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.
"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.
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.
Once in awhile, more and more lately, I find myself reading the comments.
I know, rookie move, especially if you’re someone making a brave attempt to find peace in today’s convoluted digital world. We are all aware that the comments, the trolls that populate them, and the attempts at righteous persuasion that unwittingly feed those trolls, are the landfills of the Internet. It’s where good ideas get flogged to death and bad ideas spread like the zika virus.
So why do I keep getting drawn into that mess? It's all due to that quadrennial tradition known as the American presidential election. In this digital age, the traditional ruthlessness of politics has gotten worse, and it's too bad, because the decision we're debating is more important than ever.
My quest: give a damn about politics because I know the consequences are major, but stay mindful in the process. It’s a tall order, I know.
My friends, welcome to the Great Election Hurricane of 2016. The river of opinions has swelled for months now. What started as trickle of ideas and endorsements has become an incessant downpour of rants, a cascade of comment wars, and a deluge of slant pieces and snark memes. The rising tide of anger and frustration inevitably breaks the levee--again--impassioning friends to turn on one another, to toss out vicious insults, and level infantile cries of ignorance toward anyone who dares to challenge their preconceived notions.
I'm no noob, I know the game of politics is complex and messy. Possibly little known fact to many readers of this blog, but I hold a master's degree in public policy and I worked in political advocacy for years. Other than mindfulness and nature, politicking is my bread and butter. So I've watched and studied this sport for decades, observing the stick-to-the-issues idealists, the nothing-but-smear-campaign demagogues, and every candidate in between.
I'm also acutely aware of just how important all this is. It's a vital part of democracy that we have different ideas and debate them heartily. More than that, it's absolutely necessary that all of us actively participate in our political process, because the decisions our leaders make are often the difference between life and death.
But as much as I want to engage this critical pursuit, I also don’t want to engage myself into insanity.
To me, this year feels starkly different than elections of the past. The age of social media and the lack of mindfulness it provokes has made for a perfect storm of political aggravation. This digital tempest of competition inevitably leads to a slew of unmindful behavior. So how do we calm the storm? How do we stay mindful within the whirlwind election season?
In this new election age, we must strive to become mindful advocates.
Someone who listens to different opinions.
Someone who stays true to themselves without becoming self-righteous.
Someone who leads by example instead of prescription.
Someone who stays respectful in the face of disagreement.
Someone who doesn't always have to be right.
Someone who turns the other cheek instead of responding with a taunt.
And none of that is easy, trust me I know. Go to the Facebook page of any presidential candidate and (just for research) read the comments. There's a flood of rage out there overwhelming the dam of rational sanity--opinions stated as facts, opinions becoming insults, opinions inciting outrage. When I see this, I start to get outraged myself.
Sometimes my own opinion has lead me to waste a good hour formulating a comment that I don't actually end up posting. Sometimes I see friends who agree on the need for progress toward a fair and just world, belittle each other over a slight disagreement on how we achieve that progress. Sometimes I see caring Americans who agree that we want to better our nation, level vile insults at each other because they disagree on the definition of “better.” Usually at the end of a day I’m left dispirited by it all, exhausted by all the time I’ve wasted watching and/or participating in it, saddened by the savagery I’ve seen it foster.
But being a mindful advocate means we still participate---we don’t give up our identity or passion, we don't stop advocating for our candidate, and we always speak up to injustice. We just do all that with civility and respect.
And we do so because we are at a crucial time in our civilization.
Historically, the debate of ideas in politics has never been simple or easy. Neither the ancient Greeks nor our founding fathers pulled any punches. The liberal and the conservative side of our democracy, today’s Democrats and Republicans, have always been at odds. At one point this conflict even led us to civil war. But most of the time, when push came to shove, our leaders compromised and worked together for the good of the country.
Today the decisions we make as voters, and by proxy the leaders we choose, go even further and have the potential to affect the good and bad of the entire world, be it poverty, war, or environmental calamity. It behooves us to look toward our deep commonalities and to nobly convince others of our ideas for change rather than resort to attacks, lies, and conspiracy theories. When we treat our fellow man with respect not just to have a better shot at changing minds, but to have a better shot at saving our planet from uncertain doom.
So I pledge to be a mindful advocate and an activist for good.
To trumpet my beliefs without tearing others' down.
To debate at the appropriate time, but do so with respect.
To speak to those I encounter as if they were real people instead faceless digital avatars.
