It's easy to find mindfulness in the natural world, that's no secret--getting outside in the wilderness helps you discover peace, discover the world, and discover yourself. I know this first hand.
But I realize most people don't have access to the wild like I do. I'm lucky enough to live in an area (southern California) and to live a certain lifestyle (not fully employed) that affords me with regular access to some exceedingly zen natural environments. I’m truly grateful for that. But most of us live in cities that are situated great distances from the world's natural wonders. We have jobs and families and lives that keep us endlessly busy. We're surrounded by suburbs where the wild landmarks are all landscaped.
One day I’ll likely have to get a real world desk job again, so one day I’ll need to figure out a way to be mindful while surrounded by the noise of the city. You know, like most everyone else.
It's easy to get mindful when you're in the actual jungle, but how do you get mindful in the urban jungle?
The typical lifestyle magazine answer is: just be mindful, it's always up to you. But I hate that answer, it’s trite. We all know that within the chaos of a city, it's never that simple. In our real, everyday, complex lives, we get by with a little help from our friends.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really do love cities, I live in fairly large one myself after all. But then there’s New York City--the Big Apple and I haven’t always had the most stable relationship. The “wild” there has much more to do with the latest preposterous fashion trend or the hottest new club, than the mountain hikes to waterfalls I’m more accustomed to.
The last time I visited NYC, it gave me a brief, but extremely unmindful panic attack.
It was last summer, and in the months leading up to it I had spent the majority of my time alone in the wilderness and multiple national parks--camping, hiking, traveling, taking pictures, living free--what I like to call being a journeyman.
When I arrived in New York after all that, the buzz and excitement I normally felt for the city was completely absent. Instead I felt petulance--looking out over the skyline I was irritated by the cement and glass, indignant every time I heard a car horn or police siren, irked as I imagined the uniquely wild Hudson Bay that once surrounded lower Manhattan.
I felt a little like Charlton Heston at the end of the Planet of the Apes... “You finally really did it. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
I had traveled to New York with my husband and and we soon met up with a few old friends, so I wasn’t alone. After a good hour of quietly freaking out to myself, it dawned on me that I was surrounded by a safety net, ready to stop my freefall and set me back up on my own two mindful feet.
I opened up to my man and my friends and told them about my fluster. As soon as I did so, without them even saying a word, I started to see the folly of my thinking. They rightly did their best to convince me of my foolishness, through both support and a little ribbing, just as any good friend should do.
Lack of wild nature or not, I had people who love me who want to help keep me sane. Taking a moment to be appreciative of my support network immediately cleared my head. Mindfulness was always there, I just had to open my heart a little wider to see it.
Since we had spent most of the afternoon in my friend’s lofty condo tower, we decided to go on a walk, and soon found ourselves in a nearby park. It wasn’t a desolate mountain landscape like Griffith Park that I’m used to back in Los Angeles, a John Muir-esq canyon trail of wonderment like I’d visited in our national parks, and it wasn’t even the truly special and somewhat-wild Central Park--it was a small block-long strip of land with some foliage, benches, and a playground.
“Hey look Jason! We’re in the wilderness!” they joked. But behind the laugh was an important truth.
Lack of wild nature or not, there were still trees, and dirt, and people enjoying the simplicity of the outdoors. Taking a moment to be appreciative of even the smallest drop of wilderness brought me joy. Mindfulness was always there, I just had to open my eyes a little wider to see it.
Back when I first arrived in New York, I carried with me a sense of entitlement over my newfound success finding mindfulness in the wild, and it drove me a bit crazy. But after that struggle, the city quickly taught me that I could keep my head on straight anywhere, just by opening my eyes and looking around me, and by falling back a little on my friends for support.
Lack of wilderness or not, grieving at the site of a paved street is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Lack of wilderness or not, mindfulness isn't determined by an external force or environment, it's an internal choice that is always available to us.
Lack of wilderness or not, we can always look to our loved ones to help keep us in check and remind us how to find joy and mindfulness anywhere.