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.
Cross-posted at Medium/@jasonjourneyman
The world continues to increase its pollution output, July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded, sea levels are rising at an exponential rate, and the arctic ice sheet is disappearing. This can't possibly all be a coincidence.
The earth is a living organism. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
The earth is everything---our refuge, our sustenance, our joy, and our sadness. It's every relationship we've ever known, every historical moment, every invention, every peace treaty, every episode of "Friends," every status update and tweet, every smile, every frown, every like, every love. Every. Thing.
It seems so obvious to me that we should all do everything we possibly can to protect it, at every step and every decision. Always. But clearly not everyone is on the same page. It's election season here in the America and, as usual, the climate change battle lines have been drawn.
It's time for us to draw our own battle lines too. It's time to fight for this planet. It's time to give a damn.
I’m a little obsessed with environmentalism and have been for as long as I can remember. It was ingrained in me as a youngster, bundling newspapers to recycle at school and separating the cans and bottles, all way back in the 80’s before it was trendy. Thanks mom, for instilling those consequential values.
That foundation led me to continue on as an earth advocate, studying environmental policy in graduate school, and keeping climate change in mind during all those seemingly banal, but realistically complex, everyday life choices. These days, when I’m not writing or hiking or taking pictures, I work and volunteer for environmental advocacy organizations. Like I said, a little bit obsessed.
I’ve also always been a bit more of a sensitive soul. I tend to care and worry about, well, pretty much everything. It’s why I search for mindfulness to maybe (possibly, hopefully) stop being such a worrywart. But sometimes worry is warranted, like worrying about the dire threat of global warming.
Signs of pending doom are all around us.
I spend a lot of time in Griffith Park near my home in Los Angeles. It truly is a marvel of a park, cut through the middle of the urban jungle, a chunk of wilderness in the center of America's second largest city. It's my escape and my therapist. It's a gift of naturally mindful riches. As an Angeleno, I feel blessed to have such easy access to this and all the rest of our nearby mountain wilderness parks.
But if you’ve visited Griffith Park in the last few months like I have, you’ve bore whiteness to it’s depressing condition. It's impossible to count how many dead or dying trees you pass on a basic hike to the famed Hollywood Sign. Years of drought have ravaged this unique oasis.
Decades of unprecedented warming have ravaged much of the western United States as well. A series of hottest summers on record have weakened our forest’s natural defenses against the burgeoning bark beetle infestation, leaving trees in the Sierras and Rockies, to die by the millions.
The heat is fueling numerous, compounding, detrimental, worldwide consequences. The arctic ice sheet is melting annually at an alarming rate, global sea levels have risen almost 8 inches in the last century, and continues to rise exponentially every year. Storms have become more severe, drought more persistent, weather more unpredictable.
Recent news hasn't gotten any rosier. Los Angeles is currently facing its worst air quality in decades. An abnormally stagnant, hot, and elongated summer is trapping more pollution and wildfire smoke in the region than ever this summer. That heat isn't unique to LA either, as we've now learned that July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded in the entire history of recorded temperatures.
At this point, if global warming doesn’t send chills down your spine, then it’s time to see a chiropractor... and maybe have a cardiologist look into why it hasn't thawed your cold dead heart.
Make no mistake, global warming is real.
Increasing global temperatures is just fact. The "man-made" part of global warming is itself a theory, but when 97% of climate scientists accept that theory as truth, I trust them. California has undoubtedly had droughts before, I've been through a few myself growing up here, but this current one is unprecedented by all measures---longer, hotter, drier.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that all the pollution we've pumped into our atmosphere over the last 150 years wouldn’t have some sort of connection to all warming we’ve seen over the same period. It’d all have to be so ridiculously coincidental otherwise.
Connect all the menacing dots. Isn't it obvious we need to do something about it?
Difficult decisions must be made if we're going to fix this.
Collectively we are sitting on a Titanic of our own creation. We all see the iceberg off the bow.
The maneuvers required to change course aren’t cute or simple. It will take courage, fortitude, and sacrifices. It requires a sharp turn in our thinking and actions in order to avoid disaster. My generation has had it easy, but our forebearers overcame difficult and complicated challenges in the past. From the Dark Ages to World War II, mankind has always been able to correct course. Surely we are strong enough as a society turn this ship around.
