5 years ago today was one of the most momentous days in my life... I had never ventured off alone, and yet here I was 6 days into my first solo #journeyman👣 trip.
I sat at an intersection in Utah with 2 options, turn left and head home to LA, still only a relatively short drive away. OR turn right and venture on to Yellowstone, 12 hours further from everything I knew.
Turn left to safety, my bed, shower, pooch, and man... to comfort.
Turn right to be... truly alone.
It was a physical and emotional crossroads. Indecisive 2015 me had to pull the car over to think/cry it out more.
I’m still a big ole mess of course, but 2020 me wouldn’t have wavered. 2020 me would have been confident in my ability to be by myself. 2020 me knows that I continued on that trip and saw/did some of the most awe-inspiring things of my life--things have carried me to who I am today. 2020 me would not have blinked at that intersection.
But the only reason 2020 me knows what he knows is because of crossroads like this. Without the struggle and ultimate decision to turn away from my comfort zone, I would never truly know what comfort is. Without letting go of my dependency, I never would have known how to take the reigns of my own destiny.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life, but I do love looking back at moments like this. Times when I could have caved, layed down, given up. But instead, I turned right, tearfully coasting off into my future, looking back now only to marvel.
This area in Sequoia National Park used to be blanketed in development: cars, a gas station, grocery store, parking lots, a multi-building historic lodge. Now most of that is gone, demolished, cleared out. The park service rewilded it, for the sake of the sequoias and the whole ecosystem that depends on them.
You could think of mindfulness and living in the now as a rebuke of dwelling on what happened way back when, but the present is not ignorant of the past. You can let the yesterday overwhelm you so you’re paralyzed today, or you can use the past to inform your present and future.
Like the sequoia grove of this Giant Forest, we can never fully undo the damage and trauma of our past, but we make a choice to learn from it as we charge into a better future.
The path ahead looks treacherous.
The trees above insanely immense.
There’s no end in either sight.
But there must be an end, right?
A present ruled by an unknown fear,
An opaque future, never quite near.
And yet, we all move forward.
Skipping gayley toward.
Sometimes light hits the right step.
Next a stumble in a black abyss.
Move because of ego.
Move because you can’t let go.
Move because of true confidence.
Movement masquerades as cowardice.
Move since we don’t know any better.
Just another shark in the water.
Exhausted from swimming, terrified to stop.
Push and persevere, squinting at the tree top.
One day we’ll get there and find clarity.
Or at least that’s what I keep saying to me.
All these people on earth, all from different places and communities and educations and experiences, all in our own unique grey area.
Social media encourages a lot of knee-jerk reactions to any number of things, which in and of itself is dangerous because ideas and opinions, like everything else, change over time.
But what I think is even worse, is the knee-jerk reaction to someone else’s knee-jerk reaction. And then the knee-jerk argument that ensues. I’m thinking of the recent events in Paris at Notre Dame, many people’s initial reaction towards it, and then any number of critiques as to why that that reaction is lacking, or self-serving, or not woke enough.
The fact is, no one is correct. You’re not correct and neither am I. We are all just reacting to what happens in the world through our own prism, our life’s story, the series of personal events that have taught us how to understand and process the world.
My truth is different than yours. We can discuss our individual truths in a respectful way so that all of our truths begin to expand--shading in the grey--or we can discount other’s truths and shut the conversation down entirely.
This is why I like photography. Pictures are broad, they sit in the grey areas of life that are left up for each of us to view and interpret based on our own eyes--our background and experiences. No one understands any issue or event the same way, because we all understand the world differently. So by posting a picture I don't tell you what to see, you see it for yourself.
Yet conversations on places like Facebook and Twitter push us to ignore all that. There is no acknowledgement that the tribalistic “for us or against us” mindset is a human construct we use to simplify the world, or oversimplify, because the complex reality takes too much time to process. And so we forget that it's not all black or white, we ignore the 7.5 billion shades of grey all around us.
