by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

One of my favorite words, especially in the context of moments in time, is the word “encounter”.

Encounter, noun

– A meeting, especially one that is unexpected or brief

– A hostile confrontation; clash

Encounter, verb

– To meet, especially unexpectedly

– To confront in battle

From the Latin, incontrare, meet with

When I read the dictionary definitions I was a bit surprised by the definition that has a negative connotation. My focus is on the positive aspects of encounters.

An “encounter” is definitely a kind of moment in time and its distinctiveness is, in part, that it involves a “meet with unexpectedly or briefly” quality. For me an encounter is an interaction between me and something, whether it’s something I observe in the environment when I’m sitting in nature, or an idea that I come across and begin to think about, or a word that I encounter in a book or hear on TV that catches my attention which then piques my curiosity.

As I was pondering the word encounter in mid October, I started three lists having to do with the encounters I have with people, places and things. I left the “People” list blank because it would be so long if I included everyone I encounter in an average day. The other two lists, which are just a start, include the following examples right now:

Places that I encounter

– Any place or any moment in nature can become an encounter

– Turning a corner, or driving up and over a really steep hill, or floating along a curving river and around a bend, or walking on a thickly forested path and going around a bend… and in each case encountering a new view, a vista perhaps, and sometimes an unexpected breath-taking scene.

– Or, simply, a brief moment in a place, that, if approached with mindfulness and awareness and appreciation becomes quietly awe-inspiring.

Things that I encounter

– Ideas

– Words

– Connections between things

– “Sacred Moments” – brief and usually unexpected and always somehow awe-inspiring. These are usually moments that become sacred for some reason because of my awareness and because of my intentional interaction with the “thing” I have encountered. I usually feel a bit changed after such a moment.

Of course I have encounters with people, many (or most?) of them not so unexpected, but some ARE more unexpected because they are spontaneous and unplanned.

An unplanned encounter doesn’t have to be unintentional, however, lacking in any purpose or intentionality. It seems important to me to try to move though my day with a high enough level of awareness that “chance encounters” with people become intentional, if sometimes casual and informal, relationship-building moments. It’s all too easy for me to become focused on and engrossed in the encounters I have with words, ideas, and moments in nature. I have to pull myself out of my head sometimes to be more aware of the encounters I have with people!

So, many of the moments that end up inspiring me in some way and that cause me to reach for my dictionary could be described as encounters. The words that I connect to an experience in time might be my outward focus, as I reflect on, process and explore what I have observed or participated in. But the encounter is that moment, the moment when I realize something interesting is happening and that I am a part of it.