To accept that we can differ on the policy but still agree on the end goal.
To inspire rather than incite.
To love rather than lash out.
To show by my example that, in this day and age, such civility is even possible.
This is how we make America great again. This is how we save the world. This is how you convince people to vote for your candidate. This is the way of the mindful advocate.
These days, it seems like everything that happens in our modern society--be it pop culture or politics--requires an opinionated think piece. You’ve read them, those articles that supposedly break down the "issues" so they're easier to "process."
Now, I certainly approve of thinking--exploring multiple sides of an issue to create an informed and thoughtful society is righteous.
But at what point do we start to overthink? At what point do we start to dive so deep into an issue that we’ve lost perspective of the big picture? At what point does all this opinion become just another tool to distract and divide and anger?
The digital age and social media are the perpetrators of this burgeoning problem.
Back in the day articles and editorials were vetted by editors and managers, requiring a skilled level of research and verification of sources. All the rest of us had an opinion, but aside from setting up a soapbox and wielding a bullhorn on a street corner, our audience was our friends, family, and co-workers--people we typically respect or would at least treat with respect when talking about a difficult issue face-to-face.
These days anyone can scribe whatever unedited, unauthenticated, scathing idea they want, and then post it on any number of digital soapboxes, from Facebook to Twitter to blogs (oh hi me!). Just as before, all of us have an opinion, but now we have a much louder and unmonitored bullhorn from which to scream it. And we get to do so with relative anonymity, opening the door to the types of tactless and inconsiderate responses you'd never repeat to someone in person.
An infinite number of opinions are available and easily culled from a Google search as well, allowing us to find a tailor-made think piece to confirm our viewpoint. And then we rebroadcast it from our flamboyantly loud digital soapbox, inflating the power of that opinion, no matter how inaccurate, erroneous, or untrue.
Back in the day, not everything was perfect either. We had a limited number of sources for our information--dependent on local school and library funding, accessibility of TV broadcast news, and your proximity to a newsstand. And not everyone in the mainstream media has a perfect track record of providing accurate and unbiased information either. But beyond that, there were always good and decent writers and journalist trying to provide authentic information and well-reasoned opinions.
A friend of mine recently stated that "no one ever convinces anyone of anything on the internet," and I tend to agree. No matter how impassioned your plea, very few people read a mini think piece on social media and think to themselves, “you know what, they're right and I'm wrong.”
It’s trite, but true.
Instead of providing a new perspective to shift our thinking for the better, an opine typically only elicits either adulation or anger--and that anger typically isn't very polite.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last few months that a think piece, or a Facebook regurgitation of a think piece, has taken me away from mindfulness. Running through any number of potential responses in my mind, instead of enjoying my morning walk with my dog. Typing out any number of potential responses, instead of writing a new article for Elephant Journal. Just generally consuming and distracting my mind when there are so many more fruitful and beneficial things I could be focusing on.
I have to balance my thoughts on this. Certainly I’m not going to advocate everyone just shut up and keep their ideas and opinions to themselves. To claim I'm some kind of expert at knowing when to let go of an argument would be entirely hypocritical.
But that doesn't mean we can't all try and be a little better... consider your source, be smart and respectful about what you say, stay away from opinionated rhetoric that only seeks to antagonize, pause and take a deep breath before you comment with vehemence, and make a reasonable effort to do some research before you claim something is ”fact.”
This broad network of information we have at our fingertips can be used for kindness or cruelty. The tack we take is up to each one of us.
So, let's all be kind.
The heart of this blog is about navigating the complicated waters of our modern times. Yeah, mindfulness is in the title, and sure, I write a lot about nature and hiking and travel, but those things are just methods -- important methods -- I think we all need in order to thrive in this day and age.
The key question I like to ask then is: how do we do that? How do we thrive when there so much digital distraction out there trying to hold us back?
The ability to succeed in life, to me, is centered around two distinct yet interconnected sociological arenas. One is our personal world, the life that only we know about because it takes place in our own mind. The other is the social world, the life we show everyone around us. Both feed into one another. Both are fundamental.
Our society, social structure, and the way we process and understand it, was developed over centuries. We figured out all sorts of ways to deal with one another. Time, experience, and technology then alter the paradigm and advance us forward. That progress.
So it's impossible not to imagine the digital age having some effect on us. I was born around the time some experts deem the start of the millennial generation, but just barely. That means I do remember life before technology, but I also saw the transition start early on.
