The border between wild and wifi is a pretty spectacular place to be.
In the wild you go without a phone connection for hours, sometimes days or weeks at a time. So when you cross the border into wifi you appreciate how much that connection--the connection to your friends and family and the outside world--means to you. The ability to keep in touch. The ability to be a public advocate on the important issues of our day.
In the wild you're given the gift of time to sit and think and be with yourself. You have he space to ponder the importance of the world, and your place in it. So when you cross that border into wifi you bring back that knowledge and you end up a more mindful and present person. You know better how to insert moments of peaceful reflection into your daily life.
In the wild you're constantly aware of your surroundings, you have to be. You're watching the trail you hike or the fire you tend because to do otherwise is dangerous. You have to be on. So when you cross that border into wifi, you're finally aware of how to truly switch off. To relax in the warm comfort of our modern security blanket society. And despite all the stresses it can bring, to understand just how warm that society truly is.
Some people choose to live in the wild to get away from it all or simply to prove that they can handle it. Others can't bear the thought of giving up the wifi and all the convenience today's world brings.
But I suggest you spend some time in both. Regularly switch between the two. Cross the border, back and forth, and reap the bounty of appreciation and mindfulness it brings.
Hiking through nature can provide you with innumerable nuggets of life lesson gold, as long as you peer into the creek long enough to notice those shiny honey-hued pebbles.
It’s no secret that nature is how I come up with the vast majority of these blog posts. Almost every time I’m feeling down, unmindful, or even when I’m feeling just dandy, I go on a hike. And almost every time I'm out there I discover something on the trail that inspires me, gives me a new frame of reference, or teaches me a lesson.
One very important lesson, and one I always have trouble truly absorbing, is having the patience to see something through to the end.
I'm not a quitter in any sense--when I set my mind to a project, I always see it through. Always.
But when I get that finish line on sight, I have a tendency to rush it, to grow impatient, to become a little bit lackadaisical.
During one hike a few months ago in Los Angeles, I decided to take an unfamiliar spur trail. It quickly became incredibly steep and I considered turning back, but I knew I'd be afforded amazing views at the top so I went for it. And it was worth it, the views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Sign were indeed spectacular.
But then, of course, I had to come back down the steep trail.
I was as cautious as humanly possible, side-stepping my way down to gain better footing. Then I got about 10 feet from the end of the trail and, well, I decided to run it. It was just right there, hardly any risk, and why not have a little fun. I decided I could be reckless at least for the very end. I decided I didn't need to see it through.
That decision quickly proved to be a bad one. As I was running down I stepped on a sandy patch that yanked me to the ground, ass first. My tailbone hit square on a rock and I heard my spine crack.
Now back on level ground, I pulled myself up, immediately utilized some of my favorite yoga spine stretches, and pretended to ignore the passers-bye so as to limit my embarrassment.
After a few weeks the pain and discomfort subsided. I was fine. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but an important lesson in the aggregate: see everything through to the end. Even when you think you got it in the bag, see it through. Even when you think you've screwed it all up, see it through. Even when it's literally all downhill from here, see it through.
I don't always remember this lesson in real life. I still get impatient and like to rush the end so I can move on to the next big thing. Some people start to stumble on a big project and the first thought is to give up. Two sides of the same coin. Two instances where in the vast majority of situations you'll find far more success when you see it through.
No matter what my own failings, there's one place where the lesson has stuck, and that's in hiking.
Last week I day hiked to the pinnacle of Half Dome. It's not just a pinnacle of a mountain, it’s a pinnacle of my nature and hiking obsession, and perhaps a pinnacle of my life. I prepared and planned and prepped and had an awesome partner-in-crime to go along for the ride.
We made it to the top and were elated, of course. And after you've gotten there one might assume that the worst is over, all downhill from there. But that assumption would be wrong. As most hikers will tell you, it’s usually harder going down than going up.
Rappelling backwards down the infamous Half Dome cables was a feat of mental and physical strength. The slippery polished granite path forces you to rely almost entirely on your arms. Traffic from hikers going in the other direction adds a whole separate element of patience and negotiation. The pangs of fear I felt after a simple glance down or to the side were, at times, overwhelming.
When I had just 30 feet of cable left I felt my impatient self got an idea: I could turn around and run it. But when I did turn and took my first step on the slick granite, I felt my foot shake. I flashed back to the lesson from that trail in Los Angeles, the lesson that I know but don't always follow.
I turned back around and continued my cautious repel for those final 30 feet. See it through, Jason. See it all the way through until it’s completed. Always see it through.
When we're mindful of every step, every step is more valuable, every step is sturdy, every step is useful, and in the end we've accomplished what we set out to do in the best way we possibly could. When we cut the corner at the last moment or give up in the final stretch, we not only cheapen our effort, but we risk ruining everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Or at least we risk a few weeks of tailbone pain.
It's an important lesson I always try to remember when I’m on the dirt trail. It's an important lesson I need to remember more on the trail of life as well.
My favorite place to find a moment of peace, to get mindful, is in nature.
