New post on my new Medium.com page!
Elections drive everyone insane. Here are some survival tips.
New post on my new Medium.com page!
The border between wild and wifi is a pretty spectacular place to be.
In the wild you go without a phone connection for hours, sometimes days or weeks at a time. So when you cross the border into wifi you appreciate how much that connection--the connection to your friends and family and the outside world--means to you. The ability to keep in touch. The ability to be a public advocate on the important issues of our day.
In the wild you're given the gift of time to sit and think and be with yourself. You have he space to ponder the importance of the world, and your place in it. So when you cross that border into wifi you bring back that knowledge and you end up a more mindful and present person. You know better how to insert moments of peaceful reflection into your daily life.
In the wild you're constantly aware of your surroundings, you have to be. You're watching the trail you hike or the fire you tend because to do otherwise is dangerous. You have to be on. So when you cross that border into wifi, you're finally aware of how to truly switch off. To relax in the warm comfort of our modern security blanket society. And despite all the stresses it can bring, to understand just how warm that society truly is.
Some people choose to live in the wild to get away from it all or simply to prove that they can handle it. Others can't bear the thought of giving up the wifi and all the convenience today's world brings.
But I suggest you spend some time in both. Regularly switch between the two. Cross the border, back and forth, and reap the bounty of appreciation and mindfulness it brings.
Hiking through nature can provide you with innumerable nuggets of life lesson gold, as long as you peer into the creek long enough to notice those shiny honey-hued pebbles.
It’s no secret that nature is how I come up with the vast majority of these blog posts. Almost every time I’m feeling down, unmindful, or even when I’m feeling just dandy, I go on a hike. And almost every time I'm out there I discover something on the trail that inspires me, gives me a new frame of reference, or teaches me a lesson.
One very important lesson, and one I always have trouble truly absorbing, is having the patience to see something through to the end.
I'm not a quitter in any sense--when I set my mind to a project, I always see it through. Always.
But when I get that finish line on sight, I have a tendency to rush it, to grow impatient, to become a little bit lackadaisical.
During one hike a few months ago in Los Angeles, I decided to take an unfamiliar spur trail. It quickly became incredibly steep and I considered turning back, but I knew I'd be afforded amazing views at the top so I went for it. And it was worth it, the views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Sign were indeed spectacular.
But then, of course, I had to come back down the steep trail.
I was as cautious as humanly possible, side-stepping my way down to gain better footing. Then I got about 10 feet from the end of the trail and, well, I decided to run it. It was just right there, hardly any risk, and why not have a little fun. I decided I could be reckless at least for the very end. I decided I didn't need to see it through.
That decision quickly proved to be a bad one. As I was running down I stepped on a sandy patch that yanked me to the ground, ass first. My tailbone hit square on a rock and I heard my spine crack.
Now back on level ground, I pulled myself up, immediately utilized some of my favorite yoga spine stretches, and pretended to ignore the passers-bye so as to limit my embarrassment.
After a few weeks the pain and discomfort subsided. I was fine. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but an important lesson in the aggregate: see everything through to the end. Even when you think you got it in the bag, see it through. Even when you think you've screwed it all up, see it through. Even when it's literally all downhill from here, see it through.
I don't always remember this lesson in real life. I still get impatient and like to rush the end so I can move on to the next big thing. Some people start to stumble on a big project and the first thought is to give up. Two sides of the same coin. Two instances where in the vast majority of situations you'll find far more success when you see it through.
No matter what my own failings, there's one place where the lesson has stuck, and that's in hiking.
Last week I day hiked to the pinnacle of Half Dome. It's not just a pinnacle of a mountain, it’s a pinnacle of my nature and hiking obsession, and perhaps a pinnacle of my life. I prepared and planned and prepped and had an awesome partner-in-crime to go along for the ride.
We made it to the top and were elated, of course. And after you've gotten there one might assume that the worst is over, all downhill from there. But that assumption would be wrong. As most hikers will tell you, it’s usually harder going down than going up.
Rappelling backwards down the infamous Half Dome cables was a feat of mental and physical strength. The slippery polished granite path forces you to rely almost entirely on your arms. Traffic from hikers going in the other direction adds a whole separate element of patience and negotiation. The pangs of fear I felt after a simple glance down or to the side were, at times, overwhelming.
When I had just 30 feet of cable left I felt my impatient self got an idea: I could turn around and run it. But when I did turn and took my first step on the slick granite, I felt my foot shake. I flashed back to the lesson from that trail in Los Angeles, the lesson that I know but don't always follow.
I turned back around and continued my cautious repel for those final 30 feet. See it through, Jason. See it all the way through until it’s completed. Always see it through.
When we're mindful of every step, every step is more valuable, every step is sturdy, every step is useful, and in the end we've accomplished what we set out to do in the best way we possibly could. When we cut the corner at the last moment or give up in the final stretch, we not only cheapen our effort, but we risk ruining everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Or at least we risk a few weeks of tailbone pain.
It's an important lesson I always try to remember when I’m on the dirt trail. It's an important lesson I need to remember more on the trail of life as well.
My favorite place to find a moment of peace, to get mindful, is in nature.
“But not everyone can go out in nature as much as you do,” you bemoan. “We have a kids and obligations and busy jobs and live in cities!”
It's true, I know, some people live in dense urban jungles, far removed from the actual jungle. Most people don't have time or resources to take a month off and volunteer in Yosemite. Just about everyone enjoys nature to a degree, even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers in a vase, but getting outside all the time isn’t always easy or accessible.
Or so you’ve been led to believe.
I might argue nature if closer than you think. I might suggest the difference between the mountains and the city is smaller than you think.
Certainly the mountains have a much more direct relationship to the serenity and identity we find in nature. The views here at Yosemite are spectacular. The cliff faces unparalleled. The sequoia trees magnificent. The power of nature really punches you in the gut here.
