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.
Sometimes when I’m camping out there by a fire, I start to chronicle the logs.
In many ways this is an act of sheer boredom; I’m alone in the wilderness with no phone service (just as I like it), and there’s not much else to do but stare into the fire, sip whisky, and think. I get all my best thinking done right there.
Each log in the fire is different and unique. Some narrow, others full. Some even, others winding. Some are pieces of kindling splintered off a trunk, burning bright and fast because of their damage. Others are fully intact limbs, substantial, resilient, warriors against the fire, holding their own for hours. No matter what, every log is but one piece of a much larger tree, a small part of a big story, whittled down to it’s essential core.
Each new log of firewood adds more energy, building on its predecessors. Each new log is ultimately consumed by its own light and heat, going back into the earth where it all started. Each log was once a small sapling, then a grand tree, then a flame and an ember, then ash and dust, before transforming into the nutrients the next sapling uses to flourish for years, right up until it sees the same fiery fate.
I take another swig of whisky, and the longer I peer into that glowing fire ring of broken trees, the more I see—I start to see all of us.
Humanity has a lot in common with a campfire. Each of us is a log, a branch of a much larger family tree, burning bright for as long as we can. Each of us unique, with our own history and struggles. Some of us bend to the left, others bend to the right. Some are straight, and others like myself go their own way. Some of us are damaged, others a pillar of perpetuity, at least seemingly. Some are separated from their past, others bonded so strong they’ll never let go.
We each burn as bright as we can individually, but there’s strength in numbers when we ignite together as one. We all hope to stay lit for as long as possible, but no matter how bright and how long, we eventually go back to the earth where it all started. Our purpose is to leave a legacy of knowledge, an ember of warmth, a torch on the path to light the way forward for those who come next.
This isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t some grim tale about the brevity and ultimate uselessness of life.
This is the true story of the continuing circle of life on earth. It’s a centrifuge of motion that powers our inspiration. It’s why we radiate with as much strength and light into the world as we can, while we can. It’s how we accept that one day we will burn out, but as long as we pass down our spark, the process of living is truly the most beautiful undertaking ever engineered.
Even the smallest logs provide the embers that keep the fire smoldering. Even the biggest logs, if placed awry, can smother the fire. We each have our part in the this communal campfire, our story to tell, our light to pass on. It’s up to each of us where we place ourselves in the pit, how we choose to burn, what we choose to contribute.
In this way we are all granted the power to both live now and live on, in perpetuity, a circle of life and light in the middle of an otherwise bleak darkness.
I take another sip of whisky. It’s strange and wondrous how much more sense the world makes when I’m alone in the wild, a quiet witness to the history of the world and the future of ourselves, all in a campfire log.
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.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
I'm angry. I've been angry since the election. In fact, my anger has only grown since then.
A lot of you are also angry, I know because you've told me. Opinions polls show an historic majority of this country is angry too. I’m not even talking about a difference of political opinion either, that we’ll just set aside. It’s every disparaging tweet, every absurd conflict of interest, every self serving position, every unqualified nominee that sparks a tiny bit more rage in my soul. If you're not angry--if you’ve been watching all this ridiculousness go down and you’re totally cool with it--that kind of makes me angry too.
So I get it, but also I know it’s time to move forward. Anger alone is dangerous. It’s time to turn that anger into action.
Pure unadulterated anger leads to depression and retreat. Anger sops you of your energy and creative passion. It leads to disengagement, to cruelty, to the very bad behavior we abhor in our new leader. It leads to lost friendships and lost opportunities for understanding. It leads to hopelessness.
Anger can inspire a host of other passions, but by itself it’s the first step towards a meaningless life. Anger can solidify your ideals, but as a stand alone it’s the first line of a losing argument. Anger can lead you into a more positive future, but if you let it hold you back it takes you nowhere.
Don’t let anger drain your drive.
Don't let anger cut you off from the world.
Don’t let anger crush your hope.
Use that anger inspire action. Let it push you to make signs and take to the streets. To support the organizations and local campaigns that can make a difference. To always stand up and speak out to the cruel and unjust.
