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.
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.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
There's so much noise out there these days--breaking news, politics, tweets, live streams, comment sections--and while it's important to stay aware of the frightening changes happening in our world, sometimes it can all become too much. The noise is like a sky full of clouds, so thick and menacing they block out the sun. The more time you spend in their cold shadow, the less you remember the warmth, what it feels like, that it even exists.
Find a balance. Wade into the the clouds and stay engaged, but not so much that you enter a tropical depression. Remind yourself to go outside and bask in the sun more often than less, communing with friends, nature, and love.
In these times of conflict and uncertainty, we owe it to ourselves, and to our cause, to keep both our awareness and our sanity intact for the battles ahead.
"The more OK you are with being sad, the less sad you’ll be."
When was the last time you took a selfie while upset?
No we don’t do that, we say “cheese” and smile for the camera. Or even if you don’t smile, you at least have to mug it up with a duck face or a bear smirk.
When was the last time you saw someone walking down the street crying?
If you did you probably thought they were a lunatic. And the last time you felt like crying in public you probably ran home so you could do it in private, like a “normal” person.
Our society is ashamed of sadness, sadly.
When at our saddest, we’ve been trained to hide it. At home we go to our room. At a funeral we put on sunglasses. At work or school we stake out a claim in a bathroom stall.
Heaven forbid if you do cry or become emotional in public — everyone will think you need mental assistance.
Speaking of, our society is ashamed of mental assistance too. Psychology is really just asking a trained professional for a little help with your mind. This blog is a very small act of me doing the same, for myself and maybe you. We all seek mental assistance in some way, be it through the distraction of entertainment, the introspection of music, with medication (prescribed and otherwise), with yoga or meditation, with mindfulness blogs (hi!), and yes, actual real-life therapy.
Western society demands we show control, at least in public. We have to be perky, on it, clever, and together, even when in reality we’re feeling like shit. And when you feel like shit, you act like a shit, and everyone around you starts to think you’re a shitty person.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s OK to be sad.
It’s OK to be bummed about your life and its direction.
It’s OK to feel heartbroken when a relationship doesn’t work out.
It’s OK to end up depressed at the state of our political discourse.
It’s OK to get pissed at a friend who let you down.
It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to cry.
It’s real. You don’t have to hide it.
The more we as a society learn to accept our emotions, all of them, as valid and true, the better we’ll get at handling them when they inevitably arise.
I’m not saying that the next time you feel like crying you should walk out to the middle of a busy intersection and sob in front of all humanity, children included. But if you did happen to start crying there, so what. It’s how you’re feeling, and plus those kids cry all the time without remorse. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from kids.
The best to handle your emotions is to accept them, not fight them. So get OK with being sad. The more OK you are with being sad, the less sad you’ll be.
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.
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.
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.
Unless you’ve been living alone in the woods for the last few months, you’re well aware that it’s peak political season in the United States.
An election at it’s basic level is a decision, and this idea about the power of our individual, everyday decisions courses through the entire premise of mindfulness. Every day we have a decision to either live in the present or dwell on the past, to learn and grow or stifle our evolution, to get up every morning and conquer the day or roll over and let it pass us by.
A political election requires a decision too, a far less intimate but just as important decision.
At the root of all these decisions is love and fear. It seems simplistic at the face of it, but in reality it’s a complicated struggle between our two most extreme emotions. Too much love and our decisions rely on sentiment instead of reason. Too much fear and our decisions are rooted in distrust and anger. Too much of either makes us unmindful---when we lean too far in any direction we eventually fall over.
A decision based in love or fear is complicated, but usually, hopefully, the result ends up somewhere in the middle---in compromise.
I like to think of these two sides as the classic angel-and-devil-on-the-shoulders meme.
These two little shoulder emotions battle in our hearts and minds all the time. Love tells us to live in the present and accept the beauty of right now, while fears holds us back to worry if we'll ever live up to our past triumphs or live down our past mistakes. Love opens up our mind to accept new ideas, while fear shuts us down to pine after an imagined ideal. Love pushes us to use each day to its full potential, while fear triggers the warm safety of procrastination.
In politics, love and fear fuel another set of decisions. Love leads us to engage and educate our friends, while fear makes us to lash out and insult. Love encourages us to care for our fellow man no matter what their race, religion, or orientation, while fear demands we entrench ourselves, draw deeper into our ideological bubble, and refuse to give an inch. Love requires us to protect our earth for generations to come, while fear whispers lies of doubt around climate change science and encourages a business-first attitude.