But I'll let you in on a little secret, the Yosemite Valley is basically a small tourist town. Markets, apartments, hotels, restaurants, shops, and bars. There is a clinic, fire stations, offices, and a library. It even has (GASP!) traffic. Basically, it's much like any town in this country, except it just happens to be surrounded by resplendence.
Civilization is truly everywhere.
In the city I normally live in, Los Angeles, it's a little more difficult to find serenity. Markets, apartments, restaurants, bars, and traffic all abound.
But I'll let you in on another little secret, Los Angeles is also surrounded by resplendence as well. It has Griffith Park, the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains, a stunning coastline, and nearby Joshua Tree and Channel Islands National Parks. The resplendence is a little harder to come by and you might have to drive a bit to get there, but it's there, as long as you go look for it.
Nature is truly everywhere as well.
You can live in a national park or you could just visit for a weekend, and you're gonna find some of the peace through nature. But you can also find a small piece of that peace in your own backyard. Anything from your local mountains, forest, or seashore to the garden you tend at your home all gives you a little bit of that wonderment nature inspires.
So go out and find some nature wherever you are, and wherever you find it, notice how you start to find yourself.
We habituate ourselves to expect certain things, to desire certain vices, to keep a certain schedule, and act a certain persona. It's just what we're used to. It’s what everyone around us is used to.
But that doesn't mean that's who we really are.
Black bears in the wild of Yosemite eat berries, grass, and insects. Sometimes they eat animals like fish, but by and large, and especially when they don't feel threatened, they don’t hunt and they are docile creatures. They're kind of adorable when you see them sitting in a meadow, basking in the warm sun, furrowing the soft ground for a meal. They're like a real-life teddy bear, just one you probably shouldn’t hug.
When black bears met humans, they started to learn a different way of life--they picked up a habit. People food is high in calories, and way more tasty and filling than meadow grass. So when we started to give them people food, as the supervisors of Yosemite did for decades, the bears quickly learned to follow the path of least resistance and eat up.
Wild bears became habituated to a new human way of living, one that involved convincing people to give them food. If those people were unconvinced, simply steal it. If they got in the way of the food, take them out.
First we habituated them, and then allowed our cavalier attitude to that habituation to bite us in the ass, literally.
We learned our lesson, thankfully, and now we've engaged in a decades long effort to de-habitualize the black bear. We stopped feeding them for show at Yosemite, so bears would stop expecting it. We put our food in bear boxes instead of cars or coolers, so the bears learned they can’t get food at a campsite.
A habit, any habit, is only a condition we've created. That goes for the habit bears learned from humans, and it goes for all the habits we’ve taken on ourselves.
It's hard to break a habit, for sure. Bears still visit campgrounds because the food smells good and they’re curious. But the more we change our patterns, the more the habit breaks. In Yosemite, bear incidents are down 97% since 1996. Our continued vigilance in minding our food when we visit Yosemite will ensure this new pattern continues.
Maybe we could learn something from the habituation, and subsequent dehabituation, of the black bear. Observe the patterns and expectations we or others place on ourselves. Try to find where we made the mistake and how we perpetuated it. Then imagine a path forward where we break the habit.
Even when you think you’ve dehabitualized yourself, that doesn’t mean it can’t come back. Habits are much easier to make than to break.
For bears at Yosemite these days, some still look for people food. Those that end up in a campsite get scared off with beanbag and paintball guns. If they come back they get tranquilized, tagged, and brought to a distant region of the park. If they come back a third time, euthanization.
We have a lot more than three chances when it comes to our own bad habits, but eventually they will catch up to us. Those habitualizations of vice and character will eventually bite us in the ass just like the black bear.
If you’re trying to break a bad habit or any other pattern, be strong, persistent, and patient. Overtime it’ll get easier. You don’t have to be "that guy" just because you have always been that guy. You can change yourself for the better. We can all be dehabitualized, one decision at a time.
Sometimes we have to figure out our roots to figure out how to rise.
That means knowing fully who we are, accepting our past, and making an effort to stay grounded on a daily basis.
Sometimes it means living amongst the trees in a tent by a fire to really feel the roots of our ancestors.
Usually it just means taking a few moments every day to pause, breathe, and feel what it feels like to just be.
Whether we're a lonely pine contemplating in a meadow, a sequoia seedling waiting for glory, or a human looking for our potential, we root down to rise up.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~John Muir
Escapism, by definition, is the act of running to a comfortable fantasy world to escape the complex real world. It's a distraction. Some might say it's unmindful. But maybe that's not always the case. Maybe sometimes it's the exact opposite.
Can we escape to reality instead of from reality?
People get into an escapist mindset all the time: when you go on vacation you escape from your everyday responsibilities. At 5pm on Friday you get to escape your job for a fun weekend. Movies, TV, and video games are common escape routes. Some of these escapes are more mindful than others, of course. Your vacation or your weekend could easily be filled with mindful activities--nature, friendship, family, connection--an escape to reality. Your video game most likely isn't very mindful--an escape to fantasy--but it's also perfectly fair to take a break from thee stress of real life now and then.
We all need an escape sometimes, be it the mindful kind or not.
I'm about to go on an escape of my own, a pretty big one, leaving the comfortable confines of my home in Los Angeles to spend a month living in Yosemite National Park. Through one prism this looks like classic escapism, but I can present a series of defenses for this action:
I propose that escapism has more than one meaning: it always involves leaving one’s home for a change of scenery, but sometimes it’s not about bolting from the real world to fantasy, it’s about making a difficult decision to leave the real world in order to experience a different kind of real world... and then reaping the benefits.
A change of scenery is so important for our psyche, or at least it is for mine. I can’t imagine standing still. I want to see new views, experience new ideas, meet new people, get out of my comfort zone, because all of that makes me a better person. We can all benefit from some level of diversity in our lives.