There is definitely right and wrong--I’m talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, eurocentrism, and anything society teaches us to segregate and take advantage. That is ingrained in all of us, no matter how woke. I can see eurocentrism is and has been violent and cruel, I also see the ways in which I benefit from it as a white man, and then I can see the ways in which that same historically heteronormative culture has bludgeoned my community as well, and on ALL fronts I work to educate myself and change my mindset. That process isn’t black and white for me or anyone else, it’s part of the grey, and it only gets clearer when we blend our individual backgrounds of pain and prejudice with dialog and love.
All 7.5 billion people on earth, all from different places and communities and educations and experiences, all in our own unique grey area. When we spend time honestly talking and, most importantly, listening to each other, instead of leaving all communication up to quick-take reactions, that's when all those differences disappear.
I have many opinions on the issues of the day, but I typically spend a lot of time thinking through them (and yours) before I say anything about them. None of them are black and white, they're always grey.
They happen whether we avoid them or not, and they happen to be much more arduous because of that very avoidance.
A wildfire is a lot like a tumultuous life event, metaphorically speaking.
We do everything we can to prevent them, even coming up with catchy bumper sticker affirmations as a reminder. All of that avoidance eventually catches up with us though. Fueled by the false sense of safety and the series of particular conditions or revelations, our overgrown and arid personal landscape becomes increasingly vulnerable to explode into a raging furnace.
But here’s the thing, both wildfires and personal trauma are natural occurrences. They both happen whether we avoid them or not, and they happen to be much more arduous because of that very avoidance.
Fire and difficult situations aren’t all bad. Sure they often cause destruction in their wake, and that can be devastating, but they also clear the way for renewal. In the charred remains of a hillside, or maybe a relationship, space is cleared for growth, ash brings nutrients for renewal, seeds are released spurring rebirth.
California has been ravaged by wildfires recently, sadly. Years of avoidance allowed our mountains to grow wild and over-development pushed communities into mountains that regularly burn. Couple that with drought and increasingly wild weather from climate change, and you end up littering the state with match sticks.
Maybe you’ve gone through a relationship trauma recently, sadly. It could come from numerous causes, but far too often things like avoidance and neglect and over-dependence are the main culprits. Instead of communicating regularly to burn out the bramble, we allow silent issues to fester, until they explode. By then it may be too late, you have to walk through the fire and you will get burned.
Since the fire is going to come either way, both the wildfire and the emotional fire, the trick is to figure out a way to manage instead of prevent it. To get ahead of the spark so it never flames to the point of inferno. To be prepared for both the difficulty and renewal it brings.
We all would love to find calmness in our personal world. The more we learn to accept and work with the fire, the less fire we’ll encounter, the more peace we create, and really that’s the goal of it all, the goal of life itself.
A lot of us could use some therapy, but ALL of us could use a lot more nature.
So many of us live a hustled, breakneck, claustrophobic life in our cities and suburbs. We keep tight schedules, update our newsfeeds, take on loans, sit in traffic, breathe dirty air, update newsfeeds again, text friends, second-guess their response, update newsfeeds once more. We’ve been doing all this for so long that the accompanying stress becomes an expectation. The road rage, the FOMO, the worry, the doubt, the regret, all just another appointment on the presumed schedule of daily life.
It’s a knot of our own creation, that we then go and pay a therapist to detangle it.
Now don’t get me wrong, therapy is a worthy endeavor. I can say with certainty that all of us could benefit from a few conversations with such an unbiased observer — talking with friends (or to yourself) can only get you so far.
But if all we rely on is therapy, or self-help books, or this blog, we’re still ignoring the elephant in the room, which is the society that drives us insane in the first place.
Nature literally, physiologically, makes us feel better. Science says so. The question to answer then is: why?
It brings us back to our roots. It strips off all the modern complications disguised as conveniences. It gives us a moment of conscientious clarity. It allows space for silence in an increasingly deafening world. It is a momentary portal into a dimension of empathy that preexists within ourselves. It creates a kind of temporary dementia, where we forget about future mental traffic for a minute so we can do nothing but revel in the present peace.
Those are my own answers, your’s may be completely different, but either way we know nature gives us more than just a pretty Instagram photo — it gives us life.
“May your search through nature lead you to yourself” isn’t profound because nature suddenly answers all our questions, it’s profound because it reminds us we already know them.