Most of us already care about protecting this home we call earth. We try to make better decisions when we use a plastic bottle or buy a new car. We don’t always succeed, we don't always try hard enough, but we try. That's worth at least a few turns of the ship's wheel.
Our individual efforts can extend to others. We can lead by example, walk the walk, and teach our friends the things we've learned. When we all pull the wheel together, the whole ship finally starts to turn.
But perhaps the most difficult maneuver of all is the battle against those who deny the problem even exists. People who accept science when it comes to the pills the doctor prescribes or the bridge the engineer designs, but ignores the vast scientific consensus on man-made global warming. People who are willing to forgo action that not only cleans the air we breath but also ensures our existence as a species in the long-term, all for the sake of protecting the bottom line of a business investment in the short.
People like Donald Trump, who called climate change a hoax, and nearly every single member of the Republican party, who with each absurd statement and vote actively steer the Titanic directly toward the iceberg. A wretched lot of selfish saps, frozen in ignorance, ready to take down the planet for pride rather than take the steps required to save it.
I have hope that we're going to do the right thing here.
I care about this earth. I care because it’s my home, it's our home, and I’d like to protect it for future generations. I care because of its beauty and wonderment and its inspiration of possibilities. I care because of the gorgeous groves of of trees, the captivating cascades of waterfalls, and the stunningly sculpted canyons. I care because every living thing on this earth is collectively interconnected and interdependent on one another. I care because when one species, when one plant, when one tree falls, a whole ecological web falls with it.
If we don’t do something about this, and like real soon, our web will fall as well. That’s why it’s so incumbent upon all of us to take action---to make better decisions more often, from cars and plastic bottles, to mass transit and recycling, to everything we consume and how much of it we waste.
And maybe most importantly, to make better decisions at the ballot box. Not just in this year's election, but in every single election in which we have the privilege of voting.
That means doing everything you possibly can to ensure Donald Trump is not elected president. It also means ousting all those Republican politicians who make it a hobby of blocking every Obama-endorsed environmental policy, no matter how pragmatic or compromised that proposal might be. We should all make an valiant effort to steer this ship clear of the iceberg, but we also have the power to chip away at the ice to make it less menacing.
If you give a damn about the environment, prove it and do something. Make changes in your life. Pick up trash, recycle, stop using plastic, drive less or drive a lower emission car, plant trees, join the Sierra Club. The list goes on. You already know what to do.
And then become a ballot box activist. Choose a candidate that has a set of policies directly aimed at fighting climate change. Hillary Clinton has a whole slew impressive climate change and broader environmental policy proposals. And at very basic level, go make sure your representative actually believes global warming exists in the first place. Simply believing in science should be a prerequisite for public holding office, in my non-humble opinion.
The only way we save this earth is by giving a damn. The time to start giving is now.
According to Google, "journeyman" isn't an entirely popular word these days. It probably conjures up ideas of a union electrician apprentice---that is, if it conjures up anything for you at all. The word more or less means “someone who is educated on a topic, but isn't quite an expert. An amateur.” You can see how this might have negative connotations.
And yet, here I am using that word in various blog posts and on my Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. I use the term liberally to describe myself, and I also use it to describe everybody else as part of a larger world view.
Not long ago a friend questioned me on this practice. Was I cutting myself short? Was I cutting the world short?
But I don't use the word "journeyman" in any traditional sense, I use it as a mindfulness shortcut. It's a metaphor for the journey of life, the journey we are all on.
The more on-the-nose way I use journeyman is to denote travel. I dubbed my month-long trip across multiple western national parks my “Journeyman Trek”. I use #Journeyman👣 on social media to denote whenever I go camping, climb a mountain, or use my passport to cross a border. That’s a play on the word, and I like being mildly clever that way.
But the primary way I use the journeyman is much more of a philosophy. It's a figurative journey, a mental and spiritual journey, not a literal journey.
It boils down to this: life isn’t static. No one, not a single individual human being, stays in one place their whole lives. Everyone is constantly experiencing, learning, and growing.