Yosemite National Park, and spending time in nature in general, gifts us with a whole new spectacular level of diversity. In this modern age, we live in cies with paved streets and grocery stories and digital connectivity at every step. In Yosemite, in the woods, we live simply as men have lived for centuries, with trees, trails, fires, maybe a bear box for good measure, and most likely no phone service. The two worlds could not be more polar opposites, yet both are real.
Spending some time living like our ancestors enables us to understand life outside of the digital distractions, teaches us to appreciate our modern conveniences, and reminds us how to just be present with one another. When you spend some time switching between these two worlds, you get more mindful.
A challenge is also important for the soul--it definitely is for mine. A little over a year ago I challenged myself by quitting my job and going off on a three week solo camping trip around the west. Leaving that morning was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life. I was anxious and emotional, and I got very lonely once I was out on my own for a few days. Some people are used to going off alone on trips for work, but I think for a lot of us this "being alone" thing isn't always the easiest pill to swallow. I got that change of scenery I wanted though, and I eventually got comfortable and confident with myself. I got more mindful, it just took some time.
So I might be engaging in some escapism by going on this trip, but I’m not escaping some terrible real life situation for a happier pretend one. I’m very purposefully making a burdensome, anxiety-ridden decision to switch between two versions of the real world, all so that I can collect the bounty that doing so brings.
It’s escapism to feel more real, not to dive into a happy fantasy zone. Escapism to improve my life, not to distance myself from it. Escapism to strengthen my resolve, not to lighten my load.
It's an escape to reality---the reality of the earth as it is, unobstructed, natural, and free.
So here's goes, escapism be damned. I'm ready to have a work schedule for the first time in a year, I think. I'm ready to camp for a month straight for the first time ever, mostly. I'm ready to hike and take way too many pictures, for sure. I'm ready to physically explore my favorite national park and spiritually explore life through my writing, definitely.
I’ll write about nature and mindfulness (obviously), the history and meaning of the national parks (it’s the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service afterall), the environmental movement and it’s importance in an election year (#dumptrump), and the intersection of the LGBT community and nature, which I believe can be a key element in creating confidence in our identities and ourselves. The topics of exploration are as endless as the miles of Sierran hiking trails.
In short, I’m going to be quite busy. It’ll take some hard work, but no one ever said life would be easy, thank god.
I hope you'll follow me on this new journey.
I only have a few days left at home before I leave for a month, and I'm kind of a mess.
Some people would say, “so what?” Some people travel alone all the time, be it for work or adventure. Some actually people prefer being alone.
Not me though. Aside from my more recent habit of going on 2-to-3 night, solo, camping trips, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life surrounded by friends, family, pets, and loved ones. When I am alone I quickly fall into the FOMO/loneliness trap. It’s quite unmindful, I know, and that’s exactly why I’m planned this month-long volunteer job at Yosemite National Park in the first place.
But I still have to deal with actually leaving.
Every time I think about it, a pang of anxiety punches me in the gut.
When I imagine saying goodbye to my man and dog that morning, a wave of emotion bowls me over.
At night I think “only 7 more sleeps in my bed,” and then I can’t sleep.
A simple hug goodbye from a friend could be enough to send me into tailspin.
Right now I have a choice: let these unmindful emotions overtake me and ruin the last few days I have at home, or get out of my head, let them go, and get back to life.
I choose life.
Who I am: Blogger at getmindfulnow.com, Elephant Journal, and Medium. Mindfulness journeyman. Environmental/LGBTQ policy advocate. Photographer. Explorer. Partner of an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. Based in Los Angeles. Writing about mindfulness, nature, and activism in the digital age. Life.
What I’m doing: Living/working/exploring in Yosemite National Park for the month of September.
Why you care: Your readers, or I might argue all readers, are interested in mindfulness, whether they realize it or not. There’s so much noise in our modern digital world that we’re all looking for a break, some space, a breather. The current political election piques an even larger interest, with readers looking to escape the online vitriol, but still remain interested and active participants in our democracy.
Nature is the great neutralizer, providing what seems like an escape, but is truthfully a return to reality. The National Park Service 100 year anniversary couldn’t come at a better time for America, reminding us of the power of our parks to provide relief and sanctuary.
I propose to write about the convergence of these peak topics: the importance of democracy and elections, especially around environmental policy. The importance of mindfulness to keep our heads on straight during the election season, and beyond. And the very useful purpose of nature and national parks to help us get there.
Sample story ideas: I will combine these three hot topics into a cohesive series of articles.
Samples of my work:
Inquiries: Jason Wise, email or phone
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.
"Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand." ~John Muir
Regret is a no-no in the language of mindfulness. So is worrying about the future. But I actually found a constructive use for both of them, turning a negative into a positive, fear into courage.
Hear me out, guys. It’s a quick story.
I was recently on a Journeyman trip to Kings Canyon National Park. It was sweltering, in the upper-90's, but I knew that after all the day's activities I had an exceptional place to cool down: Muir Rock.
Muir Rock is an big boulder jutting out over the Kings River deep into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For John Muir, it was what you might call his “thinking chair,” or at least one of his numerous mountain thinking chairs. For kids now-a-days, it has a simpler use: it's a natural diving board for jumping into the chilly water below.
John Muir is a hero of mine. His exploration and exposition of nature has inspired umpteen people to go outside, feel the power of nature, and find themselves in it. He created generations of outdoor enthusiasts, environmental advocates, and people like me who use time in nature to spur mindfulness. This blog is a product of that inspiration.
Now to be clear, I was planning to use the rock in its traditional John-Muir-thinking-chair form, rather than its more modern swimming-hole-dive-platform incarnation. I knew the water would be refreshing, and I had my swim suit and river shoes ready to take a dip, but I'm also pretty well afraid of heights, especially leaps from heights that land you in an icy river with a semi-swift current.
I waded into the water in full thinking chair mode. It was time to cool off from the day’s hike, to relax, to get inspired.
