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.
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.
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.
Hey you. Yeah you over there. The one moping around with your head to the ground. The one so easy to irritate. The one putting your frustration on blast.
You, the one who’s day didn’t go well.
Had to sit in too much traffic.
Endured a boring meeting.
Tickets sold out for the only show.
Forced to mop up midnight dog vom.
Got in a fight with a friend.
Have friends but sometimes feel abandoned.
Your instagram didn’t get enough likes.
Ex posted too many happy instagrams.
Ran out of money before your paycheck.
Bought something expensive but didn’t feel fulfilled.
Had a little too much fun last night.
Didn’t have enough fun.
Didn’t get the job you wanted.
Didn’t get the guy you chased.
Ended a relationship.
Trapped in a relationship that won’t end.
Finished another day of life sleepwalking.
Hoped to sleepwalk but forced to participate.
Again. And repeat.
That sucks, I get it, but you’re letting that shit hold you back.
You need to snap out of it.
Snap. Out of. It.
When we sulk and wallow and bemoan all the terrible things in life, we perpetuate all those terrible things. When we distract ourselves away from progress, we do so at the expense of progressing. When we let it all get the better of us, a problem become paralyzation.
Yeah, life sucks sometimes. Jobs, dogs, strangers, and even friends will inevitably drag you down, one way or another. In the history of all humanity, never is a life lived unequivocally — no life is flawless, faultless, or entirely fair.
But no matter how much debris is swirling around your storm drain, you own the tools to clean it up. No matter how bad you feel today, you always have tomorrow. No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, you can always learn from them. No matter how many mistakes are made by politicians, there’s always another election. No matter how many times people dumped on you today, you are always in charge of your own destiny, and attitude, and smile.
Snap. Out of. It.
Next time you’re wallowing in the muck of a disappointing life, pause, take a deep breath, give yourself a hearty Cher slap, and snap out of it. Put your focus back on the beautiful world around you — start creating beauty.
People talk about “going into nature” like they’re doing something different and special that will give them all the answers. And by people, I mean me.
I write about this topic a lot. I’m kind of obsessed with it. I walk into nature and up a mountain, and when I get to the top I whip out my phone to write all the different and special ideas that came to me because of that walk through nature.
But truthfully, most of the time I don’t find any answers on that trail. Sure, I get some exercise and escape Facebook for a while, both beneficial things, but it’s not like the heavens opened, a beam of light shined down, and I discovered the meaning of life.
That’s because we’re thinking about nature all wrong. You, me, and most people.
Nature — all those forests and mountains and waterfalls and streams and critters— it isn’t some remote object that gives you all the feels because it’s pretty to look at. The reason it gives you all those feels is because nature is home.
Nature is us. We are nature.
And before you dismiss me as some flower power hippie, let me tell you why I believe that. Actually, why I know that.
A walk in the woods is like connecting a tap to our heritage. From it, knowledge flows. These are the trees that shaded our ancestors from the heat and fueled our fire in the cold. This is the water that sustained them. Those are the plants and animals that fed them. It is a community of interconnected living things of which we have been a part of for millennia.
Out in nature, you briefly create a direct connection to that lineage, and it activates a knowledge that’s embedded deep in our DNA.
This is why we love nature so much, and why hiking into it gives us so much in return.
I know this because it is our history. I know this because it is my history. I know this because sometimes I connect my own tap and I feel it, I hear it, I can't avoid it.
In our modern understanding of life and order, the way we now process things, it feels like we escape to nature to give us all the answers, but that's not it at all. When we go into nature we go home, and the comfort of home quietly lets us know that that answers are not out there somewhere, they're inside you and they've been there all along.
It's a shame we’ve gone to such efforts to remove ourselves from the natural world. We paved over it, carefully landscaped it, and then boxed in what was leftover into an artifact we call a “park.” We distract ourselves with fake social media friendships, fake virtual worlds, and fake news. We’re the one intelligent being that has the power to do all this, and I know it makes us feel safer in the world, but by conquering nature we denied a central, vital, natural part of our soul.
We left nature, but lost ourselves in the process.
