Life has a way of taking you in unexpected directions. My path is about to take a sharp left turn.
We all have different and very personal journeys in life. Sometimes you push yourself along, controlling your direction by sheer force of will. That is the road you choose. Sometimes you're slowly pulled into unknown and uncharted territory by a strange gravitational force. That is the road that chooses you.
In both cases, you either move or your heart aches, knowing that there might something else out there—something more.
I just quit my job of 5 1/2 years. It's the first time I've ever quit without having something else lined up, be it work or school.
I know it's risky. I'm used to having a paycheck and a daily schedule. I'm used to the comfort and stability that brings. I'm used to having an answer to the proverbial question, "what do you do?" I'm used to the comfortable persona I've created through my answer.
I know it's risky to leave my job, but I also know it's right.
This wasn't a decision made lightly. I worked at AIDS Project Los Angeles. There I advocated with government and the community to end LGBT stigma and to combat the health disparities that put my community and my friends at risk. It's a wonderful organization, there are amazing people who work there, and I know for a fact that they do great things and help lots of people. I've truly appreciated every second of my time there.
But for the last few years I've felt a shift. Something deep inside me wanted to explore, to take a step in a new direction. A strange gravitational force was pulling me away into uncharted territory, and I finally obliged.
During this same period I discovered mindfulness—how to chill and be present instead of worrying about the endless and unknowable possibilities of the road ahead. But being mindful in the present doesn't mean you give up all your hopes for the future, it means you live in every moment as another step towards that future. I'm living those moments now.
So I took a leap of faith—a simultaneously frightening and exhilarating leap.
The next step I'm taking is perhaps even riskier. I'm leaving home to spend 3 weeks in the woods...alone.
This is something I've thought about for years and I know it isn't all that groundbreaking. There are hundreds of books, new and old, on the topic. Native American tribesman did it as a coming of age ritual. There are even major motion pictures depicting it.
But every time I've read about it, or saw it on a screen, or imagined myself doing it, I knew. Even though it would be difficult, physically and emotionally, I knew. Even if it would be nearly impossible to explain to colleagues, friends, my mom, and especially to my partner, I just knew.
From childhood until now, my passion for the environment has been a guiding force—I was fascinated with Walden in 7th grade and my masters degree was focused on environmental policy.
In the last few years my relationship to nature became even more personal. Beyond my drive to protect the planet through everyday decisions and advocacy, the earth has also become my teacher, my friend, and my mindfulness guru.
So I'm taking another leap of faith—a revelatory, mildly dangerous, and possibly selfish leap.
I'm leaving the city to go wild and commune with nature, to camp without modern distractions, to hike and explore our National Forests, to read books about discovery, self-reliance, and overcoming fear, and to write pages and pages of inspired Mindfulness Now posts (you've been warned).
I'm leaving my man, my dog, and my home behind for this experiment, and that has been the biggest struggle of all.
I'm leaving all the things that give me comfort in life so I can really understand what it feels like to get out of my comfort zone.
I can't predict the outcome of all this. Ideally I'll rediscover myself, figure out my next step in life, write amazingly insightful blog posts, and set a solid foundation of inspiration to guide me into the future.
Or maybe, after a few weeks of sleeping in a tent, hiking in the woods, and taking some pretty pictures for Instagram, I'll still have no clue what to do with myself. And that would be ok. Really.
A journey isn't about expectation, it's about discovery.
The trail ahead may not be clear, but I'm ready for this hike. I've taken one step by leaving my job. Soon I'll take another next step by going wild. It may end up easy, with the trail coming into focus as everything falls into place as I walk ahead confidently. I'll learn from that. It may end up arduous, with cliffs, loose footing, and more questions than answers. I'll learn from that too.
Either way, I'm ready to walk down this path. Hopefully it leads me to myself...
“We need the tonic of wildness. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Nature is my therapy.
It feels like I met my therapist only recently, taking on weekly therapy sessions in the local mountains. But when I really think about it, I realize I've slowly discovered her over the course of my whole life. She was there all along, as a seminal component of my upbringing and a quiet docent leading me into adulthood.
Nature has helped me figure out life, long before I realized life needed figuring.
Growing up, I lived in an area of California with a lot of open space--rolling oak-dotted hills, peaceful babbling creeks, stunning rocky shorelines, open fields of grapes, horses, and cattle. I think California is the most naturally beautiful spot on the planet, and the Central Coast is the heart of that beauty. I was extremely lucky to spend my first 18 years on there.
Though truth be told, you would never have heard me say any of that when I was a kid.
I didn't truly appreciate that beauty as a teenager--all I wanted was to live in the big city. We regularly traveled to Southern California to visit family and Los Angeles was where I absolutely had to be. Big freeways, big buildings, lots of lights, rap music, grit, cement. Its endless possibilities scared me, but that fear bred excitement, and excitement was what I wanted in life.
Now that I actually live in Los Angeles, and have for some 17 years now, I know I was right--I do love the city life. But living in the city also gave me a gift that I never anticipated--an appreciation for the beauty of my hometown. A real appreciation for wide open spaces.
Nature, forests, creeks, rivers, fields, weeds, wildlife, quiet, calmness, and all the things that you find in small town life are all just as important to me now as the excitement I find in the city. They balance one another. Without my ability to explore all the gorgeous natural wonders California has to offer, or to simply visit my mother back on the Central Coast, I'm pretty sure Los Angeles would drive me insane.
So I go into nature as often as I can.
I go to find stillness, where all I can hear are the birds chirping and leaves rustling.
I go to find peace and get away from my everyday stress.
I go to soak in the natural majesty of the world around us.
I go to feel small, and really understand the insignificance of my personal dramedies.