For those of us who keep an open mind, this isn't some abstract concept. We expect to take in new ideas and experiences and allow them to mold our understanding of the diverse world around us.
Even those who appear rigid in their beliefs will change, simply due to the passage of time, in small but still meaningful ways. Time leads to experience leads to knowledge.
Even those who seem stuck, in a job, relationship, or any other circumstance, are only as stuck as they believe themselves to be. In all but the extreme circumstances, the experience of being stuck teaches you how to become unstuck, and then it's up to you to use that lesson.
When you look back on your life, it's almost impossible not to see some way in which you've grown, and that's your evidence that this "personal journey" people talk about isn't theoretical, it's tangible. In the progressively hopeful way I choose to see the world, that is just a given.
So if we’re always changing and gaining knowledge, is there really such a thing as an expert? Expertise is only the collection of knowledge you've gathered in a particular subject up until now. There are no know-it-alls, because as soon as they've learned "all" there is to learn on a subject, a new discovery will turn that knowledge on its head.
“Expert” doctors once used leeches to cure illness. “Expert” astronomers once believed the entire universe rotated around the earth. Knowledge evolved and those “experts” reverted to journeymen. And that isn't to discount the noble efforts they made in their profession, it's just to readily admit that knowledge is never finite.
Today’s “experts” will meet the same fate, because in a few years the next big idea will inevitably turn that knowledge on its head.
Each and everyone of us will meet the same fate as well. We think we know all there is to know about a friend, for example, until we learn something new or see a different side that turns our perception of them on its head.
Accepting that tomorrow is both an unknown and the product of every experience you've had up through today, that's how you start to live in the present. That is the intersection of mindfulness and the journeyman.
Being a journeyman isn’t something negative, it’s our dynamic reality. Or at least it's the dynamic reality I try to accept in my quest for enlightenment through mindfulness.
The more we act as the students, the amateurs, the journeymen of life, the more mindful we become.
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.
There is a force greater than all others.
It's not an emotion that yanks your heartstrings leading to a rash decision.
It's not a movement of physics, scientifically and systematically pushing an object along a plane.
It's not a river slicing through a landscape or a glacier carving a canyon.
It's not mankind itself, razing and paving every hill in the name of progress.
The force of which I speak is not one of these individual things, because it is all of these things. The force of which I speak is the earth itself, from which all life springs and all hope is gained or lost. The force that graciously allows us to explore and alter her grounds.
The earth is timeless.
My perception of this planet is narrow. I am only able to know what has been preserved and passed down, or what I am able to see and learn through my own experience.
But the earth, she knows no bounds. I am but one speck of trillions on her surface, lingering long enough to create an inch of impact. Even all of the collective impacts of every person throughout human history is still but one minuscule piece in the billion-year puzzle of our universe.
The earth is formidable.
I can do a lot as one individual here on earth, at least within the sphere of influence I create. And as a society we've made grand attempts to tame the earth through invention and progress. On the surface we all look pretty darn tough.
But all that we’ve accomplished still pales in comparison to the preeminence of our world. We can cover the earth in cement, suck out every drop of oil, and burn every tree, and all we'll do is kill ourselves. This planet, severely altered or not, will live on despite our worst efforts.
The earth is awesome.
I know wonderful and caring people - artists and engineers, musicians and magicians, do-gooders and creators - all who help me and others to see life anew.
But to truly be awesome, one must actually create awe.
Never has anything awed me as much as the earth itself. No stately structure of glass and steel can ever match the natural nobility of the Yosemite Falls. No single loquacious character can speak with as much thunder as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. No feat of engineering or advancement can ever compete with the scientific wonder that is the indisputable interconnectedness of every living and stationary thing on this planet.
Mankind has its moments. We’ve produced stirring speeches, mesmerizing melodies, and multitudes of individually important moments that change us as a society and change us individually. But when you step into nature and step out of your comfort zone, I guarantee you will see everything you thought was so big begin to look ever so small.
None of us, myself included, spend enough time in the natural world, but it's critically important that we do - that we take time out of our lives to feel the power as often as possible. Not just for personal gratification, but to realize that personal gratification is entirely insignificant. To understand that our goals and aspirations and moments are but one small part of a much larger, much more important scheme. And by doing so, help us to appreciate our goals and aspirations and moments that much more.