“But not everyone can go out in nature as much as you do,” you bemoan. “We have a kids and obligations and busy jobs and live in cities!”
It's true, I know, some people live in dense urban jungles, far removed from the actual jungle. Most people don't have time or resources to take a month off and volunteer in Yosemite. Just about everyone enjoys nature to a degree, even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers in a vase, but getting outside all the time isn’t always easy or accessible.
Or so you’ve been led to believe.
I might argue nature if closer than you think. I might suggest the difference between the mountains and the city is smaller than you think.
Certainly the mountains have a much more direct relationship to the serenity and identity we find in nature. The views here at Yosemite are spectacular. The cliff faces unparalleled. The sequoia trees magnificent. The power of nature really punches you in the gut here.
But I'll let you in on a little secret, the Yosemite Valley is basically a small tourist town. Markets, apartments, hotels, restaurants, shops, and bars. There is a clinic, fire stations, offices, and a library. It even has (GASP!) traffic. Basically, it's much like any town in this country, except it just happens to be surrounded by resplendence.
Civilization is truly everywhere.
In the city I normally live in, Los Angeles, it's a little more difficult to find serenity. Markets, apartments, restaurants, bars, and traffic all abound.
But I'll let you in on another little secret, Los Angeles is also surrounded by resplendence as well. It has Griffith Park, the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains, a stunning coastline, and nearby Joshua Tree and Channel Islands National Parks. The resplendence is a little harder to come by and you might have to drive a bit to get there, but it's there, as long as you go look for it.
Nature is truly everywhere as well.
You can live in a national park or you could just visit for a weekend, and you're gonna find some of the peace through nature. But you can also find a small piece of that peace in your own backyard. Anything from your local mountains, forest, or seashore to the garden you tend at your home all gives you a little bit of that wonderment nature inspires.
So go out and find some nature wherever you are, and wherever you find it, notice how you start to find yourself.
We habituate ourselves to expect certain things, to desire certain vices, to keep a certain schedule, and act a certain persona. It's just what we're used to. It’s what everyone around us is used to.
But that doesn't mean that's who we really are.
Black bears in the wild of Yosemite eat berries, grass, and insects. Sometimes they eat animals like fish, but by and large, and especially when they don't feel threatened, they don’t hunt and they are docile creatures. They're kind of adorable when you see them sitting in a meadow, basking in the warm sun, furrowing the soft ground for a meal. They're like a real-life teddy bear, just one you probably shouldn’t hug.
When black bears met humans, they started to learn a different way of life--they picked up a habit. People food is high in calories, and way more tasty and filling than meadow grass. So when we started to give them people food, as the supervisors of Yosemite did for decades, the bears quickly learned to follow the path of least resistance and eat up.
Wild bears became habituated to a new human way of living, one that involved convincing people to give them food. If those people were unconvinced, simply steal it. If they got in the way of the food, take them out.
First we habituated them, and then allowed our cavalier attitude to that habituation to bite us in the ass, literally.
We learned our lesson, thankfully, and now we've engaged in a decades long effort to de-habitualize the black bear. We stopped feeding them for show at Yosemite, so bears would stop expecting it. We put our food in bear boxes instead of cars or coolers, so the bears learned they can’t get food at a campsite.
A habit, any habit, is only a condition we've created. That goes for the habit bears learned from humans, and it goes for all the habits we’ve taken on ourselves.
It's hard to break a habit, for sure. Bears still visit campgrounds because the food smells good and they’re curious. But the more we change our patterns, the more the habit breaks. In Yosemite, bear incidents are down 97% since 1996. Our continued vigilance in minding our food when we visit Yosemite will ensure this new pattern continues.
Maybe we could learn something from the habituation, and subsequent dehabituation, of the black bear. Observe the patterns and expectations we or others place on ourselves. Try to find where we made the mistake and how we perpetuated it. Then imagine a path forward where we break the habit.
Even when you think you’ve dehabitualized yourself, that doesn’t mean it can’t come back. Habits are much easier to make than to break.
For bears at Yosemite these days, some still look for people food. Those that end up in a campsite get scared off with beanbag and paintball guns. If they come back they get tranquilized, tagged, and brought to a distant region of the park. If they come back a third time, euthanization.
We have a lot more than three chances when it comes to our own bad habits, but eventually they will catch up to us. Those habitualizations of vice and character will eventually bite us in the ass just like the black bear.
If you’re trying to break a bad habit or any other pattern, be strong, persistent, and patient. Overtime it’ll get easier. You don’t have to be "that guy" just because you have always been that guy. You can change yourself for the better. We can all be dehabitualized, one decision at a time.
Sometimes we have to figure out our roots to figure out how to rise.
That means knowing fully who we are, accepting our past, and making an effort to stay grounded on a daily basis.
Sometimes it means living amongst the trees in a tent by a fire to really feel the roots of our ancestors.
Usually it just means taking a few moments every day to pause, breathe, and feel what it feels like to just be.
Whether we're a lonely pine contemplating in a meadow, a sequoia seedling waiting for glory, or a human looking for our potential, we root down to rise up.