May I suggest that nature will uncover those inner truths whether you like it or not. May I also suggest that that’s a beautiful thing.
Nature is my kind of therapy.
I’m a gay liberal, you might be a straight conservative, and most everyone is actually somewhere in between. Nature can bring us all together.
When I’m out in the woods by myself I have a lot of time to think… about how sore I’m going to be tomorrow, about how I miss my dog, about those pesky gnats, and always eventually about mindfulness and the peace I find in the unavoidable now of nature.
I end up thinking big thoughts too, and lately I can’t help but think about the the ballooning divisions in our society.
The community of nature is so welcoming, whether it be your fellow trail hikers and campers, or the easy-to-anthropomorphize community of wildlife that’s out there with you. But the communities where we all normally live — these cities and towns and sub-developments and this nation as whole — they’re not so happy-go-lucky these days. One quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter and the division is gaping. One little stroll down a street in diversifying neighborhood, and the canyon sinks deeper. Last year’s presidential election dangerously widened the fracture.
These are some of my communities: I’m a human, an American, a Californian, and a Los Angeleno. I like yoga, whisky, dogs, music, camping, and hiking. I am a politically liberal white man, one who grew up lower income but now comes from some fiscal privilege, though I know by being a white man I’ve had privilege the whole way. Oh, and I’m also gay.
The community of liberal, city-dwelling, yoga-bending, music-singing gays is a prevalent one (we’ve had our own sitcom!), so I’m well aware of the stereotype that presume we aren’t interested in the outdoors, camping, or generally anything dirty. We like fashion, brunch, and Lady Gaga, right? I guess I do like brunch, so that’s 1 out of 3 for me. That’s the thing about stereotypes, they may be true for some, but they’re also complete bullshit for others.
No community is ubiquitous. We are not one thing or the other, we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things. The divisions between different communities are almost as numerous as the divisions within a community.
So what is it about this community of the woods that draws me away from the one I call home?
In nature I see a place where a whole array of people from different enclaves, experiences, ethnicities, and educations come together to trek through our common ground. It’s a place where everyone, from hippies to hikers to hunters, finds happiness. It’s a place where nothing belongs to any one of us, because it belongs to all of us. It’s a place of acceptance, where the stereotypes and expectations hold less importance. It’s a place where we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things.
When I travel alone, far outside my normal community safety net, I feel more secure than ever. The community of nature is a bond beyond — a visceral, natural, native bond, that transcends modern political and ideological boundaries.
Not every community has had a chance to experience nature as I have, specifically people of color. I consider that another point of my own privilege and it’s something we need to change. But in those public lands, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how often you’ve been there, it still belongs to you.
That mountain, this forest, those streams we explore, they sand off the rough edges of our differences. They’re inherently a part of us, we’re a part of them, and that makes us all part of the same thing — mankind.
I’m a gay man. That’s one slice of my own personally pieced together community. It’s a community fraught with as many internal struggles as any, but by and large it is one of acceptance and free expression. Those who came before me fought hard to create it, and that fight allows me the freedom to expand outside its boundaries. I am exceptionally proud of my community.
But I am a gay man who also loves the mountains, so I have more than one community to tend to. Maybe we all do. Maybe it’s through the interaction and intersection of those communities that we start to come together as a nation and as a society. Maybe, nature is the great equalizer that helps us get there.
Our society desperately needs to tear down the walls of separation that some continually seek to build. Nature and our public lands are like wrecking balls, ready to demolish that which would divide us up, giving us the space to put common courtesy and kindness back together in its place. Because in the wilderness we are all family.
How do you create mindfulness when there are so many terrible things going on in the world?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot over the last few months, or really for as long as I can remember.
Its a difficult question to answer, because lately it seems America’s collective calm has gone off the rails. But here’s one attempt. How do we flip the script and turn the somewhat self-indulgent game of mindfulness into a force for good? By becoming mindful activists.
In our society’s competition to survive and thrive, we’ve partitioned ourselves into different cultures, races, religions, orientations, genders, and classes. Most people celebrate that diversity, learn from our differences, and mark it as one of our great strengths. Other people (sadly) use those divisions to judge, profile, hate, fight, and kill.