And inspired I got. The always moving, shifting, changing river waters metaphored me into mindfulness. I imagined John Muir sitting there on that rock, writing brilliant prose. I could almost hear his agelessly powerful voice resonate through the canyon.
Back on the modern diving board rock, I watched as kids and adults alike came face-to-face with fear, stare it down, jump, and conquer. It looked fun.
I also watched as kids and adults alike climbed up the rock, waited, debated, and turned away. Fear and worry are powerful forces, and for good reason---we developed them as a protective mechanism. Jumping off a rock into a river carries with it an inherent danger. Signs posted throughout the area warn you of such, luring you into a state of concern. I looked on worried. Parents worried aloud for their kids. I could almost hear my own mother worrying from afar.
Then as I watched an even stronger current of worry washed over me---the worry of regret. I became worried that I'd tell friends about this rock and quietly feel ashamed I hadn't jumped. Worried I'd be tempted to lie about it. Worried eventually all of this would lead to a regret over not jumping off that rock back when I had the chance.
I was very unmindfully predicting future troubles related to a current decision. In the past, I would have talked myself out of such emotions, ceding my control to the unknown future, turning back to the present instead, like a good mindfulness guru.
But this time I had a new thought---what if I used that unmindful emotion for good? Take it back and own it. Instead of worrying about regret, use that worry to inspire courage.
Was I really going to waste this otherwise zen occasion consumed with (possible) future regret, or was I going to just make a decision and be confident with it? Was I really going to go that deep into this wondrously wild national park and not take a leap off my hero’s rock, or was I going to get out of my comfort zone and have some unrestrained fun for a split second?
I already knew the answer to my questions, so I climbed that rock, waited a beat to soak in the moment, and took the plunge.
It was exhilarating, not at all difficult, and not really all that dangerous either (I swear, mom).
Looking back, the whole experience might seem about as basic as a life lesson gleaned from a Disney Channel sitcom, but sometimes it's those simple episodes that prove most potent.
It turns out we can stop over-complicating our lives with unmindful emotions like worry and regret in more than one way. For useless worry and regret over the unknown, we can choose to mindfully set them aside in favor of the present. And for valid yet resolvable worry over possible regret, we can choose to flip those emotions into a force for good.
It's the simple act of turning a negative into a positive. Turning unmindful roadblocks into courageous mindful mercenaries. Every day, every time an unmindful emotions wells up, simply flip it.
Each simple act adds up, until it becomes your norm. That norm becomes power. That power becomes possibility.
We wake up every morning with a choice: take the daily climb, or cave and do nothing.
Lying there in bed, peeling one eye open. The day is new, the sun is dim, the ground is damp, the earth and our muscles and our brain is cold.
We get up.
Facing a mountain we look ahead. So much to do, but nothing really to do other than put one foot in front of the other.
So we do it.
We start to warm up. The climb gets easier. We get a pace going---setting goals, meeting them, starting new projects, finishing others. Thinking, imagining, improving, accepting, attempting. Sometimes the climb is steep, sometimes flat, sometimes downhill, but we keep moving, either way.
Eventually we reach the top. We've met our goal, we made an effort, we feel that accomplishment. We didn't waste our day, we didn't put it off til tomorrow. We set a goal and saw it through.
At day's end we lay back down for sleep, at first still reeling in glow of achievement, but always inevitably turning to tomorrow. A new day, a new climb, a new choice. The prospect of tomorrow feels easier, that's the reward for today's efforts, but it will still be a choice.
Every day, climb or cave.
Every day, totally up to you.
Unless you’ve been living alone in the woods for the last few months, you’re well aware that it’s peak political season in the United States.
An election at it’s basic level is a decision, and this idea about the power of our individual, everyday decisions courses through the entire premise of mindfulness. Every day we have a decision to either live in the present or dwell on the past, to learn and grow or stifle our evolution, to get up every morning and conquer the day or roll over and let it pass us by.
A political election requires a decision too, a far less intimate but just as important decision.
At the root of all these decisions is love and fear. It seems simplistic at the face of it, but in reality it’s a complicated struggle between our two most extreme emotions. Too much love and our decisions rely on sentiment instead of reason. Too much fear and our decisions are rooted in distrust and anger. Too much of either makes us unmindful---when we lean too far in any direction we eventually fall over.
A decision based in love or fear is complicated, but usually, hopefully, the result ends up somewhere in the middle---in compromise.
I like to think of these two sides as the classic angel-and-devil-on-the-shoulders meme.
These two little shoulder emotions battle in our hearts and minds all the time. Love tells us to live in the present and accept the beauty of right now, while fears holds us back to worry if we'll ever live up to our past triumphs or live down our past mistakes. Love opens up our mind to accept new ideas, while fear shuts us down to pine after an imagined ideal. Love pushes us to use each day to its full potential, while fear triggers the warm safety of procrastination.
In politics, love and fear fuel another set of decisions. Love leads us to engage and educate our friends, while fear makes us to lash out and insult. Love encourages us to care for our fellow man no matter what their race, religion, or orientation, while fear demands we entrench ourselves, draw deeper into our ideological bubble, and refuse to give an inch. Love requires us to protect our earth for generations to come, while fear whispers lies of doubt around climate change science and encourages a business-first attitude.
When we sit down to decide which candidate to support, we yet again look to love and fear for assistance. Love tells us to vote for who we’re most enthusiastic about and most aligns with our ideals, while fear tells us to vote against the candidate we find troublesome, or even dangerous.
Now before you say it, I know, that was just a long list of overly simplistic, cut and dry, black and white decisions.
In real life we don’t just listen to either the angel or the devil, we hear both. We make good decisions, we make mistakes, we figure things out, and then ultimately we find the best path lies somewhere else. I often call it balance or compromise. Buddhists call it "the middle way"
These when the two competing emotions come together.
