot of experiences on that trip had that effect on me: taking my mum to Europe to places she'd only dreamed of ever going was quite thrilling - she had a kid's sense of wonderment.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who had this feeling on visiting NYC for the first time!

Driving on a really good series of twisty bends in my little sporty car - just how the car flows, feels, how you're more conscious of the road and how your car responds, and the joy of having finished the series of bends without encountering a slow-as driver in front of you at the next corner.

Getting (deliberately) caught in the middle of a thunderstorm at the top of a mountain. I was at a picnic spot one lovely afternoon when I realised that a storm was coming in. My friend and I decided to drive to the top of the mountain we were on, and the thrill of driving up the hill while the lightning crackled under us was pretty special. When we got to the lookout, everyone was dashing to their cars and getting knocked over by the wind, but we stuck it out and rode the thunderstorm out in the tiny little shelter.

Seeing the Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Station seems odd, but I nearly cried when I saw it. The way they set up the exhibit is they re-tell the story of the moon landing first, and then let you enter the Saturn V enclosure from the rear, so your first view of the rocket is the oversized burners at its base. It was an overwhelming sight for me. Seeing the gargoyles of Notre Dame created a similar reaction.

Sitting in a hot tub by myself in Truth or Consequences, NM, overlooking the Rio Grande at sunset.

Hearing a DJ at a music festival start playing Faithless's "Insomnia", and watching around 1000 people turn their heads and rush for that DJ's tent, and the collective joy contained inside that tent for that one song. (Admittedly, I've never had the luck to see Faithless live).

The Chemical Brothers live. I've seen them 3 times, and each time I get that same overwhelming reaction.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:01 PM on March 9, 2012

Sitting on the ground in a dirt parking lot in the middle of the woods in northern ontario, kilometers away from electricity or civilization, near the end of an exhausting week-long women's ceremony and retreat (lots of praying, talking circles, insights, crying, hiking, hugging, laughing, and sweat lodges), at night. Looking up at the millions of stars you never knew existed and being completely open, empty of words or plans or expectations. Suddenly seeing one shooting star, then another, as a meteor shower that you weren't expecting begins. Being so overfull of loving gratitude- a gratitude that so far transcends the idea of gratitude that to call it by a name is absurd, because you're not thinking in names or words, you're not thinking at all, you're just accepting- that everything reverberates through your consciousness without being held, and this affects you more deeply than anything you've ever tried to hold. Knowing that there is Something greater and more enormous and powerful than you can ever comprehend, and knowing without a doubt that it loves you utterly and entirely, and unconditionally. And a small part of you realising how utterly absurd it is to have your revelation, your "spiritual awakening", sitting on the ground in a parking lot, and that making it even better.
posted by windykites at 8:28 AM on December 25, 2012

I was doing a road trip from Death Valley to Yosemite one time.

Theres a line from the movie the 25th Hour (circa 2002):

"Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothin' at all for miles around. Nothin' but sand and rocks and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul in sight. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honkin' atcha. No madmen cursin' or pissin' in the streets. You find the silence out there, you find the peace. You can find God."

So, about midway from driving from Death Valley to Yosemite, we pulled off the car in the middle of nowhere in the desert, got out and just walked around a bit. I have never experience the silence as I have in the desert. It's amazing and I recommend it and found the movie quote to be very true.
posted by amazingstill at 11:25 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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