The first time I remember noticing a computer in my daily life was around the 2nd grade, and it grew from there. It started with a few computers in the school office, then a computer lab, then a computer in every classroom, then a computer in every home. Later it became a computer for every person, then a computer and a phone, then a computer and a smartphone and a tablet and a Google and an iTunes and a Netflix and everything you could possibly imagine at your fingertips.
These were all fun new gadgets that set out to make life easier, and they did. But in a broader sense they were quickly changing us on a much deeper level. They rapidly progressed a shift in our collective societal mindset, where all the ways in which we communicated went from a naturally sluggish human pace to a modern frenetic digital pace.
Let’s take a brief trip through the past then...
At one point in time we would make a plan to have dinner with a friend, and there might not be any other moment of communication between the plan and the dinner. There were no direct messages in the interim. No keeping up through Facebook posts. No texts at the last minute to let your friend know you're running late, even though that tardiness was of your own creation. You just met there for dinner, and then you caught up. It was slow and cumbersome, but it was real.
I pretty sure this is the way people used to make plans because I’ve seen it in the movies.
At one point in time we were slowly introduced to a new friend over time. We met at a party, got together over coffee, talked on the phone from time to time, and maybe got together with mutual friends. It took time and you had to put in effort. There was no method, beyond a private investigator, to dig into someone's past other than to simply ask them. There was no Facebook or Twitter history to explore.
I believe I vaguely recall a life like this, sometime before Friendster and the subsequent onslaught and exposure of our personal world onto public mediums.
At one point jealousy totally existed, sneaking into our psyche, causing us to covet the experiences of others. We would regret the decision to break up with that one guy or quit that one class. Worry was ubiquitous as we went about our day, and especially after the evening news of an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries”. All these emotions existed, but they took time to evolve. We weren't unavoidably reminded of the things we should fear and things we were missing out on via social media.
I remember feeling all these emotions from time to time, but not as much as I do now.
At one point gossip and cruelty were a part of our social world. People have always talked behind other's backs and there were always mean girls and mean guys. But you had to be mean face to face. You couldn't sulk and hide behind a digital avatar as you spit venom while claiming victimhood.
I know assholes existed in the past because I did everything I could to avoid them. They’re not as easy to avoid nowadays.
Our modern digital age has sped up the typical human socialization process, making it much easier to jump into these age old emotions. It facilitates and encourages laziness, impatience, jealousy, and cruelty by placing a rapid succession of updates in an easily accessible newsfeed. It leaves the normal pattern of social graces by the wayside. It discourages living in the present because this ability we now have to keep in touch so easily, is so easily addictive.
And before you troll me with a “get off my lawn!” comment, I’m not saying the digital age is a bad thing. Information and communication is at our fingertips, and those are two key elements to thriving in life.
What I’m saying is that the changes the digital age has so quickly foisted upon us demands our careful attention. The more we breeze through life without consideration, the easier it is to fall into the traps of jealousy and insensitivity towards our fellow man.
We can live in the digital age and still take with us a reminder of the way things were. And really, all that is is being mindful. That’s how we maintain our sanity in the digital age. That's what this blog is about.
New motto: you need to slow down in order to move forward
We live in a frantic, fast-paced, eat-or-be-eaten, shit-or-get-off-the-pot kind of world. And it’s counterproductive.
In the modern age, people expect instant everything: instant social media updates to show everything you're doing, instant gratification/likes to validate everything you're doing, instant answers to every possible question, instant responses to every text, instant and incessant every-speck-of-news channels, instant traffic updates with expectations of every green light, instant political poll results to show every mood swing, and even instant ramen that's ever so basic.
But what does instantaneousness get us? The instant answer is usually thoughtless. An instant update takes you out of the moment. Instant gratification is typically insincere. Instant ramen never tastes as good as the real stuff.
In short, the instant world gets us nowhere fast.
I propose we slooooow doooooown.
I've had to learn to slow down the hard way. I’m a fairly active guy and I try to stay at least somewhat fit, but for years my exercise routine was crafted for expediency, particularly around jogging.