We ask questions, but we already know the answers.
But when we go back into the woods, and spend time with it, deliberately, we’re given a gift. One that opens our minds wide enough to see the truth that lies within, as long as we let it.
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.
You control your legacy. You control your story. You control it every day with every decision. You control it by living in the moment.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/leave-your-legacy
I see you all out there with your drive. You get up every morning and do big things. Or maybe you do small things, but they’re still the things that add up to a big life. You’re following your passions, making a living, making families, fostering relationships, fostering yourself, smiling, sometimes suffering, but always weathering the storm.
Or at least that’s how it all looks through the Facebook filter, and I know it usually doesn’t tell the full story.
Underneath there is struggle. There are moments when you’re in so deep it feels easier to just swim down. I see that struggle when we get together in real life. Maybe we sit down and talk about it, maybe it’s over a random text exchange, or maybe it’s a moment of total silence, but I still see it.
You probably see it too, because I’m not immune. I wonder about your drive, and your sorrow, because I also wonder about mine.
Questioning life is a good thing.
Where do you get your motivation?
How do you deal with struggle?
What story are you telling with your life?
Some days I do big things too. I’m fostering friendships and relationships and myself, I feel confident that I’m making a difference, I spend all day writing, and I’m filled with passion and pride and lots of plans. Other days, not so much — it’s easier to procrastinate, to get stuck in a Facebook black hole, comment crater, to dwell on uncertainty and sadness, or distract myself with entertainment and drink, all instead of making tough choices or putting in the hard work.
At the end of the day, or really at the end of it all, what we’re talking about here is your legacy. It is the sum of all the decisions we make day-in and day-out that altogether create our impact. And that impact exists in spite of and in cahoots with all the ups and downs and sidewayses that come your way.
How do you find balance in the chaos?
What inspires you despite it all?
How do you ensure you’re story is meaningful?
There’s so many ways to fail at life. It’s like the front lines of a war, riddled with booby-traps and sniper fire. Procrastination is how we lull ourselves to complacency in order to avoid tough decisions. Regret over the past is another way we, quite literally, keep ourselves moving backwards. A grudge is a vice we hold on to, that turns the table by holding on to us back. Worry is the worst of them all, fooling us into thinking we’re perfecting a future legacy, when we’re actually distracting ourselves from a productive present.
I fall into all these emotional traps, but I also know deep down they’re useless. They are blinders that distort and distract from the beautiful panorama of life. It’s so much better to live in that beauty , to live in the present, to make peace with disagreement, to foster forgiveness, to let the past go. It feels good, and it frees you to go back to building your legacy.
When was the last time you were on the front lines and avoided all the traps?
How on earth did you do that (seriously)?
What decisions can you make to do it all again, every day?
I don’t need to be famous, I just want to leave an impact. To change some minds. To feed a few souls. To live on in the hearts of those I encounter, especially of those I love. It’s not too much to ask. I’m not trying to do the unimaginable. I don’t think so, at least.
When my time is up, will I have done enough?
Who will tell my story?
What will that story even be?
Look at where we are and where we started. Each from our own place of inspiration and anchor, pride and predicament, joy and jealousy. Each individual moment a piece of our life’s puzzle and an opportunity for inspiration. We foster a desire to use all that we’ve experienced and learned, and to pay that forward, right now, in the moment. That’s how we leave an impact beyond ourselves. We leave our legacy when we stop the endless wondering about what our story will be, and start writing the story instead.
Every morning, think about it. What’s your impact?
Every day, look around. What do you want them to remember about you?
Every relationship, pay attention. Who will tell your story?
Every moment, a choice. What kind of legacy are you leaving?
With each decision, a new page. With each day, a new chapter. Go out and tell your story.
Elections drive everyone insane. Here are some survival tips.
New post on my new Medium.com page!
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.
As someone taking the time to read the blog, I'm making a few assumptions about you.
#1, I assume you’re ravishingly attractive. No seriously, the inner beauty you craft through mindfulness almost always exudes an outer beauty of cool self-confidence.
