“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.
The Reward of Regret: Using Unmindful Emotions for Good (with a little help from John Muir)
"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.
The Daily Climb
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.
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My name is Jason Wise. Life's all about the journey, man. Find me on Instagram and Facebook.