We can live in the present while also using the past to inform it. The middle. We can hold on to our values and ideals while staying open to life’s ongoing lessons. The middle. We can have a productive day and also take some “me time” once in a while. The middle.
In an election, we can make a voting decision based on both love for a candidate that moves us forward with progress, as well as fear over the dangerous regress the alternative will usher. The middle.
On the issues, love can focus us on our commonalities instead of conflicts, while fear reminds us to speak out loudly against dangerous demagogues. The middle. Love can rightly attract us to peace, equality, and fairness, while fear demands we fight directly against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. The middle. Love can urge us to protect and rebuild our environment, while fear reminds us that political leaders who deny the existence of climate change are steering us toward catastrophe and must be stopped at all costs. The middle.
My love for every interconnected living thing on this earth and my desire to make it a better place, leads me to vote for Hillary Clinton. My fear of the destruction, treacherousness, hatred, and bluster that has and will undoubtedly continue to rise from her chief opponent, leads me to the same conclusion.
Both love and fear, meeting in the middle, for progress in America.
As someone taking the time to read the blog, I'm making a few assumptions about you.
#1, I assume you’re ravishingly attractive. No seriously, the inner beauty you craft through mindfulness almost always exudes an outer beauty of cool self-confidence.
#2, getting to the real point of this piece though, I assume you're interested in improving yourself, being more present in the world around you, and making that world a better place. Basically, you believe in progress. Individual, social, political progress.
But progress isn't an easy topic to define. Coming from their own individual starting point, everyone undoubtedly develops their own idea of what progress means. Those differences make the path of progress a challenging and uncertain one to follow.
But in the end we will always move forward.
In my own mindful world, progress fluctuates. One day I’ll do a hike, spend a few hours writing, maybe actually publish an article, check off a bunch of to-do list items, cook a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Then the next morning I’ll oversleep and waste the day on Facebook. My own progress ebbs and flows.
I won’t pretend to know what's happening day-to-day in your world, but I’m just going to go ahead and make another assumption, that you experience days very similar to mine. Otherwise, why would you be reading up on ways to find more mindfulness in your life on this blog? Everybody’s individual progress ebbs and flows too.
Interpersonal progress follows the same pattern as well. All relationships come and go, grow or wither over time. The more time we spend getting to know different people, the more we change, the more they change, and the more the relationship between the two changes. Sometimes it changes in a way that draws you closer. Sometimes, you drift apart. The progress of interpersonal connection also ebbs and flows.
You’ll find the same order in the world of political progress. Empire’s come and go. Sometimes the Republicans are in charge, and sometimes it’s the Democrats. Laws are passed and laws are repealed. The politics of power and the issues of the day are constantly in flux
I’ll use a recent example: a few short years ago marriage equality for the LGBTQ community was a divisive issue for most Americans, and a hot potato issue for most politicians. These days a decent majority of Americans support it, and for anyone in the liberal-to-moderate realm, it’s the expectation. You even have the current Republican presidential candidate name-dropping “LGBTQ” in his nomination acceptance speech. That's progress too, but at the same time his party’s platform calls for roll back of all LGBTQ protective laws, marriage equality included. You can bet that if the tide of power shifts in their direction the rights we now take for granted will quickly evaporate. The progress of politics ebbs and flows.
Despite all this---the constant change, the victories and failures, from an individual to a national scale---we eventually move forward.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr. King was speaking about the politics of civil rights in the United States, which itself saw various ebbs and flows over time. From kings and queens of their continent, to slaves in a far off land; breaking the chains of slavery, to persecution by segregation; obtaining voting rights, to literacy tests and poll taxes that block those rights; the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination, even while racism continued (and continues). The progress of civil rights, like all politics, like our individual and interpersonal growth, ebbs and flows.
But in the end it flows forward. There is marked improvement of conditions, of equality, of fairness, of liberty over time. Maybe progress doesn't always move as fast as some of us would like, but it still moves. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, eventually.
We're all somewhere on that arc of progress. I have a lot of work left to do on myself, but I’m slowly getting there. I hope you are all in the same boat---advancing, improving, or at least making an effort. Each relationship moves forward, sometimes into calm waters and sometimes more treacherous, but always evolving. And in politics, even when conditions seem hopelessly unjust, off in the distance there's a glimmer of hope... progress.
Knowing and accepting that life won’t be perfect, that everything won’t go our way, that we will run into both fast lanes and road blocks---that knowledge is power.
This is the way progress goes, sometimes it ebbs and sometimes it flows, but always it grows.
Your ideal life doesn't come tied in a neat bow.
There's no FAQs to tell you how.
It's not on Amazon Prime.
You won't find a sassy Etsy design.
There is no steaming it on-demand.
No overnight shipping at hand.
It doesn't magically come in a dream.
It’s not dependent on likes or memes.
There is no app for that.
You can't get help from web support chat.
You won't stumble across it on a Pokemon hunt.
Real life takes effort, sorry to be blunt.
Your ideal life is up to you.
It's completely determined by what you do.
Each day is a choice that you can make.
So get off your ass and make it, for chrissake.
There's a real, fascinating, sometimes frightening, but ultimately beautiful world out there. Then there's a fake, surreptitious, sometimes comforting, but often crude digital world.
I think you can tell which one I prefer based on that description alone.
Both worlds are populated by actual people. In one world we see those people face-to-face, usually forcing a level of civility, politeness, and kindness. Not always, but usually. There are jerks, douchebags, fools, and a few dangerous psychopaths out there, but mostly when we're in-person we're nice to one another.
In the other world we see people through an avatar, a social media mask, removing nonverbal forms of human communication like facial expression and tone, usually stripping away the norms of tact and empathy in the process. Usually, but not always. There are kind, caring, and loving people all over the digisphere, but looking through a screen sometimes puts blinders on our otherwise exceptional eyes, leading to crassness and cruelty.