Use that anger to inspire community. Let it lead to the comfort found in like-minded, progressive solidarity. Let it create more connection and understanding toward everyone else in the world, especially those with whom you disagree. In the end, those connections are what will forge the path of progress.
Use that anger to inspire optimism. Let it bring your spirit of activism to life. Even as society seems to regress towards fear and hate, let the beacon of light that leads to a better future start with you.
It's ok to be angry, but in the end the only way to move forward in life is to do something with that anger. We grow a community through kindness. We grow kindness with hope. We grow hope through direct and sustained action.
When you waste all your time in anger you won't have any room left for love, and love always wins in the end.
There's a dangerous passivity encouraged by the “power of positive thinking.”
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/the-power-of-doing
We’ve all heard of the “power of positive thinking”. It’s this idea that your destiny is controlled by your state of mind. Think a few happy thoughts and boom!, you’re happy.
There are multiple variations on this theme. Create a vision board to imagine an amazing future and boom!, the future becomes amazing. Meditate everyday and boom!, you have mindfulness in spades. Raise your arms in the air like you won a race one minute before an interview and boom!, you win and you’re hired (seriously, that’s a thing).
I’m here to say, no. No to all of that.
Thoughts are just that, thoughts. By definition they are only in your mind. They can be powerful forces to guide your life into happiness and success, but not by themselves. The only way for your thoughts to effect the actual world you live in is for you to do one very critical thing: act on them.
There’s a dangerous passivity encouraged by this theory of the power of positive thinking. It gives us the impression that we can sit back, imagine our ideal life, and if we wish for it hard enough it we’ll watch it magically unfold.
But that ideal life isn’t created by imagination, it’s created by doing. It’s built up over a series of difficult decisions and decisive actions. It’s a slowly visualized rainbow that is made up of the darkness failure, the light of success, and a thousand of gradients of unexpected color in between.
Our thoughts and ideas are definitely important. Meditation, daily affirmations, setting an intention, thinking through the tough decisions in life, and thinking through our response to those around us, they are the foundation of our betterment. But ultimately, a simple idea is useless if we never put it into practice. Our life is realized when we build a structure on that foundation. And our happiness is determined by what we build.
Or in short: what truly matters most isn’t what you think, it’s what you do with that thought.
So use the power of your mind all you want. Ponder the meaning of life, brainstorm it, vision board it, talk to friends you trust, hire a life coach, whatever. But don’t stop there. Make a plan. Make multiple plans. Take action. See it through. Life will not be handed to you on a silver platter just because you dream up a silver platter. Your life is created by you.
I know you're frustrated, I'm frustrated too. But guess what? There's hope.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
I'm angry. I'm disappointed. Once in a while these days a wave inescapable melancholy washes over me. The events that have transpired across the world over the past year have been unmistakably heavy. I have a hunch that a lot of you feel the same.
2016 was a difficult year. Some would call it a terrible, horrific, never ending nightmare of a dumpster fire, but let’s just stick with “difficult” for the sake of sanity.
Russia, Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, China, Russia again, the hottest year on record, the death of a slew of extremely talented artists, the dangerous proliferation of fake news, all the people with an uncritical eye who believe it, the 2016 presidential election season, the day of the 2016 presidential election itself, the day(s) after the 2016 presidential election, the hatred and racism it all exposed, and perhaps worst of all, the demagogue of destructive division that is president-elect Trump... just to name a few.
This year piled it on like dirty laundry. Like rows of chipped plates at a Goodwill. Like net after net of suffocating fish on boat deck. It broke the Guinness World Record for awful years.
But I’m going to tell you something you may not be expecting to hear: 2016 was amazing.
That’s right, I said it.
While it's true, there is a long list of terrible things that happened in 2016, there’s an even longer list of beautiful things: your friends, your family, all the mind-blowing things you learned and the stunning sights you witnessed, every meaningful conversation, every hug and every smooch, all the moments where you created, you cried, you smiled.
Least of all, 2016 was an amazing year because you were here to live it. No matter how much the acidic fermentation of hatred, disapointment, and chaos soured this year, you survived it, you learned from it, and you’re better off for it.