This has been happening for centuries, but right now it feels like a fever pitch.
The list terrible acts of callousness and ignorance is so long I feel like I don’t even need to get into it. For the sake of making this post timelessly relevant, I won’t, except to point out the obvious: the current leader of the United States seems to have no interest in peace, or kindness, or mindfulness, and most of the time actively incites the opposite. That fact is relevant, presently and historically.
The digital age and social media only amplifies this conflict. In the past our information was limited to the local paper and the nightly news. Today we can turn on any number of screens to find disturbing videos, tweets, articles, tweets, opinions, comment arguments, mooooorrree tweets, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Information can be a powerful catalyst for advancement in a society, but it can also quickly become overwhelming and confusing, especially when that information is tragic, especially when biased sources replace fact with opinion.
.All this mayhem may encourage you to tune out, but that’s the exact opposite of what you should do.
I propose we get more involved, using some core mindfulness principles to become clear-eyed advocates for progress.
People have this impression that the practice of mindfulness is selfish one; self-indulgent, navel-gazing, me-time used to meditate and process our emotions into mellow, melty, American cheese squares. OK a few Buddhist monks just keeled over, but seriously, that’s the impression. Figuring out your emotions and life path is always a worthy endeavor, but if we look a little deeper we’ll find that’s only one way to use this philosophy.
We use mindfulness to seek more internal clarity, so what if we also used it to see through the fog of a tumultuous world? We use mindfulness to find personal purpose, so what if we also found a global and community purpose? We use mindfulness to find peace in the present moment of our personal lives, what if that isn’t all that different from finding peace in the swirling present moment of the world at large.
That is, instead of bemoaning this morning’s terribly tweeted tragedy, we stop dwelling on it for another 24 hour news cycle and instead get up right now in the present to organize and fight back.
When we start applying mindfulness to the big picture, we come to realize that completely disconnecting from reality, whatever your reality, is an act of willful ignorance. But getting directly involved, in the moment, in the present, rechannels those negative emotions toward a positive impact.
Make America Kind Again.I’m no expert, I’m just a journeyman learning and doing my best to use the ancient tool of mindfulness to find some sanity in this modern complex world. What I’ve come to learn in my own journey is that that you don’t overcome negativity by pretending it doesn’t exist, you overcome by observing it, learning from it, challenging it, and then changing it.
It’s a fact, terrible things exist. Violence exists. Hatred and callousness exist. Murder and mayhem and atrocities all exist… we’re seeing it all over our newsfeeds, as we speak. But through mindfulness you begin to see you have a choice:
When you do that, your personal mindfulness practice grows into mindful activism. You find hope in our collective outrage. You see progress by creating it. You translate personal peace into a more peaceful world.
It happens with each of us — one smile, one conversation, one click to educate yourself, one tweet (I guess), one act of kindness, one acknowledgement of privilege, one call to your representative, one hour improving your community, one hour getting to know a different community — one moment at a time.
Then repeat those moments over and over again until they become your personal norm. Repeat them with others until it’s a community norm. Repeat them with community until it’s a societal norm.
Honestly, we’re never going to get rid of all the hatred in the world. There is no kumbaya. That’s a sad reality if you choose to dwell on it. But by getting involved to create more understanding and love, not just inside you but all around you, we can at least push things in a better direction, in the direction of kindness. That is an act that uplifts us all.
The collective power of those who care is stronger than the power of those who incite. The battle is ours to lose.
So have I. Everything and everyone does.
Pretty much every year around this time I visit my family on the Central Coast of California, and pretty much every time the landscape looks completely different. Last year this field was bright green with wildflowers. This year it was still a winters brown with only a hint of green breaking through.
Like the seasons, life often assumes a pattern, creatures of habit as we are (here I am telling you how I always go home in March to prove it). But even within those patterns, there’s inevitably a shift.
Nothing ever stays the same. You can physically go back to any place, but you, your mind, your mindset, the ground squirrel, the grass, the sky, and the earth itself have already moved on. Every individual object and being on this planet moves forward, eventually, whether we like it or not.