When we sit down to decide which candidate to support, we yet again look to love and fear for assistance. Love tells us to vote for who we’re most enthusiastic about and most aligns with our ideals, while fear tells us to vote against the candidate we find troublesome, or even dangerous.
Now before you say it, I know, that was just a long list of overly simplistic, cut and dry, black and white decisions.
In real life we don’t just listen to either the angel or the devil, we hear both. We make good decisions, we make mistakes, we figure things out, and then ultimately we find the best path lies somewhere else. I often call it balance or compromise. Buddhists call it "the middle way"
These when the two competing emotions come together.
We can live in the present while also using the past to inform it. The middle. We can hold on to our values and ideals while staying open to life’s ongoing lessons. The middle. We can have a productive day and also take some “me time” once in a while. The middle.
In an election, we can make a voting decision based on both love for a candidate that moves us forward with progress, as well as fear over the dangerous regress the alternative will usher. The middle.
On the issues, love can focus us on our commonalities instead of conflicts, while fear reminds us to speak out loudly against dangerous demagogues. The middle. Love can rightly attract us to peace, equality, and fairness, while fear demands we fight directly against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. The middle. Love can urge us to protect and rebuild our environment, while fear reminds us that political leaders who deny the existence of climate change are steering us toward catastrophe and must be stopped at all costs. The middle.
My love for every interconnected living thing on this earth and my desire to make it a better place, leads me to vote for Hillary Clinton. My fear of the destruction, treacherousness, hatred, and bluster that has and will undoubtedly continue to rise from her chief opponent, leads me to the same conclusion.
Both love and fear, meeting in the middle, for progress in America.
"Unfollow" is all the rage on Facebook at the moment. In the 2016 election season, it's a salve we use to treat the fever pitch of political posts on social media. I've noticed a big uptick in it over the last few months, but this week it's practically #trending.
It seems like an simple cure-all, right? Less disagreement = more mindfulness.
But then I dug a little deeper, and as with most everything, once you really stop and think about it there's a lot more to consider.
On one hand, differences of opinion can quickly make us angry and argumentative, and 9-times-out-of-10, anger isn't mindful. Truth be told, I’ve unfollowed a few people on Facebook myself. It's not that I dislike these friends, it's just that my reaction to their posts often became a frustrating distraction. I felt like I needed to unfollow to retain some level of sanity. I know I'm not alone in this.
On the other hand, there's the problem of self-segregation. That is, avoiding all differences of opinion and surrounding yourself with only your most agreeable friends. When you do this, it's easy to get trapped inside your own dogma. If you never hear a different opinion and no one ever challenges your ideas, there's little room for growth.
So what's the answer? Is unfollowing on Facebook a good or bad thing?
Well, like a lot things in life it's not black or white, but somewhere in the gray. Overall, it's about balance.
If you have a friend who says racist things and has a hateful view of the world, it's OK to distance yourself. You do this all the time in all sorts of relationships—you don't choose to date someone when your personalities are mismatched, and you're certainly not required to be friends with someone who holds fundamentally different values than you.
But there can, and will, be some differences of opinion among friends, and that's OK. Everyone comes from a different place in life, and maybe it's when we expose our differences that we start to learn from one another. Also, remember that you always have the option to just not comment on a post you don't ike. You could even take your discussion to a private message or (gasp!) a face-to-face conversation, both places where we tend to be a little kinder to one another.
Politics has the potential to bring out both the best and the worst in people. We all get passionate sometimes, and even if we disagree the reason we're passionate is that we fundamentally care about our country, our world, and at the most universal level, each other.
So strike a balance—do what you need to do to retain your sanity this political season, even if that means editing your newsfeed experience a bit. But try allowing a few challenging opinions into your bubble. Get OK with a little debate and respectful disagreement. It could strengthen your opinion or make you rethink it, but either way you come out a better person.
So I'm making this concerted effort to be a mindful advocate, to respectfully disagree whenever I run into a difference of opinion... especially on the Internet... and especially around politics. There's so much digital yelling out there, it's unmindful, and the more I see the less I want to be a part of it.
But then I also know passions are high and these decisions are vital. We should all stand our ground in the fight against injustice and inequality. It's important, so it's easy to get caught up in it.
What I'm searching for is a balance--being an advocate for progress but also toning down the rhetoric, turning up the kindness, and maybe using the simple act of a respect to actually sway people to your cause.
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so the saying goes. This is true in pretty much all aspects of life, but it especially applies to political persuasion. Who in their right mind is going to change their right mind when you unmindfully toss insults?