When things go downhill like they did in 2016—when we see cruelty, violence, ignorance, war, and struggle — it’s easy to just give up. Stick our heads in the sand of distraction and procrastination. Chalk this off as a rotten year, plug our noses, and pray that when we ring in 2017 and put up a new wall calendar it’s somehow going to fix everything.
That is the exact opposite thing we should do.
Wallowing in the darkness of the past doesn't make your future any brighter. The only way to do that is to mindfully stand in the light of the present.
I’m still here ready and able to fight, you are too, and that gives me hope. It pulls me out of the funk of this past year and gets me back to work today, in the present. I know deep down that no matter how many terrible things happen, in this or any year, there are still good and decent people in the world. Our very existence proves it.
You are lucky to be alive right now—we are all lucky to be alive right now—because as long as we’re alive, hope lives as well. That is the spark of inspiration that we use to ignite a better world.
Instead of putting out the flame because things didn’t go our way, how about we use all this as fuel to burn even brighter, every day, from here on out?
Instead of worrying about the lack of kindness in the world, how about we turn the tide by showing more kindness ourselves?
Instead of fretting over the myriad ways our president-elect can screw up societal progress, the complex global economy, our increasingly tense international relations, and the environment, how about we volunteer and donate to the organizations that will pick up the fight in his absence?
Instead of pouting while we wait for 2017 to somehow usher in better news, how about we create some good news right now while 2016 still exists?
We are lucky to be alive because it means we still have a chance. Right now is your chance. Stand up, step forward, and take it.
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.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/america-is-still-beautiful
My profession has always been political advocacy, but in the last few years my heart has been in mindfulness. So you can imagine how this past week was quite an emotional tug of war.
As a matter of personal philosophy, I believe in kindness and human decency. So I was shocked, extremely shocked, last Tuesday when a man with a complete lack of human decency became president-elect Donald Trump.
My flash reaction was to lose hope in the goodness of man, like I’d been punched in the gut by the bully of a truly harsh reality. A troublingly large amount of people turned out to be selfish and vulgar, or if not, they were OK enough with selfish vulgarity to vote for someone who is, which is almost as bad.
This goes way beyond political ideology. We can debate and respectfully disagree on the issues 'til the cows come, I’m fine with that. But even beyond Trump's particularly extremist positions--on women, minorities, religious freedom, LGBT rights, immigration, the economy, trade, taxes, the environment, and I could go on--there was little to no respect displayed by him during this campaign. The unprecedented reaction of despair and protest you’re seeing around the country right now is a direct result of that.
It was an emotionally chaotic couple of days. I couldn't sleep. I ate way too much. I distracted myself with entertainment and booze. I often felt despondent. Was I wrong all this time to believe in the goodness of humanity?
But the days passed and eventually, here and there, the fog lifted to expose the sun again.
The warm glow shined a light on the truth: America is still beautiful. It is. America is still kind and decent and loving. America is still good.
I saw it in all the diverse and hopeful faces at the peaceful protest last weekend.
I saw it in every passionate advocate at my local Sierra Club political action committee meeting.
I saw it in my mother, who is now a fierce advocate for my rights, the rights of others, and the return of decency.
I saw it in the avalanche of donations to social service charitable organizations that piled up over the last week.
I saw it in the empathy and love that my man and all our friends shared with each other as we struggled to fathom this act of aggression toward our communities and common dignity.
I see kindness and charity and compassion and yes, beauty, all around me.
Sure, I see the fear and division and violence that's going on as well. It started from top with Donald Trump and then trickled down. It's devastating for my soul to bear witness to such an open display of hatred.
But still I believe, no I know, that we are better than that. Love is stronger than hate. It always has been and it always will be.
And in the end, love will win.
So I will not give up. I will fight for justice and equality and decency because we need it now more than ever. And if you stand against those things, or support the guy who does, then I will debate with you respectfully until you understand why those things are so important.
The beauty of America still shines together as one light, radiating into the darkness, a beacon of hope in a troubled nation.
Elections drive everyone insane. Here are some survival tips.
New post on my new Medium.com page!