#2, getting to the real point of this piece though, I assume you're interested in improving yourself, being more present in the world around you, and making that world a better place. Basically, you believe in progress. Individual, social, political progress.
But progress isn't an easy topic to define. Coming from their own individual starting point, everyone undoubtedly develops their own idea of what progress means. Those differences make the path of progress a challenging and uncertain one to follow.
But in the end we will always move forward.
In my own mindful world, progress fluctuates. One day I’ll do a hike, spend a few hours writing, maybe actually publish an article, check off a bunch of to-do list items, cook a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Then the next morning I’ll oversleep and waste the day on Facebook. My own progress ebbs and flows.
I won’t pretend to know what's happening day-to-day in your world, but I’m just going to go ahead and make another assumption, that you experience days very similar to mine. Otherwise, why would you be reading up on ways to find more mindfulness in your life on this blog? Everybody’s individual progress ebbs and flows too.
Interpersonal progress follows the same pattern as well. All relationships come and go, grow or wither over time. The more time we spend getting to know different people, the more we change, the more they change, and the more the relationship between the two changes. Sometimes it changes in a way that draws you closer. Sometimes, you drift apart. The progress of interpersonal connection also ebbs and flows.
You’ll find the same order in the world of political progress. Empire’s come and go. Sometimes the Republicans are in charge, and sometimes it’s the Democrats. Laws are passed and laws are repealed. The politics of power and the issues of the day are constantly in flux
I’ll use a recent example: a few short years ago marriage equality for the LGBTQ community was a divisive issue for most Americans, and a hot potato issue for most politicians. These days a decent majority of Americans support it, and for anyone in the liberal-to-moderate realm, it’s the expectation. You even have the current Republican presidential candidate name-dropping “LGBTQ” in his nomination acceptance speech. That's progress too, but at the same time his party’s platform calls for roll back of all LGBTQ protective laws, marriage equality included. You can bet that if the tide of power shifts in their direction the rights we now take for granted will quickly evaporate. The progress of politics ebbs and flows.
Despite all this---the constant change, the victories and failures, from an individual to a national scale---we eventually move forward.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr. King was speaking about the politics of civil rights in the United States, which itself saw various ebbs and flows over time. From kings and queens of their continent, to slaves in a far off land; breaking the chains of slavery, to persecution by segregation; obtaining voting rights, to literacy tests and poll taxes that block those rights; the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination, even while racism continued (and continues). The progress of civil rights, like all politics, like our individual and interpersonal growth, ebbs and flows.
But in the end it flows forward. There is marked improvement of conditions, of equality, of fairness, of liberty over time. Maybe progress doesn't always move as fast as some of us would like, but it still moves. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, eventually.
We're all somewhere on that arc of progress. I have a lot of work left to do on myself, but I’m slowly getting there. I hope you are all in the same boat---advancing, improving, or at least making an effort. Each relationship moves forward, sometimes into calm waters and sometimes more treacherous, but always evolving. And in politics, even when conditions seem hopelessly unjust, off in the distance there's a glimmer of hope... progress.
Knowing and accepting that life won’t be perfect, that everything won’t go our way, that we will run into both fast lanes and road blocks---that knowledge is power.
This is the way progress goes, sometimes it ebbs and sometimes it flows, but always it grows.
Your ideal life doesn't come tied in a neat bow.
There's no FAQs to tell you how.
It's not on Amazon Prime.
You won't find a sassy Etsy design.
There is no steaming it on-demand.
No overnight shipping at hand.
It doesn't magically come in a dream.
It’s not dependent on likes or memes.
There is no app for that.
You can't get help from web support chat.
You won't stumble across it on a Pokemon hunt.
Real life takes effort, sorry to be blunt.
Your ideal life is up to you.
It's completely determined by what you do.
Each day is a choice that you can make.
So get off your ass and make it, for chrissake.
There's a real, fascinating, sometimes frightening, but ultimately beautiful world out there. Then there's a fake, surreptitious, sometimes comforting, but often crude digital world.
I think you can tell which one I prefer based on that description alone.
