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.
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.
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.
A visit to nature reminds us that we’re never alone, even in the big bad lonely city.
Los Angeles is notorious for its isolationism. We move around alone in metal boxes, surrounded by millions of people moving around in their own metal boxes. We sit in rooms staring at white screens, at coffee shops staring at slightly bigger screens, at home staring at even larger screens, surrounded by millions of people in their own rooms staring at their own screens.
Up in the San Gabriels though, we disconnect from all that, and disconnection gives us the chance to reconnect with each other. Hiking and camping are inherently social, whether you’re walking up that mountain with friends or if you’re walking it alone and saying “howdy” to hiker-bys.
Nature is a protected space of isolated socialization. We find connection in nature because it’s a reconnection to our roots. In those quietly wild moments, we remember that whether we see it every day or not, we’re all hurtling through the universe on the same blue dot.
The most beautiful part? You can take that realization back with you to the city, so the next time your in your metal box on the traffic-jammed freeway, maybe you don’t get so stressed. The next time you’re out in public staring at your screen, maybe you remember to look up at the world around you more often.
It’s the realization is that we’re all in this together, and that realization is the rediscovery peace.
Urban disconnection is about detaching from our modern lives to reacquaint ourselves with our wild roots, at least every once in a while.
We disconnect to run toward something, not away from anything.
We disconnect to find ourselves, not lose ourselves in nature.
We disconnect to become more grounded, not to stick our heads in the sand.
We disconnect not to escape the real world, but to feel more real than we ever thought possible.
We each have our own reasons for venturing into the woods. We might camp, backpack, hike, picnic, swim at waterfalls, or climb to the top of peaks, but the common thread is always the land. We love it and it loves us back with the gift of harmony.
This page, Urban Disconnection, is not an art project — it’s an ethos. It’s not a description of a trail (I’ll leave that to the experts), it’s how the trail makes you feel when you’re all up on it.
Get out there, or up there, or over there — yes it’s right there — and go feel it. Then tell me about it so we can share in the bliss. I’ll be feeling it right with you on this page.
Sometimes what you receive is good, sometimes bad, but it's always exactly what you needed. Get mindful outside as often as you can. I guarantee you won't regret it.
It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see.
We all have a different set of eyes. Each set of eyes are connected to our own unique brain. And each individual brain holds an irrevocable understanding of life based on our unique and sacred history of experience.
The eyes show us what we look at, the brain tells us what we see, but ultimately you are in charge of both.
It comes down to a choice then. When challenged, do you crumple in despair or rise to meet it? When you fail, do you despair in defeat or use the lesson for transformation? When decisions loom, do you waffle or do you lead? When stuck in a hamster wheel of regret, fear, doubt, or FOMO, do you wallow in the mire of negativity or do you choose to get mindful now?
How you see any situation is up to you. No matter how difficult, painful, or upsetting, you can always adjust your focus.
Open your eyes a little wider today, and see the possibilities.
Don't just face your fears, embrace your fears.
Taking a chance, putting yourself out there, doing that one thing that sends shivers down your spine, it’s risky. Personally, I can't stand heights. Just being near a sudden drop in elevation, be it a stairwell or the top of Yosemite Falls, turns my hands into puddles and my legs into noodles. I could be behind 6 feet behind a chain link fence and tethered to a cable, and still the fear of death strikes me.
But there’s a wealth of opportunity for personal growth that comes from tackling our trepidation. Diving into the complicated extremities in life is how we become better people.
The way I see it, you can reach two outcomes after facing a fear:
This applies just as much to something as basic as a fear of heights, as it applies to those big life decisions, like career and commitment.
When we take a risk and fail, it’s easy to become discouraged, to give up. But that is a reaction we have chosen. Our reaction to everything in life is up to us.
We can choose to embrace our fears, get out of our comfort zone, take the risks that expand our possibilities, and react to failures as life lessons.
It’s up to us to embrace our fears.
To take a leap of faith expands our possibilities.
To view our failures as inspiration.
With risk always comes reward. Always.
Change your mindset and collect the bounty.
"I was mesmerized, as I always am, by the contradiction of a [waterfall]: an always-moving flow whose shape is ever-constant. A thing at once speeding and still."
In nature as in life, we often appear static. At any given moment our jobs, our friends, our finances, our homes, our entire existence can seem to others, and feel to us, as immovable. But that's never really the case--underneath the shell we are a roaring rapid of constant change. Every friendly conversation, every new idea gleaned, every experienced moment, an opportunity for growth.
In nature as in life, nothing and no one is as simple as they seem... thankfully, because it would be pretty boring otherwise.