Every day most of us encounter both worlds. We watch as digital communication implodes into friend-on-friend Facebook wars (and maybe sometimes we even participate), before having a real world friend-on-friend lunch that restores our faith in humanity.
I ride the same roller coaster: I usually try to be an advocate instead of an argument, but sometimes I fail. I also make an effort to connect for real with my friends and family as much as possible, but again, sometimes I fail.
I was recently tested on both fronts when I received an abrupt blast from my distant past. Someone took the time to send me an angry message and then promptly blocked me so I couldn't respond. Beyond the fact that my interpretation of events couldn't be more different from theirs, I wasn't able to explain myself or to possibly apologize for any hurt I caused so many years ago.
There was the social media mask, staring me in the face and resorting to anger, but not willing to let us talk it out like real humans.
I may never truly understand this strange, new, loud-but-noncommunicative digital world, but my goal is to survive and be kind in it.
When given the chance, we should opt to spend our time in the real world, the present, as much as possible. But when we do dive into the murky digital world, we can bring with us the same civility, cordiality, and conversation we typically use in the real one.
The ability to hide behind the digital mask is physical, we're literally separated, so it was bound to change us. But maybe with a little extra effort---giving that update, comment, message, or block a second thought---we can act more mindfully about it.
We can learn to treat our fellow man like they're standing right in front of us, even when they're actually miles away.
The way I see it, you have two options for your existence: live your life, or live your life in fear.
There’s a valid evolutionary reason we feel fear and anxiety. In our caveman days we developed these emotions as a form of protection. The fear of death, injury, or pain triggered our defenses, thus lowering the chance of death, injury, or pain.
But it’s easy for us to take that healthy reaction of caution to an extreme, especially in this age of digital information over-saturation, especially given the news media’s tendency to focus on calamity as a ratings booster, and most especially when we’re hit with a personal tragedy.
12 years ago today my younger brother, plagued with blood clots, laid down to catch his breath and never got back up again. 5 years before that my father, plagued with high cholesterol, went out for a run one afternoon and never ran home. In my years before all that, I was always a bit of a worry-wort, lying awake in my central California home fretting over the possibility of the "big one" casting us off into the Pacific, or of an inescapable house fire, or of an alien invasion (seriously).
All of this, especially the untimely death of two of my closest family members, could have lead me to a very fearful life, becoming increasingly risk averse so as to avoid all of the many real and imaginary dangers of the world. While I do carry a decent amount of this worry with me to this day---and believe a little fear-induced caution can lead to wiser choices---I make a concerted effort to let go.
Because really, what is the point of living if you spend your whole life holed up in a mental bunker of fear?
There are truly dangerous people and things out there. My community, LGBTQ folks, are often the target of violence. I go hiking a lot by myself and so every time my mother learns of a bear attack she sends me an email of concern. Even with that, my risk of danger is low compared to the many places in the world held hostage by terrorists or the underprivileged communities held hostage to an overreactive police force and straight up bigotry.
But in spite of all that, when the moment comes that I lie down and never get back up, I’d like to at least know I lived life to the fullest while I was standing. I want to know that I wrote down every word, that I helped every friend, that I loved, that I cried, that I followed my dreams, that I lived while I was alive.
On this anniversary of my little brother's death, the lesson is to live with passion, joy, and love, just as he did in his time on earth. On the occasion of a seemingly neverending parade of deaths around the world, the lesson is to live mindfully in the present, because who knows what might happen tomorrow. The lesson is that life is too short to waste it constantly worried about death.
The lesson of death... is life.
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 something I've wanted to write about in this blog for a while now, but never quite knew how to bring it up. It's also something I've always known, for as far back as I can remember, but something that took me a long time to accept. Usually the easiest way to do this is like pulling off a bandaid, so here goes..
I don't imagine anyone who reads this blog is particularly disrupted by that fact. You're either my friend so you already know, or you're people who seek out mindfulness, and those kind of people are loving, open-minded, and caring.
So I wasn’t worried about coming out per se, and I've made casual reference to “my man” and used photos of us together on numerous occasions.
But still, I've never been overt. I suppose I didn't want to be “that gay mindfulness guy.” I wanted my ideas to speak for themselves, to be universal.
The recent and absurdly tragic events in Orlando though, they made my desire to come out on these pages more urgent.
They also got me thinking a lot. I've been trying to wrap my head around what occurred, and then the response from people of all persuasions over the past few days: reactions of anger for good reason, fear of what still might occur, love for the community of support we've created, honoring the past in the form of brave coming out stories, and hope for the future as we trudge forward with marching orders as political advocates in a new arena.
I've also seen some truly terrible reactions, those of vitriol and blame that do nothing to solve the myriad problems we all face as a society or to better the plight of LGBT people around the world.
I wanted to figure out how and where mindfulness fits into this. As usual, as we all do, we go back to our own bubble of experience to try and make sense of it.
Leading a more present life in the world is a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment. Coming out of the closet was, and still is for most young people, a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment as well. And the more I think about it, the more I realize growing up gay is perhaps one of the biggest drivers of my own attraction to mindfulness.
Simply living as an out gay man is an albatross of a journey; constantly looking over your shoulder wondering if someone is judging you, or worse, out to harm you. A life in that sort of existence is far from mindful. How can I live in the moment, love who I want openly, and just be my honest self when a "wrong" move in a wrong situation can lead to derision or even violence?
Perhaps I actively search for ways to live free and mindful because I’ve been stripped of the ability to do that in my everyday life, for my whole life, simply because of who I am and the way some in society view me.
Certainly not every gay person is an amateur-journeyman-mindfulness-guru like me. But take a place like a gay bar or club; it's a place of safety for my community, a respite from the worry of constant judgement you feel almost everywhere else. It's a place where we can truly, finally, live in the moment. In that sense, perhaps we gays are creatures of the mindfulness, whether we realize it or not.