Let's be clear though, taking a mindful approach to politics doesn't require silence in the face of injustice. While it's true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, sometimes those flies are total douchebags and need to be swatted away.
When someone is contemptuous, when their stance harms you or your people, when they resort to cruelty, when they throw all ration out the window, when they support a level of ignorance that could lead to the destruction of our species (like climate science deniers), by all means call them out. Don't stand for it. Don't ever kowtow to hate, bigotry, corrupt ideology, or downright treacherous zealotry.
But when you call them out, don't stoop to their level and be a douchebag in return.
If you really want to advocate for your cause, it's time to stop the irrational anger. Stealing a few cues from mindfulness, here are some suggestions to help us all get there.
Every time we respond to someone who disagrees with us we have a choice: come at them with the force of a thousand poo emojis, or respectfully disagree. That choice is the difference between our sanity and high blood pressure. It's the difference between a sleepless night and warm fuzzy dream. It's the difference between entrenched opinions and persuasive arguments.
I know this isn't easy, I get angry over political differences too. But next time you start to fume, take a mindfulness break. Step away from the laptop or your phone, take a deep breath, and think about what you are about to say in return. Does it foster a positive debate? Will it educate and inform? Will it encourage people to reconsider their opinion? Or are you responding to their douchebaggery by becoming a douchebag yourself?
Don't be a douchebag, respectfully disagree.
Good vibes only, the time is now.
Digress from stress, disconnect, and allow.
No accommodating worry or entertaining regret.
No wasting time obsessively upset.
Stop the self-doubt, and no more complaints.
Enough with all the self-righteous debates.
No more consequences, only life lessons.
This is how you learn what the best is.
No listening to people who always say “no.”
Give up the grudges, it's time to let go.
No more no’s.
Period. You know.
Yes to joy, and smiles, and laughter.
Yes to bear hugs and happily ever after.
Yes to presence, mindfulness, and peace.
Yes to love, it's all you actually need.
Say yes even when you're down.
You'll be surprised how quickly it turns you around.
Yes to giving more than you take.
Yes to some selfishness, for your sanity’s sake.
Good vibes only, not because it's forced.
Good vibes only, and then pass the torch.
Oh, the wretched relief of change.
It's a certain struggle (the wretched), but also one of most important facets of our existence (the relief).
Just when you start to get used to a different and exciting experience--a fresh new way of living--it inevitably and abruptly ends, and the winds of the change push you in a new direction.
This constant shift is a central element of life. We need both beauty and brawn. We need both the amazing and the awful.
But it goes far beyond those two basic and diametrically opposed emotions. Within both the amazing and the awful--even within the mundane that comes between--we require variety. You might take the same path to work, go to the same class at the gym, or wake up every morning at the same time... but still each day there are different people on that commute, there's a new exercise routine at the gym, and the song on your alarm clock is the new big hit. It's that balance of variety, no matter how subtle, that keeps life fresh, keeps us going, and keeps us growing.
There's been a lot of change in my life this past year. If you've ever read this blogl, that's no secret. But the shifting winds have been gale force of late.
Through it all there's one major thing I've learned: no matter what happens in life there's always a yin and a yang--a balance.
Over the course of one recent week I went from a very definitive yin to a whole other extreme yang. One day I was meticulously gussied up at the Academy Awards, and then just a few days later I was antithetically grubbied down in a dusty tent at Death Valley National Park.
This situation of contrasts was an accident of sorts.
First of all, I don't work in the entertainment industry, so it was of no effort on my part that I ended up attending the Oscars. My partner, Jonathan Herman, was deservedly nominated for writing Straight Outta Compton. I'm proud of my man and grateful I got to tag along for the ride. And what a crazy, magical, amazing ride it was--from hob-nobbing celebrities, to red carpets, to Chris Rock’s daughters' Girl Scout cookies, it was the apex of glitz and glamour. And even though I'm more of a down-to-earth-hippie-granola-kinda-guy, I loved every minute of it.
Second of all, it wasn't particularly my intention to visit Death Valley again. I had just traveled there a few months prior, but Mother Nature, El Niño, and the superbloom she kindled had other intentions. I wanted to see that naked and desolate landscape spring to life. I wanted to marvel in yet another beautifully twisted contradiction of nature.
So, while still hungover and starstruck from the decadent Vanity Fair Oscar party, I packed my tuxedo away on the closet, readied my camping gear, and dusted off my tattered national parks passport. I was ready to follow the prevailing winds that were yet again guiding my life. Eagerly adaptable and willing to shift from one apex of life to a completely opposite, yet still resoundingly amazing apex.