"It’s easy to get mindful when you’re in an actual jungle, but how do you get mindful in the urban jungle?"
Check out this new piece I wrote for Elephant Journal.
It's called "Mindfulness Anywhere" and it seeks to explore how we go from the relative ease of finding mindfulness in nature, to the real struggle of minding that same mindfulness in the chaos of the city. We can choose to wallow in the struggle, or we can lean on our friends to lift us out of the muck.
I choose friends. Enjoy!
This article is cross-posted with Elephant Journal:
Finding mindfulness isn't like flipping a switch.
Most of us can’t simply will ourselves into a state of zen like a Tibetan monk—the modern age and our overactive minds simply won’t allow it. So I look to the outside world for help. Be it through nature, exercise, apps, travel, everyday choices, or habits, we can use all sorts of methods to nudge ourselves to a more present state.
One significant piece of my own personal outside world is my dog, Rocco. To put it bluntly, I love him to death. He always makes me smile and helps me forget whatever worry has been overwhelming my mind on a given day.
I was thinking about him, and the larger infatuation many of us have with our pets, and suddenly it dawned on me—my dog is another one of the ways I nudge myself, often subconsciously, to get out of my head and live in the present.
My dog teaches me mindfulness.
The connection we have to our pets is multi-layered. No doubt, they provide us with companionship, unconditional love, snuggles and a great way to connect to other similarly passionate pet people. But there’s a deeper attachment that goes beyond the obvious. I propose a new theory—that we’re fanatically attached to our pets because they constantly teach us an important lesson about ourselves.
Our pets take us out of our complicated adult lives for a moment, and back to a more mindful time—a time of youthful exuberance, a time before we were corrupted by the modern distracted world. They remind us of how we were then, and as such, remind us to try and a be little more like that again—right now.
My dog Rocco is possibly the most zen being I know. He doesn’t worry about the future, except perhaps starting around four o’clock in the afternoon, when he knows dinner is imminent. He doesn’t stress over the decisions he makes, for instance—choosing which sunbeam to sleep in.
He doesn’t regret his mistakes, even after tearing apart one of his favorite toys. He’s always enthusiastic when I take him on his morning walk, even if he had to wait while I procrastinated on Facebook. He jumps for joy at every treat, even if he’d always rather have bacon. He accepts all the snuggles and love I give, not worried about what other thing he might be missing out on.
He’s also a big part of my favorite trick to get more mindful—nature. I hike a few times a week. The trails provide me with a level of exercise that keeps me physically fit and a level of peace and beauty that keeps me mentally fit.
I often take Rocco on these hikes, and rather than take away from the moment of zen the wild gives me, he adds a whole new layer of zen that only enhances the experience. The exuberance he displays when I untether his leash adds to the exuberance I feel when I untether from the stress of city life.
His curiosity to explore a new landscape—the trees, shrubs, vistas, wildlife and of course smells—brings me to a more mindfully aware state that bleeds into the rest of my day, on the trail and off. His consistent desire to stay close to me as we hike brings me an understanding of uncorrupted loyalty that I can carry with me into the human relationships of my everyday life.
As a hiking partner, not only is he good at keeping up with my pace, he’s good at setting the pace for a mindful existence.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Rocco is my little yogi zen master. He doesn’t tell me how to live my life, but instead, he provides an example of a simpler way to live.
Obviously, not all dogs are the same, and maybe I’m just lucky to have such an interested and present pooch. But I do think most dogs, most cats (I grew up with many) and most pets in general, have all these qualities to some degree. And it’s for those reasons we’re so drawn to them.
When I’m feeling down, angry, stressed or worried about the future, I can look at Rocco and see a better way—a more simple, honest, mindful way.
Maybe this is one of the reasons I love him so much.
We’re all complicated humans, so it’s unrealistic to expect to live our lives with the same sincerity as our pets. It’s the cross of self-awareness we have to bear as a species.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our furry companions—that we can’t take a moment to be with them in the moment, or that we can’t take the smile they give us and carry it with us as we go about our convoluted day.
In that way, our pets are giving us the gift of mindfulness all the time. It’s up to us if we choose to accept it.