On the same token, many if not most gay men grow up with a heightened sympathy for the other little guys in life---the maligned and the bullied---because we've been there too.
I knew I was different from early on, and the other kids in school seemed to know too. So I was picked on, especially in PE class. I endured physical, mental, and verbal abuse, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but always painful. Later in high school I became much more confident in myself, or at least able to play confident, and the abuse waned. Maybe I was just lucky, because I continued to watch other outsider kids in my school get bullied. High school can be brutal that way.
But because of all of that, I grew up with an extra sensitivity to the plight of others, and it led me to a desire to help make things better. By helping others I thought I could help myself. That led me to nonprofit work in my career, to make the world a slightly better place. It led me to this blog, to make my own life, and maybe yours by proxy, a slightly better place too.
I've always thought of mindfulness as a way of helping out the little guy, even if that little guy is me. It's how we escape the pains of the world and learn to be proud of ourselves, in that moment.
The LGBT community isn’t some monolith, not everyone is like me nor would I want them to be. But I think we all carry with us a chip on our shoulder from each of our individually difficult experiences of growing up in a society that thinks we shouldn’t exist. Or if we do exist we should only exist in private. Or that we don’t truly exist at all because we can just pray it away. Or we might exist right now, but we shouldn’t anymore, so they’re going to show up at a nightclub and mow us down with automatic weapons of war (that have no business being in the hands of civilians).
I know for a fact that mindfulness has helped me wade through the sometimes muddy and sometimes beautifully sparkling waters of being a gay man in this day and age. Mindfulness has definitely helped me deal with my own myriad emotions stemming from the massacre in Orlando.
My history and experience, all of it, has led me to here, a place of knowing about my imperfection, but also a place of strength because of it.
I know for a fact that the world and everyone in it needs more mindfulness. The society that told me I shouldn’t exist said the same to the shooter in Orlando, who has now been found to have been on gay social media apps himself. Instead of taking that difficult upbringing of hate and turning into love, as so so many of my gay brothers and sisters have done, he turned to hate and violence.
I know for a fact that my community, my friends, the loving and open-minded LGBT community, could use a little mindfulness right now too. A moment to look back at where we’ve been, look at the horror that has hit us now, and take all those years of both contempt and compassion, suffering and celebration, pain and pride, and mix up that uniquely amazing recipe to create the next step in our movement.
It's a movement that makes the world a better place by telling our stories, with political action around LGBT rights, in working to reverse the tide of homophobia spawned by religious extremists from too many religions, and now using our collective might to combat our nations' longstanding pillars of shame: guns and violence.
With all that we've been through and all that we've already done, I'm more hopeful now than ever about what we'll accomplish in the future. I couldn't be more proud.
"Unfollow" is all the rage on Facebook at the moment. In the 2016 election season, it's a salve we use to treat the fever pitch of political posts on social media. I've noticed a big uptick in it over the last few months, but this week it's practically #trending.
It seems like an simple cure-all, right? Less disagreement = more mindfulness.
But then I dug a little deeper, and as with most everything, once you really stop and think about it there's a lot more to consider.
On one hand, differences of opinion can quickly make us angry and argumentative, and 9-times-out-of-10, anger isn't mindful. Truth be told, I’ve unfollowed a few people on Facebook myself. It's not that I dislike these friends, it's just that my reaction to their posts often became a frustrating distraction. I felt like I needed to unfollow to retain some level of sanity. I know I'm not alone in this.
On the other hand, there's the problem of self-segregation. That is, avoiding all differences of opinion and surrounding yourself with only your most agreeable friends. When you do this, it's easy to get trapped inside your own dogma. If you never hear a different opinion and no one ever challenges your ideas, there's little room for growth.
So what's the answer? Is unfollowing on Facebook a good or bad thing?
Well, like a lot things in life it's not black or white, but somewhere in the gray. Overall, it's about balance.
If you have a friend who says racist things and has a hateful view of the world, it's OK to distance yourself. You do this all the time in all sorts of relationships—you don't choose to date someone when your personalities are mismatched, and you're certainly not required to be friends with someone who holds fundamentally different values than you.
But there can, and will, be some differences of opinion among friends, and that's OK. Everyone comes from a different place in life, and maybe it's when we expose our differences that we start to learn from one another. Also, remember that you always have the option to just not comment on a post you don't ike. You could even take your discussion to a private message or (gasp!) a face-to-face conversation, both places where we tend to be a little kinder to one another.
Politics has the potential to bring out both the best and the worst in people. We all get passionate sometimes, and even if we disagree the reason we're passionate is that we fundamentally care about our country, our world, and at the most universal level, each other.
So strike a balance—do what you need to do to retain your sanity this political season, even if that means editing your newsfeed experience a bit. But try allowing a few challenging opinions into your bubble. Get OK with a little debate and respectful disagreement. It could strengthen your opinion or make you rethink it, but either way you come out a better person.
Life encompasses many things, but at its most basic level, it’s a series of choices. I'll give you an example:
After I camp for a few days (an activity I'm quite fond of) my hands get rough, so when I embarked my adult wilderness career a year or so back, I wore "kid" gloves for certain tasks--tent building, fire maintaining, bag hauling. They prevented my hands from becoming rough or sore and protected me from the sort of hand injury that leads to a difficult camping experience. In those early days of my journeyman world, I was of a mindset that the goal in life was to always make things easier and more comfortable.
But then my mindset changed.
One night I was chopping a tomato and I ineptly cut a finger while wearing the gloves. It wasn't all that bad of a cut, but still, it raised a question: do I keep wearing the kid gloves for protection or do I give them up because they obviously can't protect me from everything?
I never really wore my gloves all the time--I mean, what kind of weirdo walks around wearing leather work gloves everywhere they go? I also found that even if I wore them for certain, more arduous activities, my hands would inevitably become painful anyway. And as I'd just learned, if I was careless around a tomato I might cut right through the thin leather skin of my kid gloves anyway.