I'm never in a great mood after mass shooting, but when it happens in such a large scale as it did in San Bernardino, and so near to where I live, it makes things particularly difficult. Silly old emotional me also had a powerful yoga session this morning, so to come out of it to find that terrible people were actively shooting up developmentally disabled facility nearby, it was a little rough.
But I soldiered through. I went about my day. Took over a table at Starbucks. Got some writing done -- powerful yoga sessions tend to inspire that.
When I was leaving, still feeling melancholic from the day, I discovered a monarch butterfly garden. Now I walk through this area almost weekly and have never noticed it, but it was today that I finally paid attention.
Today was the day I was meant to notice it. Today as the day I needed to notice it.
The monarch story is a sad one as well -- too many Monsanto insecticides and not enough milkweed is leading to their demise in California. But right there off the sidewalk, a good person planted the vital milkweed they need to survive. Low and behold, a small family of them moved in.
I watched as the regal butterflies danced in the autumn afternoon sun, and silly old emotional me teared up yet again, but this time it wasn't for sadness, it was for happiness. And hope. And love.
No matter what, no matter how much shit bubbles up in the world, there is always beauty. And beauty will always win.
I don't know what next year will bring, let alone next month, next week, tomorrow, or even the next hour. Any second now things could go in a million different directions. This is a central truth.
But truth or not, this can be frightening, making us spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about the uncertainty that's just around the corner. We distract ourselves with scenarios of the future that rarely, if ever, happen the way we imagine. We waste time predicting a conversation, when we can never really know how anyone else will react. We spin our wheels with supposedly strategic (but usually stupid) decisions in a futile attempt to control the future.
Recently, I went on a desolate sunrise hike in Joshua Tree National Park and found myself being extra cautious, something I’m sure my mom will be happy to hear. The primary physical threat in the desert is the rattlesnake, but there are also scorpions, spiders, coyotes, and I have this theory about angry big horn sheep. Another threat is the nature of the trail itself, rocky, steep, and arduous, with dangerous cliffs that demand thoughtfulness with each step.
But more than any of those threats was the fact that I was totally alone - during the 3 hours I spent on this mountain (2 hiking and 1 writing this blog) I saw not a single soul, not on the trail or on the park road below. Coming from my usually crowded stomping grounds of Griffith Park, in the middle of urban Los Angeles, this was unnerving. I have never felt that alone on a trail anywhere in all my hundreds of hiking miles.
I had a choice, I could give away any of the benefits I might reap from the hike to the fear of a rattlesnake ambush or a cliff diving misstep, both scenarios leaving me to die alone on this desert island. Or I could be as prepared as possible, like carrying a snake bite kit and staying aware of my footing, and then choose to accept the uncertainty, stay present, and enjoy the stunning desert sunrise happening all around me.
Make no mistake, the future will do what it wants to. Sure, you have a hand in it - everything you do in the present is part of what makes up your future. But no matter how much you plan and scheme, the future will bring you to shockingly unexpected places.
Even the brawniest boulder can be cracked over time.
Even the most imposing tree can be decimated by a single lightening strike.
Even the best laid path can be washed out by a freak monsoon.
I'm starting to feel like all this uncertainty that I worry about, that you probably worry about too, isn’t something to fear, but something to celebrate. You can and should prepare yourself to your best ability - shoot for the stars, make plans, improve your life, seriously go for it - but in the end you have to just let the future be, because it will actually be what it will be no matter how much fretting you do in the meantime.
Hold on to the uncertainty. Revel in the mystery and astonishment of life. Take calculated risks. Go with the unfamiliar. Move forward with each step confidently, and remember that around every corner there may or may not be a something to fear, but there will most definitely be new view that coud be even more beautiful than the last.
I’m so grateful for uncertainty, life would be totally boring otherwise.
The word "friend" is incredibly amorphous. This is especially true on Facebook where you can be friends with such a wide range of individuals: people you've never actually met, people you knew 20 years ago, people you see in-person on occasion, and people you consider your besties.
Everyone has their own definition of what friendship truly means and every relationship, like everything in life, will change over time. Some friendships last a lifetime, so that even if you're apart for long periods of time you can always pick up right where you left off.
But it's also true that your besties today may not be your besties tomorrow. And while it feels sad to even type that out, I wouldn't have it any other way. People come in and out of your life for a reason, it's all part of our path, all a lesson. No matter what type of friend they are, that's how you grow, whether that's growing together or apart.
I love all of my friends, no matter how close or far, because you all bring something different to my life. I refuse to place my expectations on any of you based on how I think you should act or how we should be. I choose to grow with the punches. I chose to have fun in life... with whoever cares to join me.