Both worlds are populated by actual people. In one world we see those people face-to-face, usually forcing a level of civility, politeness, and kindness. Not always, but usually. There are jerks, douchebags, fools, and a few dangerous psychopaths out there, but mostly when we're in-person we're nice to one another.
In the other world we see people through an avatar, a social media mask, removing nonverbal forms of human communication like facial expression and tone, usually stripping away the norms of tact and empathy in the process. Usually, but not always. There are kind, caring, and loving people all over the digisphere, but looking through a screen sometimes puts blinders on our otherwise exceptional eyes, leading to crassness and cruelty.
Every day most of us encounter both worlds. We watch as digital communication implodes into friend-on-friend Facebook wars (and maybe sometimes we even participate), before having a real world friend-on-friend lunch that restores our faith in humanity.
I ride the same roller coaster: I usually try to be an advocate instead of an argument, but sometimes I fail. I also make an effort to connect for real with my friends and family as much as possible, but again, sometimes I fail.
I was recently tested on both fronts when I received an abrupt blast from my distant past. Someone took the time to send me an angry message and then promptly blocked me so I couldn't respond. Beyond the fact that my interpretation of events couldn't be more different from theirs, I wasn't able to explain myself or to possibly apologize for any hurt I caused so many years ago.
There was the social media mask, staring me in the face and resorting to anger, but not willing to let us talk it out like real humans.
I may never truly understand this strange, new, loud-but-noncommunicative digital world, but my goal is to survive and be kind in it.
When given the chance, we should opt to spend our time in the real world, the present, as much as possible. But when we do dive into the murky digital world, we can bring with us the same civility, cordiality, and conversation we typically use in the real one.
The ability to hide behind the digital mask is physical, we're literally separated, so it was bound to change us. But maybe with a little extra effort---giving that update, comment, message, or block a second thought---we can act more mindfully about it.
We can learn to treat our fellow man like they're standing right in front of us, even when they're actually miles away.
The way I see it, you have two options for your existence: live your life, or live your life in fear.
There’s a valid evolutionary reason we feel fear and anxiety. In our caveman days we developed these emotions as a form of protection. The fear of death, injury, or pain triggered our defenses, thus lowering the chance of death, injury, or pain.
But it’s easy for us to take that healthy reaction of caution to an extreme, especially in this age of digital information over-saturation, especially given the news media’s tendency to focus on calamity as a ratings booster, and most especially when we’re hit with a personal tragedy.
12 years ago today my younger brother, plagued with blood clots, laid down to catch his breath and never got back up again. 5 years before that my father, plagued with high cholesterol, went out for a run one afternoon and never ran home. In my years before all that, I was always a bit of a worry-wort, lying awake in my central California home fretting over the possibility of the "big one" casting us off into the Pacific, or of an inescapable house fire, or of an alien invasion (seriously).
All of this, especially the untimely death of two of my closest family members, could have lead me to a very fearful life, becoming increasingly risk averse so as to avoid all of the many real and imaginary dangers of the world. While I do carry a decent amount of this worry with me to this day---and believe a little fear-induced caution can lead to wiser choices---I make a concerted effort to let go.
Because really, what is the point of living if you spend your whole life holed up in a mental bunker of fear?
There are truly dangerous people and things out there. My community, LGBTQ folks, are often the target of violence. I go hiking a lot by myself and so every time my mother learns of a bear attack she sends me an email of concern. Even with that, my risk of danger is low compared to the many places in the world held hostage by terrorists or the underprivileged communities held hostage to an overreactive police force and straight up bigotry.
But in spite of all that, when the moment comes that I lie down and never get back up, I’d like to at least know I lived life to the fullest while I was standing. I want to know that I wrote down every word, that I helped every friend, that I loved, that I cried, that I followed my dreams, that I lived while I was alive.
On this anniversary of my little brother's death, the lesson is to live with passion, joy, and love, just as he did in his time on earth. On the occasion of a seemingly neverending parade of deaths around the world, the lesson is to live mindfully in the present, because who knows what might happen tomorrow. The lesson is that life is too short to waste it constantly worried about death.
The lesson of death... is life.