You see, balance in life isn't just about ups and downs. Sometimes balance is about both regular ups, and other, totally dissimilar, but still completely awesome ups. It’s also about both terrible downs, and other dissimilar, but equally debilitating downs. It's also about a variety of discernible dimensions in between.
I've been through periods in life when downs compounded upon downs, and I thought there would be nothing left for me in life but more of them, in perpetuity, ad nauseam. But alas, as usual, the ups eventually returned. They all repeat and cycle, each time in new, profound, and inexplicable ways.
That's life. Assorted ups, miscellaneous downs, and a whole slew of gray areas in the middle.
Routine feels safe, but rarely is it real. You can fight the prevailing winds all you'd like, but eventually they will knock you down, lift you up, and shove you from side to side. That bluster of variety is what makes us unique. It’s what life is all about. It's kind of magnificent.
We rest on crutches far too much in life.
And, why not? The modern world affords us a million conveniences that mankind developed over centuries to make life a little bit easier. But in our efforts to simplify our everyday tasks, haven't we lost something?
Our ancestors had to fight to survive and thrive. Every day was a gift because every day you had to overcome any number of natural obstacles in order to continue your existence. With the properly planning and knowledge, you might starve to death, or get eaten by a bear, or run out of water, or end up murdered in your sleep due to a particularly violent neighboring tribe.
Without those life and death complexities of survival to deal with, we end up resting on our laurels.
Without struggle and resistance, we fail to gain strength.
Without loss, we forget to appreciate our blessings.
Now of course, this is undoubtedly a first-world problem. There are lot of people on this earth that do have to struggle to survive, and that’s not a good thing. We should all do everything we can to bring comfort and kindness to everyone on this planet.
But for the rest of us, by not having to deal with the types of struggle that were once ubiquitous in our corner of society, we've missed out on some vitally important life lessons.
I was camping recently and it suddenly seemed so obvious--out in the semi-developed wilderness of Death Valley everyone takes liberal advantage headlamps, gas stoves, air mattresses, running water, smartphones, and the nearby market for supplies. All things that make life easy, all things that we want, but nothing that we particularly need.
I'm not saying you aren't allowed to hold on to some comforts in life, we fought long and hard to achieve them. I'm just saying there’s a lot to be gained from giving up a few of them, at least once in awhile. It's when you to give up a little, that you start to gain a lot.
Giving up the headlamp and depending on the moon teaches you just how much you can already see.
Packing away the stove and cooking over your fire teaches you the importance of the simplest things.
Storing and rationing water teaches you to use what you need--and only what you need--instead of living life as a free flow of excess.
Putting the phone in airplane mode strips away the digital distractions and let's you enjoy real life again.
The lessons from a campsite are no different in our modern life. Our everyday reliance on crutches is a choice we make with everything we do. Our over-reliance on comforts leads to ungratefulness and juvenile quibbles. Our over-reliance on comforts has led to water scarcity, oil dependence, and global warming. Our over-reliance on comforts and this finite amount of resources is slowly squeezing out our attempted dominion over this earth.
Get off the crutch and stand up.
Take a few steps forward.
Real life is the grit of the hard ground,
Not a delicately cushioned pillow.
See how real life can feel.
These days, it seems like everything that happens in our modern society--be it pop culture or politics--requires an opinionated think piece. You’ve read them, those articles that supposedly break down the "issues" so they're easier to "process."
Now, I certainly approve of thinking--exploring multiple sides of an issue to create an informed and thoughtful society is righteous.
But at what point do we start to overthink? At what point do we start to dive so deep into an issue that we’ve lost perspective of the big picture? At what point does all this opinion become just another tool to distract and divide and anger?
The digital age and social media are the perpetrators of this burgeoning problem.
Back in the day articles and editorials were vetted by editors and managers, requiring a skilled level of research and verification of sources. All the rest of us had an opinion, but aside from setting up a soapbox and wielding a bullhorn on a street corner, our audience was our friends, family, and co-workers--people we typically respect or would at least treat with respect when talking about a difficult issue face-to-face.
These days anyone can scribe whatever unedited, unauthenticated, scathing idea they want, and then post it on any number of digital soapboxes, from Facebook to Twitter to blogs (oh hi me!). Just as before, all of us have an opinion, but now we have a much louder and unmonitored bullhorn from which to scream it. And we get to do so with relative anonymity, opening the door to the types of tactless and inconsiderate responses you'd never repeat to someone in person.