This field. I’ve seen it tens of times. Every time it has changed. Every time it’s a brand new field. It’s the mystery and majesty of change that makes life so worth living.
The sun is a metaphor for life. It's glare is how we know.
Figuring out how to capture a natural sun glare was the first thing I learned on my “fancy” camera (and might have been the last lol). It’s not the photograph I’m so intrigued by, though yeah it is usually pretty. It’s the perspective gained.
A sun dapple is an immense power stymied and diluted by distance, filtered through a nearly infinite number of elements on its way to your eye. Even at the very last moment before reaching you with its life sustaining rays, it hits a singular needle on one of a million pine trees on this particular range of mountains, dispersing it’s power one last time into something simply beautiful.
I’m not even sure what that says about life, about you or I, about the cosmos or the forest, about politics or the present, but I know it gives me joy to feel both small and incredibly important as the one eye that gets to see that one glare at that one moment. This moment.
Give your relationships the attention they deserve.
It seems like nearly everything requires care. Our teeth need brushing, our hair a periodic scrubbing, and our body an annual physical. A car needs regular maintenance, clothes laundered, every machine eventually needs repair, and you are really going to have to upgrade that phone at some point. A garden requires regular upkeep or it’ll either become overgrown or simply die off.
Like all these things, like that garden, life and love require care too — always in need of a human touch, someone there to nourish our roots, clear our fallen debris, prune the withered limbs, make room for new life to bloom.
Yet it seems we often overlook the things closest to us, things like our emotional health, things like relationships.
The beginning of any kind of new relationship, friendship and beyond, is fresh, hopeful, and oh-so-exciting. It’s usually pretty easy too — the excitement this newness provides is the fuel that propels you forward into coupledom. It’s a sprout jumping up from the soil, ready to conquer the world. No one knows how fast, how tall, how stately it will become, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful rush.
But as that plant matures, it inevitably begin to change: that first burst of energy spreads thin, growth slows, overburdened branches droop from the weight, periods of drought starve the sapling, periods of flood confound it, and in the face of blustery adversity limbs or entire trunks can snap, leaving nothing in its place but a stump, a memory.
That’s because love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action, and it’s alive.
If we are to avoid the fate of that stump, if we are to survive and thrive instead, the plants of our proverbial garden need careful attention through deliberate action from the start. It requires constant diligence by every star-crossed lover who ever sowed a seed. Regularly tending to their love, nourishing it, trimming back the old growth, removing any pests that seek to invade, holding the best parts up in esteem with support, searching for the weaknesses that need a little boost.
When we fail to tend to a relationship, it fails, then fades, back to the earth from whence it came.
I tend to lots of things in my life: my house and yard, the earth through tree planting, to my fellow mankind through Sierra Club leadership, my body with regular yoga and hiking (my mind with regular yoga and hiking as well), to my whole being by chasing my journeyman dreams instead of drifting in a comfort zone.
But in the midst of the shuffle I find it far too easy to neglect my relationships. I have forgetfully allowed negative emotions to fester for years without airing those grievances. I’ve passively watched the limbs of friendship wither, taking little action to save or prune them to start anew. At times I’ve made no regular effort to feed and nourish those connections. In the comfort of routine I’ve often gone silent, forgetting to show all the love I hold through the a simple supportive act.
Indifference spurs inaction, which can fell the most passionate of partnerships.
Attention spurs action, building an insurmountable foundation of love and respect.
A 2,500 year old sequoia.In all types of relationships, from budding sprout to weathered evergreen, change is inevitable. The trick is to figure out how to grow with it. By putting focus not just on how you feel, but how we feel together, you grow with it. By making an effort where once there was ease, you grow with it. By giving the gift of your attention instead burying yourself in your phone night after night, you grow with it.
In this cut throat world, not everything in this garden will survive. Sometimes the seed was just not meant to be planted. Sometimes the plant has a unalterable lifespan. That’s normal, and sometimes the best, yet most difficult decision is to let it go.
But in the meantime, we owe it to our partner, to our relationship, to make every effort imaginable to raise our sapling up to be as sturdy as a sequoia. We owe it to each other to care for it, every day, until the day it and we are ready to move on.