So I stopped wearing them. I made a choice to live a little bit dangerously. I realized that no matter how many precautions I took, there would always be uncertainty, and no matter how many layers of protection I added, pain was inevitable. It was time to embrace the unknown and the pain that might develop from camping.
Life is full of choices like this--simple actionable decisions between a perceived risk and an anticipated reward.
You choose to stay in a job you hate instead of updating your resume. You choose to order the burger and fries instead of making a fresh salad. You choose to dilly dally on Facebook instead of writing. You choose to lose touch with a friend instead of picking up the phone. You choose to watch TV instead of going on a hike.
Those are all decisions I've gotten wrong in life, but also decisions I've gotten right.
Every day we get to decide which path to take.
And who's really to say which is wrong and which is right? We're all very different and very infallible beings. Each one of us has to figure out the right path and the proper balance on our own. We each need to decide when it's right to wear the kid gloves of contentment, and when it's time to get out of our comfort zone and see what lessons that might bring.
So I didn't wear the gloves, and as a result I learned to be more cautious--when I hammered in the stakes in around my tent, I did so thoughtfully--when I handled wood by the fire, I scanned for splinters first--when I carried heavy bags, I evened the weight so I wouldn't overburden one side. Giving up the gloves added some risk, but my mind picked up the slack, and I became a smarter camper.
No one ever said life would be easy. Every day presents you with a series of choices, and each choice holds the potential for success, for failure, for a life lesson, and quite possibly for a paradigm shift.
Take off the kid gloves, act a little rebellious, and feel the freedom it yields.
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.
So I'm making this concerted effort to be a mindful advocate, to respectfully disagree whenever I run into a difference of opinion... especially on the Internet... and especially around politics. There's so much digital yelling out there, it's unmindful, and the more I see the less I want to be a part of it.
But then I also know passions are high and these decisions are vital. We should all stand our ground in the fight against injustice and inequality. It's important, so it's easy to get caught up in it.
What I'm searching for is a balance--being an advocate for progress but also toning down the rhetoric, turning up the kindness, and maybe using the simple act of a respect to actually sway people to your cause.
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so the saying goes. This is true in pretty much all aspects of life, but it especially applies to political persuasion. Who in their right mind is going to change their right mind when you unmindfully toss insults?
Let's be clear though, taking a mindful approach to politics doesn't require silence in the face of injustice. While it's true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, sometimes those flies are total douchebags and need to be swatted away.
When someone is contemptuous, when their stance harms you or your people, when they resort to cruelty, when they throw all ration out the window, when they support a level of ignorance that could lead to the destruction of our species (like climate science deniers), by all means call them out. Don't stand for it. Don't ever kowtow to hate, bigotry, corrupt ideology, or downright treacherous zealotry.
But when you call them out, don't stoop to their level and be a douchebag in return.
If you really want to advocate for your cause, it's time to stop the irrational anger. Stealing a few cues from mindfulness, here are some suggestions to help us all get there.
Every time we respond to someone who disagrees with us we have a choice: come at them with the force of a thousand poo emojis, or respectfully disagree. That choice is the difference between our sanity and high blood pressure. It's the difference between a sleepless night and warm fuzzy dream. It's the difference between entrenched opinions and persuasive arguments.
I know this isn't easy, I get angry over political differences too. But next time you start to fume, take a mindfulness break. Step away from the laptop or your phone, take a deep breath, and think about what you are about to say in return. Does it foster a positive debate? Will it educate and inform? Will it encourage people to reconsider their opinion? Or are you responding to their douchebaggery by becoming a douchebag yourself?
Don't be a douchebag, respectfully disagree.
Music festivals get a bad rap. They’re exclusively for debaucherous, druggy, alcoholic, celebrity-wannabe, spray-tanned, trust-fund, scenesters, who most likely can’t even name one of the bands playing that day...or at least that’s what the Buzzfeed list and semi-sophisticated-Salon-snark-piece would have you believe.
But I love going to music festivals--I just got back from Coachella--and besides my fondness for beer (I didn't find the IPA until the last day, for shame), I can't be categorized by any of those Buzzfeed music festival memes. That's not because I’m an exception to the rule, it's because I am the rule. Even if there are elements of that scene at a music festival, there are also a million other much more powerful elements as well. These are the elements that keep me coming back, and the biggest element for me is mindfulness.
When you think of Coachella I’m sure the last thing you think of is mindfulness. It’s not as if everyone sits in the middle of the Empire Polo fields meditating silently over the three-day weekend. But as regular readers of the blog already know, I tend to find mindfulness in the darndest things.
~~What if mindfulness was found in a ear-pluggingly loud place, where the noise overruns your mind leaving you no other option but to be present.
~~What if mindfulness was a moment in a massive crowd, freeing you to simultaneously lose and find yourself.
~~What if mindfulness was conjured through connection, sharing a series of meaningful experiences with your closest friends.
~~What if mindfulness was discovered through random interaction, encountering something as simple as a smile from the unknown passerby.
~~What if mindfulness was an inspiration, grown over a series of passionate musical crescendos and poetically profound lyrics.
~~What if mindfulness was the surprise of feeling so minuscule at the grandiosity of it all, and by proxy, in the grand scheme of life.
There are a hundred opportunities for mindfulness at a modern music festival, and it's because the necessity for these real life communal experiences are ingrained in our DNA. Music, friendship, entertainment, and fellowship all take us away from the anxiety of life. It's an ancient method of relieving stress and it still moves us to this day, no matter how many burdensome digital distractions we chain to our modern psyche.
Beyond the scene or the beer garden, a music festival is a place where people choose to put down their phones (for the most part) and participate in a real life adventure with thousands of companions and comrades. So no matter what you've heard, the real drug of choice at Coachella is mindfulness, and every year when it’s done I can’t wait to go back for another dose.
daddy's gotta eat