This article is cross-posted with Elephant Journal:
Damn it felt good to be disconnected.
The connection addiction is endemic in our society. It’s one thing to catch up with friends, share a piece of your life, make plans, and discuss things you find important - that’s all well and good. But the ability to do those things at any hour of the day, and the expectation that everyone you know should be available to do so as well, it's just unhealthy.
Social media is the drug and smartphones are the enabler. Together they give us a false sense of community, making us believe everyone is waiting with bated breath for our next update or text, when in fact everyone is just going about their own lives. And on the other side of the screen, our devices sit on our laps and in our pockets distracting us with deliciously tempting notifications, making us believe we should be waiting with bated breath for all your updates.
One of the main reasons I took off into the woods for three weeks was to put all my mindfulness overtures about turning off notifications and reducing distractions into practice. But it's 2015, so I expected I would have some basic level of phone service available to me for most of the trip. I knew I could stop at Starbucks or McDonald's to use WiFi. If nothing else, I hoped I'd at least have a smidgen of phone coverage for texts and calls in an emergency.
Out on the road I quickly realized that I'd seriously overestimated the strength of my network. Dead zones were vast and numerous. I drove for hours on small highways with no coverage whatsoever. Many campgrounds would show a few bars, but when push-came-to-upload, nothing would work. A few campgrounds had no service at all, forcing me to make a call in a real live phone booth so at least someone knew I was alive.
When you spend most of your time in cities, it's not something you're used to. If you believe the Verizon commercials, it's not something you'd expect.
At first it was frightening. My phone is an extension of me. It’s how I communicate with my friends and family. How I map my route and stream my music. It's how I write and update this blog. I’m so used to it always being there for me, whether I’m bored or in an emergency.
In a way, spending hours or sometimes days without phone service felt like I'd lost an arm. Despite all my pronouncements to the contrary, connectivity had become that important to me. To some degree, connectivity is important to all of us. It’s unavoidable in our modern society.
But as time rolled on I accepted my new reality. As Cheryl Strayed said in Wild, “This is what I came for, this is what I got.”
So I got used to it. A constant connection became the exception rather than the rule. When it was available, it became a treat.
By the end of the journey, I loved it. I actually preferred it. At my last destination I had three straight days of no phone service. I felt free, clear, calm, unrestricted, undisturbed, undistracted. I felt present.
I don't believe I’m a selfish person, but gleefully reveling in the fact that you all couldn't get in touch with me almost felt egotistical. I knew I was missing out on all your updates and the important news of the day. It’s not as though I lost all interest in sharing things with you either.
But I realized that being disconnected for a few days or weeks wasn't the end of the world. I would eventually be back on Facebook to catch up on life. Or better yet, I would eventually see you all in-person so you could fill me in on everything.
Rather than being the end of the world, disconnection was the beginning of a new world. One where FOMO was replaced by YOLO, distraction was replaced by presence, and anxiety still existed but it was related to the threat of bears rather than the stresses of multitasking.
There were times in the waning days of my trip when my phone did start working...notification bubbles popped up, my pocket buzzed, and a wave of texts crashed in.
But at that point I had broken the addiction. The temptation was gone and rather than check those notifications I switched my phone into airplane mode. It was my time to disconnect. It was my time to enjoy the break. It was my time.
I’m back in LA now where phones always work, pretty much everywhere. I've caught up with friends and even caught up a little with Facebook (though after being away from it for so long I’m finding it mildly tedious).
But truth be told, I miss the freedom of disconnection I found in my journey. I miss the mindfulness it practically forces upon you. I miss what it feels like to realize that you and you alone are in charge or your own entertainment, there is no depending on others or apps.
This may change as the days and weeks pass here in the real world. I’ll fall back into old habits, because that’s what people do.
But I’m going to do my best to hold on to as much of this lesson as possible.
Phones always work here, except when you hike a little further out in the mountains. Phones always work, except when you switch it to airplane mode as a choice, just to take a break. Phones always work except when you choose to be present and ignore the temptation to post every detail of your life on Facebook.
We are only as connected as we choose to be. When you have the opportunity, choose real life over digital life.