As the giant Coachella snail said, "if you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
This article is cross-posted with Elephant Journal:
We've all heard the whole “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” idiom thrown around.
I hear it a lot in yoga, often referring to the emotional pain that comes in life, or perhaps the few seconds of “pain” you feel when you get into a triangle pose after a week away from your practice. Suffering in either situation being a choice. That phrase, as I used to know it, sounds so quaint to me now.
Last week I had a tonsillectomy, and for those who've never had one let me tell you, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I had a terrible recovery, but as with any dark cloud in life there is also a silver lining. The pain/suffering idiom became lodged in my mind, and it was the first time I truly, actually, honestly understood it.
The suffering was real, and not in some esoteric yoga way, but in the real-life, excruciating pain way. It was a powerfully important lesson. Pain in all its forms just exists, there’s nothing we can do about it. But how we handle that pain is a choice. We can wallow it until it’s physically and emotionally out of control. Or we can change our perspective on it, see it as a means to an end, and ultimately be in charge of our own happiness.
I’m definitely not the first, nor the last person to go through this. I talked to many friends about it beforehand, and those who had their tonsils removed as a child said something like, “It’s not so bad, I just remember eating a lot of ice cream!” Contrast that with those who has the surgery as an adult, who said, unequivocally, “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life!”
So I was warned. I knew what I was getting into. Or at least, I “knew” what I was getting into. I came to learn over the week-plus of recovery that it’s one thing to imagine what the “worst pain in your life” might feel like, and it’s quite another thing to actually feel it. The value of experience cannot be underestimated.
In those seven or so days I endured more pain than I could’ve ever imagined, the worst being night four, which seemed illogical (shouldn’t you be on the mend at that point?) but was true. Terribly true.
That night the level of constant, throbbing, overwhelming pain—and in the throat which is so central to our everyday life—quite literally broke me. Forget swallowing food or water, it hurt just to breathe. My ears were cauldrons of fire. My jaw had just finished a round in the boxing ring. Speaking one word sent razor blades down my throat.
No mindfulness exercise or act of positive thinking was enough. I was bulldozed by regret, “why did I agree to have this surgery?!” Flattened by anger, “you are such an idiot!” Conquered by suffering, “you are so weak!”
At the peak of my suffering I briefly considered taking every pill I’d been prescribed, because it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Life was no longer a viable option. Thankfully, that idea was quickly dismissed by the quiet voice of rational thought I could still hear through the white noise of pain and narcotics.
That emotional breakdown was a low point in my life. But sometimes it’s at our lowest that we finally learn to look up.
At a very basic level, my emotions that night made the physical pain worse. Like so many other things, crying uses your throat. So that was my first realization: by wallowing in my pain I was making the pain stronger. Getting upset by it was actually counterintuitive, because it perpetuated the problem.
The same lesson goes for many other parts of life: nerves before public speaking is counterintuitive, because that anxiety can actually cause you to make the verbal mistake you’re so nervous about. Anger at someone when they’ve talked smack is counterintuitive, because that anger causes you to be an asshole which actually encourages a negative persona.
At a much broader level, letting myself get dragged down by the pain caused me to lose all hope. This was my most important realization: by wallowing in the pain I was letting the pain win. I had no choice in the matter—the pain existed no matter how many deep breaths I took or vicodins I popped. But the suffering I felt, that was entirely up to me. Instead of suffering I could be mindful about the pain, view it as part of the healing process, a means to a much more positive end, as evidence of my throat repairing itself.
Wallowing in any pain—physical, emotional or yogi—and letting that pain drag me down, that is entirely up to me.
I had a choice: continue to suffer or make up my mind to be happy.
I chose to be happy.
The next morning was day five, and I woke up in the same excruciating pain. But I also woke up with a smile, because I knew that in a day or so I would feel relief, in a week I would feel back to normal, and in a month my sleep apnea and constant colds would (hopefully) go away. I woke up with a smile, because I knew it was all downhill cruising from there. I woke up with a smile, because I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
I woke up with a smile, because I knew that I no longer had to suffer, and turns out that was really all I needed to know.
I'm taking a break from blogging this week, but that doesn't mean I'm taking a break from mindfulness.
This can be a busy and stressful time of year, and a sad time of year if you let it. In the midst of this hectic holiday, take a mindfulness break. Use it as a moment to reflect on the holiday season, on your life, on the year that has passed, on all the people you love. Recognize all that you have to be grateful for. Notice how taking this moment to breathe and reflect makes you feel renewed. Accept all the love that is around you and reject the stress.
Happy Holidays friends! Thank you for reading.