I go to spend a few hours with myself so I can think/reflect/process.
I go to find myself.
Therapy, to me at least, is pretty much the same thing--taking the time to think/reflect/process--except with a paid professional. The training and expertise of a professional therapy experience shouldn't be underestimated. They can guide you to unexplored areas of your mind, encourage you to ask the right questions of yourself, help you to open the doors on your life you might otherwise choose to lock up.
I'm 100% certain I could also benefit from a real trained therapist. But in the meantime, I have Dr. Earth, and she usually does a pretty good job.
The more time I spend in nature the more I am able to deal with life and all its complexities.
The more time I spend in nature the more I learn to distance myself from distractions.
The more time I spend in nature the more I understand that not everything needs to be perfect.
The more time I spend in nature the more I realize there's so much I don't know.
The more time I spend in nature the better I feel, and isn't that the point of therapy?
I've been lucky enough in my life to learn a lot about Jewish culture and faith through my partner, Jon. His family believes in a contemporary form of Judaism, one that is entirely progressive and endlessly mindful.
Dayenu is one of those mindful traditions. On a literal level if means "it would have been enough," but on a progressive level it is a commentary on our modern culture where nothing--not our possessions, our bank accounts, or the food on the dinner plates--seems to be enough.
Dayenu asks us to be grateful for all the blessings that surround us, but also to be mindful of injustice in the world and then to do something about it.
Such a powerful and important message.
The following is from the Herman family Pesach, the book you read (and sing) as a group during the Passover Seder. This Pesach was lovingly prepared, and this passage mindfully selected, by one of my zen inspirations, Phyllis Herman:
It would have been enough for God to take us out of Egypt.
Here’s a funny thing I've noticed since starting this blog: sometimes I wait so long and spend so much time editing a post, that by the time I’m ready to publish it I decide that I'm actually... kind of... wrong.
This concept is kind of blowing my mind a little bit here. Bear with me.
I started this blog as a testament to the mindful life I’m attempting to lead. By sharing my thoughts it would keep me honest, and by putting these words out there maybe they just could help someone else along the way.
As a matter of fact, I know these words have helped people, because those people have actually told me so. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that my silly little ideas, my strange and personal way of seeing the world, has somehow moved other people out there.
Just yesterday the online magazine Elephant Journal published my post about overcoming pain with mindfulness and the editor told me it "inspired their hearts." All of this has been a fun ride and it's made me feel less alone in my relative insanity.
But then I go back and read some of the things I wrote when I first started this thing, and some of it has me shaking my head. Obviously back then I totally believed those things, enough to publish them on a public platform for you all to read. Obviously there’s still some part of me that does believe those things.
But in the meantime, I have changed.
In the last few months I've heard new ideas, met new people, and had new experiences. Each time I learned something a seed was sown, each seed sprouted a new plant of information, and each new shoot grew up next to all of the other shrubs, flowers, and trees of knowledge that populate my personal garden of life.
We all grow and learn and change. We might not always notice it, because it’s happening a little bit at a time every day. And then over the months and years and decades, if you really look back--especially if you have a record of it, like a journal or a blog to look back on--you’ll notice that everything you thought you knew about life was totally wrong.
It’s OK to change. It’s OK to be wrong. That’s just life, and it’s kind of awesome.
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."
When I am running my mind empties itself. Everything I think while running is subordinate to the process. The thoughts that impose themselves on me while running are like light gusts of wind — they appear all of a sudden, disappear again and change nothing." ~ Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
I love to run. I especially love trail running. Getting lost in nature takes me away from all the concerns of my everyday life and gives me a renewed focus. I also really enjoy yoga. Not only does it keep my back from throwing a hissy fit, but it's helps keep me physically and mentally balanced.
Whenever I'm focusing on my body in this way—pushing it, stretching it, engaging it, wearing it out—it clears my mind. It's hard to explain, but when I'm exercising I think of everything and nothing at the same time. All the same unmindful thoughts come in, but they move right through me, like passing clouds. They don't carry the same weight they normally do. I see them for what they are... temporary.
This is the mindfulness of exercise.
Up until now I've mostly used this blog to explore the ways I find mindfulness in my everyday life, and it usually involves some sort of reminder that takes us away from drama and back to a happy place:
Physical activity is the best way I know to quickly screw my head back into place. By going out to the mountains, by laying down on my mat, by lacing up my shoes and putting on an empowering-pop-music playlist, I escape from the craziness that's weighing on my mind and put the focus back on breathing, being present, seeing the world around me, and not letting the little things get to me. By engaging my body in exercise, I almost force myself into mindfulness.
My March Monthly Challenge to you is to take on a mindfulness activity.
If you're not used to activity at all, start small: get up from your desk once a day and go on a walk. I find the Human app to be a great motivator. The more you walk, the more you want to walk. And thus begins you mindful activity addiction.
If you're already a gym rat but don't find it to be very mindful, you also start small: instead of going to your normal gym with all its normal distractions, go outside and exercise in public. Run on a path, take an outdoor yoga class, or use the exercise equipment built into many of today's parks.
For everyone, every time you exercise take a moment beforehand to breath and clear your head. In yoga we the start every practice with breathing—inhaling the positive and exhaling the negative—and the same should go for every activity. You don't exercise to cause your body pain, you do it to foster physical health and mental happiness. So take 1 minute, close your eyes, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and allow yourself to focus on the activity at hand.
When you're out there walking, running, stretching, and moving, focus on only what you're doing and what's around you. Every other thought that comes into your mind is like a cloud, passing by.
After all the clouds move through and you're done moving your body, you'll feel calm. You just hit the reset button on your mind, and you're ready to take on the world.