You start with a small plant, one other living thing. Easy, patient, and innocent. A simple piece of the natural earth.
You begin to see animals, domestic and wild. The dogs and cats, our chosen companions. The critters that live off our societal leftovers. The beasts that roam our mountains and backcountry. All a part of the vast network of life.
You peer deeper and find trees, big trees, the live oak and hardwood and redwood that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. That hold the land together with their deep roots. That provide the shade for our refuge. That provide the oxygen for life. That organically regulate themselves through a natural order of death and regeneration. That make us feel young, and small, and insignificant by comparison.
You look up to see the mountains that bend our landscape at their will. Untameable by our machinery and concrete. Incorruptible except from the most dastardly of our mining, fracking, and damming inventions. That provide a refuge for all animals, wild and tame alike - tame animals like us.
And then, if you're lucky enough, you discover the gems that line the crown of our earth. Spaces not created through specific effort of man. Spaces that all living creatures call sacred. Sometimes we call them national parks, monuments, or forests.. .or sometimes we call them sanctuary, because their significance is refuge to our soul.
Sometimes we don’t take the time to notice them. Sometimes we believe we’re too busy. Sometimes we’re too numb to feel the power even when we do take the time. But when you pause in their presence and relinquish control, you realize you always knew them, they were always a part of you. When you open your mind to really see them, they inspire you to something bigger, greater, more.
In every level of of the natural, especially in those gems of earth, you feel the power. It's a power that's always all around us, but if it's the right moment and place, it becomes unavoidable. When you seek it out and visit its majesty, it's inescapably wonderful.
It’s the power that makes the world turn.
It's the power that cannot be stopped.
It's the power that gets us out of our heads.
It’s the power that inspires us to do great things.
It is the power.
The first three National Parks I visited on my #journeyman trek all liberally used a "one moment in time" theme (cue the Whitney Houston).
Each park - Zion, Grand Canyon, and Arches - sit on the Colorado Plateau. Each park was made of ancient layers of sediment that was pressed down into sandstone and then elevated by plate tectonics. Millions of years later a river rolled through or the rain and wind raged, and the landscape changed. They are all still changing today in fact, as rocks fall and sands move. I know all of this because I diligently watched the visitors center movie at each park.
It's like the 1970's "be here now" movement. These parks are here right now, but in a hundred or a thousand years, mere seconds in their history, they'll be completely different.
Like the parks, we are also find ourselves in a unique one moment in time. Unique to each of us. Unique to our pressed down layers of experience. Unique to the storms of tumult that weather our mountains of knowledge. Unique to the winding river of life that cuts through our personal landscape.
We will all change. We will grow taller, delve deeper, shift in one direction or the other, and lose things along the way. But through it all we gain experience, uniqueness, and beauty. We really aren't so different from the Grand Canyon, the Balanced Rock, or the Virgin River Narrows. We are unique.
All we really have and all we can control is this one moment in time. Your past layers of experience got you here and future erosion cannot be predicted, so all that really matters is... now.
Now we have a choice: lament the past and stress about the future, or be here now to marvel in the beauty of this one moment in time.
I say we choose to be here now, because like these national parks your unique moment in time is a pretty magnificent place to be.
I'm on a trip all alone, so why do I still care what others think?
A lot of us have this monster inside us. It tells us we need to impress, have it together, look good, get the right haircut, the perfect body, the nicest car, the sweetest setup.
When we're out in public the monster growls at us. It tells that us we just said something stupid...or our lives are a mess...or they're hotter...and younger...and tanner.
I have the monster sometimes. He's a bitch.
I see him laugh at me when someone takes my picture and I look goofy. I hear him criticize me when I look at a mirror and see my little belly. I feel his eyes judge as I walk past anonymous people on the trail, even though I don't know them and will assuredly never see them again.
But what difference does it make? What difference do they make. What difference does the monster make?
He makes us self-conscious. He stresses us out. He takes us out of the present moment and throws us into doubt.