An infinite number of opinions are available and easily culled from a Google search as well, allowing us to find a tailor-made think piece to confirm our viewpoint. And then we rebroadcast it from our flamboyantly loud digital soapbox, inflating the power of that opinion, no matter how inaccurate, erroneous, or untrue.
Back in the day, not everything was perfect either. We had a limited number of sources for our information--dependent on local school and library funding, accessibility of TV broadcast news, and your proximity to a newsstand. And not everyone in the mainstream media has a perfect track record of providing accurate and unbiased information either. But beyond that, there were always good and decent writers and journalist trying to provide authentic information and well-reasoned opinions.
A friend of mine recently stated that "no one ever convinces anyone of anything on the internet," and I tend to agree. No matter how impassioned your plea, very few people read a mini think piece on social media and think to themselves, “you know what, they're right and I'm wrong.”
It’s trite, but true.
Instead of providing a new perspective to shift our thinking for the better, an opine typically only elicits either adulation or anger--and that anger typically isn't very polite.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last few months that a think piece, or a Facebook regurgitation of a think piece, has taken me away from mindfulness. Running through any number of potential responses in my mind, instead of enjoying my morning walk with my dog. Typing out any number of potential responses, instead of writing a new article for Elephant Journal. Just generally consuming and distracting my mind when there are so many more fruitful and beneficial things I could be focusing on.
I have to balance my thoughts on this. Certainly I’m not going to advocate everyone just shut up and keep their ideas and opinions to themselves. To claim I'm some kind of expert at knowing when to let go of an argument would be entirely hypocritical.
But that doesn't mean we can't all try and be a little better... consider your source, be smart and respectful about what you say, stay away from opinionated rhetoric that only seeks to antagonize, pause and take a deep breath before you comment with vehemence, and make a reasonable effort to do some research before you claim something is ”fact.”
This broad network of information we have at our fingertips can be used for kindness or cruelty. The tack we take is up to each one of us.
So, let's all be kind.
I'm changing my Facebook phone- relationship status to "it's complicated."
I both love and hate my this little pocket machine. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic tool for connecting with friends and family, educating ourselves, being prepared for the weather or traffic, becoming budding artists/photographers/writers, and overall allowing us to be more interested and aware people. On the other hand though, it distracts from the real world around us, encourages FOMO and jealousy, thrusts douchebaggery to the forefront, hides us behind an avatar curtain so we sometimes end up acting extra douchey ourselves, and the list goes on.
One reason I love hiking and camping is that, more often than not, there is no phone reception. It’s a trick I use to escape, decompress, and reconnect with myself and the world around me.
Recently though, I visited Death Valley National Park, and while the vast majority of the park is cell-phone-free, the small town where I camped still had a few bars of service. Cue the complicated mix of love/hate emotions:
I loved that I could text my mom and my man that I arrived safe. I loved the ability to text friends when I got bored. I loved that I could post to Instagram because photography gives me joy. I loved that I could Google lists of Death Valley hikes and sites instead of flying solo.
But... I hated that I wouldn’t be able to feel the freedom of disconnection. I hated that I wasn’t forced to be bored, and forced to be OK with it. I hated that after I had a little whisky I started checking Facebook to pass the time, instead of reading, writing, or just being. I hated that it all made me feel less mindful.
I’ve written before about how the distraction of our smartphone is a distraction of our own making. Quite simply, we can log off any apps that bother us or just put the phone down. But you you know as well as I, that’s way easier said than done.
We all have a complicated relationship with our smartphones. Sometimes we laugh the afternoon away texting with a friend and sometimes we thumb-type seriously stupid things in anger. Sometimes we snuggle with our phone in bed and sometimes we want to throw it across the room.
The trick for me, and with most things in life, is to find a balance. In order to be mindful we shouldn’t have to give up on all modern conveniences to live in a shack in the woods. I should be able to use all the great and worthy features of my smartphone but also be OK with setting it down for periods of time. There’s room in this life for both mindlessness and mindfulness.
I'm about to head to Joshua Tree National Park with a small group of friends for a stargazing weekend. I stayed at this very campground last August so I know for sure that my phone won’t work. I’m looking forward to it, and getting out in nature is a great way for any of us to get a little more mindful.
But in two days I’ll be back in the city. The phone and my love/hate relationship with it will still exist. You can’t just run away from your problems, you have to face them head on.
So I’m going to make an effort to learn from my complicated relationship -- let the things I love about my smartphone help me use it more wisely, while letting the things I hate about it remind me to take a break once in awhile.
It’s a worthy endeavor, for all of us. Make a list of all the things you both love and hate about our modern technologies. Then use both the negative and the positive to inspire you toward balance.
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