We owe it to love to at least try. We owe it, because we care.
Less us, more we.
Less why, more be.
Less posting, more protesting.
Less complaining, more changing.
Less conquest, more progress.
Less complicitness, more kindness.
Less pontificating, more creating.
Less waiting, more cultivating.
Less worry, more wonderment.
Less hurry, more movement.
Less cursing, more caring.
Less doubting, more doing.
Less regret, more reflect.
Less elect, more effect.
Less reaction, more action.
Less apathy, more activism.
Less us, more we.
Less blinders, more see.
So often we make the mistake of of assuming we have to give up the wild in order to live in the modern. Society has spent millennia trying to control nature, to the point where so many of us forget it even exists.
But nature is our lifeblood, it’s the essence of our evolution as a species. Our ancestors lived among it, and relished in it. When we give up the wild for the modern, we give up a piece of our soul.
It’s OK to cut the cord once in awhile. It’s OK to spend some time in the quiet of the mountains. It’s OK to let it all go for a minute.
Whether it’s long-term camping or a short-term picnic, disconnecting the tether is freeing — your mind and soul are allowed to roam. There’s no vibration coming from your pocket, only warmth coming from your soul. There’s no Siri to ask questions, only your own mind to answer them. There’s no Google Maps to give you direction, the only direction is of your own choosing.
human in the San GabrielsNothing against technology. I mean hell, I’m using it to type and post this right now. Urban disconnection is just a suggestion, that maybe you should escape the city for nature once in a while, that maybe I think you’ll really like it.
No, not maybe, definitely. You’ll definitely like it.
It’s that feeling you get out in nature,
When the hawk flies by and whistles it’s caw,
When you get to the top of the peak and look out over the 360° expanse,
When the cool wind of a waterfall abruptly elbows you back an inch,
When the breeze kicks up and you pause to feel the hum and sway of the towering trees.
The feeling is inspiration.
Motivation, innovation, connection to the world around us.
Revelation, imagination, connection to ourselves.
It makes us want to paint pictures and write songs.
It makes me want to take photos, clearly.
It gives us all hope.
It makes you love it with all that you are.
It makes you want to protect it for everyone else.
Nearly every mountain range and park has spot called “inspiration point”,
But in reality, each contains thousands of points of inspiration.
Go find yours.
Graffiti in a National Monument. Sadly, it’s a thing.
I do a lot of hiking around Los Angeles, and it’s inevitable that I see vandalism. Damaged structures, stickers on signs, trampled plants, trash on the trail — every glimpse of destruction breaks my heart a little. It’s all so avoidable if we all just take little responsibility for ourselves and follow a few Leave No Trace principles.
But what I saw in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument at the Big Horn Mine Trail was especially egregious — an explosion of obviously illegal graffiti.
Street art can be beautiful in the right environment, especially if there’s a cultural or political message behind it, and it’s part of what makes our cities so vibrant. But the a street and a trail are very different places. But when you see graffiti not just in nature, but on nature, it’s jarring — it plucks you out of that indescribably perfect environmentality and tosses you back into the mucky pond of self indulgent humanity. There’s no relevant artistic value to it, it’s disrespectful to our planet, and offensive to all those of us who want to see this planet protected.
Here’s a sampling of the hideous sights you’ll see on the trail:
Look, I get it, the more people tag a trail the more it seems like an acceptable, maybe even fun, idea. And I’m aware that this trail has been cleaned up before, only to be tagged again. So let’s be grown ups for a minute. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves, our park, our San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
This particular National Monument is currently up for review by the anti-environmental zealots in White House, so its future is on shaky ground. That means it’s up to us to protect this natural beauty for future generations. That protection starts with you, and all of us, and me too.
First step is telling the Department of Interior how important this and other National Monuments are to all of us.
Second step is proving how important this National Monument is to us by cleaning up this trail and keeping it that way for all future visitors.
Send me a message if you want to help with a trail clean up, and follow Trash Free Earth on social media to see how you can get more involved with regular events.
This is our park, we have to defend it!
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