One thing that I've started to appreciate about being alone is that I'm in charge. Everything I do on a given day - if I sleep-in or wake up early...if I take one too many hikes or just laze at my camp...if I watch every nerd movie at the National Parks visitors center, and I always do, trust - that is all up to me.
So on this trip, who cares what some random person on the trail thinks of me?
Being alone is helping me let it go. I can wear what I want, look how I want, do what I want, be whoever I want. They don't know the real me. So what difference does it make? Monster be damned.
Back in the real world, I could use more of this. Less vanity and more being me. Less concern of what I could be doing, or could have done, and more actual doing.
Less foolishness and more mindfulness.
We are so small.
Everything in our known world is based on whatever elements somehow arrived at this specific intergalactic point of the universe. That particular blend of elements came together like a recipe and then survived a specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding the earth down a particular path... that path leading to you, sitting here reading this, right now.
The set of circumstances on our particular planet was the instruction manual for your creation. This is true whether you believe it was guided by a higher power or not.
Just as our world came together in a particular way, other worlds came together in their own particular way. There are the ones we can see - the ones relatively nearby - and then there are the trillions of others.
What if a another world came together to allow for the development of their own being, just like the earth did for you and me? Their particular blend elements came together like a recipe and then survived their own specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding their planet down a particular path... that path leading to them, sitting somewhere in the universe, right now.
For decades, as we've communicated with one another on earth, we've inadvertently sent radio waves into space. They float past distant planets where other beings may or may not live. Just like you, they wonder if someone else is out there, but because of the particular confines of their own planet's circumstances, they are completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around them, all the time.
It goes in both directions - they may or may not inadvertently send out their own communication signals. But because of the the particular confines of our own planet's circumstances, you're completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around you, all the time.
The universe is huge. The possibilities that could result from any particular set of circumstances are endless. It's overwhelming to think about.
But then, in that vast and seemingly endless perspective, it all swirls back to you, sitting here reading this, right now.
The term "survival of the fittest" was coined by Herbert Spencer in 1864 as a new way of describing Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. From then on, it's been used to explain everything from capitalism to sports champions. In our modern world it boils down to this: the weak die and the strong survive.
But that definition tells us we have to be a bully in order to be our best. That definition is a myth.
In the real world, you don't survive because you're extremely aggressive; you survive because you can to change to meet the needs of your environment - to adapt.
We're taught that the dominant wolf is the pack leader. The aggressive stock trader, the persuasive sibling, the domineering boss - they all lead by strength and manipulation, forcing others to adapt to them. In our dog-eat-dog world this self-assured attitude is wrongly revered.
Despite having a strong pack leader social system, the species Canis lupus (aka the wolf) is endangered. The North American gray wolf once roamed most of the continental United States, but is now confined to the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada. The pack leader of the wolves may seem strong, but his aggressive nature is leading his pack off a cliff.
On the other hand, their close relatives Canis lupus familiaris (aka the dog) are doing pretty well for themselves. After many generations, these former wolves learned how to play a clever game of submission that convinced humans to give them food and shelter, and as such they thrive. Their only real threat, other than a few cruel owners, is euthanization, but that's a problem of overpopulation and a product of their success as a species.
Dogs found their true strength by being submissive. In their battle for survival, the fittest of the Canine lupus species isn't the aggressive wolf pack leader; it's the wolf that is willing to set that aggression aside.
The same goes for all species. As humans, the most important method of survival is the ability to observe, learn, and adapt to your surroundings (aka mindfulness). You survive by teamwork, relationships, and yes sometimes by being submissive, so your group - your species, your family, your friends - can all survive and thrive together.
That does not mean you give up all responsibility. It means you still speak your mind when it's something you know is right and just. It means you speak your mind, but it also means you listen.
Sometimes it means sitting back to allow the bluster of others play itself out. A self-assured, aggressive pack leader may be right once in a while, but if they're stuck on their own opinion, not willing to mindfully observe or learn from the changes around them, then they'll be wrong most of the time.
The next time someone's being an asshole just remember that their kind will fight alone and eventually become extinct while your kind... well we'll need your kind to keep adapting and evolving. Your kind is the fittest that will help our species survive.