Going for a run can be a great way to burn calories and I've written on the mindfulness benefits I gained from it in the past. But I also often used it as a way to absently power through an exercise just to get it over with. If I didn't stressfully rush through traffic to my typical spot at the reservoir to stomp out a lap, I would opt to run on the streets near my house, exacerbating my shin splits on the unyielding pavement. I never quite stretched or warmed up as much as I really should have and I started wearing those hip new minimalist shoes that provide very little support, without giving my legs time to get used to them. I did all this while training for a half marathon in an expedited schedule.
It was a risky recipe. By the end of that marathon, my shins, my ankles, arches, heels, toes, and hips were all quite angry with me. They all pleaded with me to slooooooow dooooooown.
So I did. Following the half marathon I went on a long solo camping trip I called "Journeyman." Instead of running quickly through all the beautiful natural environments I visited, I hiked and did so thoughtfully, deliberately, soaking it all in.
By slowing down not only did I get the benefits that exercise brings to your body, I got the benefit of spiritual renewal that's always available when you commune with nature. I was able to find mindfulness with each step, and to this day hiking inspires most of what I write on these pages.
My personal parable is applicable to all sorts of situations in our modern world: when we take a moment to gather our thoughts before responding, our reaction is more authentic. When we stay in the moment instead of jumping to Facebook to post a photo of every event, we get to relish in it. When we don’t expect a digital thumb up for every social media post, we feel more confident in our self worth. When we're patient on the road, we're able to chill and let road rage shift to road relaxation. When we wait in line for 30 minutes for the good ramen place, our tongue is happy and we’re more satisfied, and that's just fact.
Patience is a virtue, in all things. Don’t fall for the immediacy trap our modern technology has set out for us. Slow down, so you can move forward.
The other day I spent some time on my phone.
I took a few minutes updating my reminders and to-do list...it's a busy time of year.
I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram, a like here and a like there...keeping up with friends.
I checked how many steps I had taken that day...exercise is key.
For a second there I felt productive, but then I realized, I hadn't really done anything at all.
Updating a to-do might tell me what I need to get done, but it doesn't mean I'll actually do it.
Liking a post on Facebook might remind friends I exist, but that's not actually keeping in touch.
Keeping track of how many steps I took gives me a calorie count, but rarely does it encourage me to walk more.
During the time I spent on my phone I could have worked on a project, gotten lunch with a friend, or gone on a hike, actually achieving the things I pretended I was achieving with my phone.
There's motivation to be found on our modern devices for sure, but don't let it fool you into reliance. Get off your ass and do real things. Real things are how you really move forward.
What a strange weekend it was to be in a remote wilderness and mostly away from all the terrible news from Paris. At first I felt out of the loop, not able to follow all that was going on. Sticking my head in the desert sand instead of reacting with everyone else. But then I saw some people tearing each other down instead of uniting in solidarity, and people responding to the vitriol with even more anger...petty arguments about profile pics or which deadly attack is worse.
Suddenly I preferred my place outside the loop. I took a deep breath, turned my phone off, and returned to the freedom of disconnection. Staying away from the news/opinion/anger on FB/NPR/CNN didn't mean I was ignorant, it just meant I was giving myself the space to have a solemnly personal response instead of the knee-jerk public reaction our social media demands.
Though I highly recommend it, you don't have to go to Joshua Tree to have a moment of peace amongst all the negativity. What if we each turned down the noise a bit? What if we all shut up for ten seconds to respond instead of react? What if it gets so quiet we start to actually hear ourselves again? This is mindfulness, and I think the world needs it now more than ever.
I'm changing my Facebook phone- relationship status to "it's complicated."
I both love and hate my this little pocket machine. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic tool for connecting with friends and family, educating ourselves, being prepared for the weather or traffic, becoming budding artists/photographers/writers, and overall allowing us to be more interested and aware people. On the other hand though, it distracts from the real world around us, encourages FOMO and jealousy, thrusts douchebaggery to the forefront, hides us behind an avatar curtain so we sometimes end up acting extra douchey ourselves, and the list goes on.
One reason I love hiking and camping is that, more often than not, there is no phone reception. It’s a trick I use to escape, decompress, and reconnect with myself and the world around me.
Recently though, I visited Death Valley National Park, and while the vast majority of the park is cell-phone-free, the small town where I camped still had a few bars of service. Cue the complicated mix of love/hate emotions:
I loved that I could text my mom and my man that I arrived safe. I loved the ability to text friends when I got bored. I loved that I could post to Instagram because photography gives me joy. I loved that I could Google lists of Death Valley hikes and sites instead of flying solo.
But... I hated that I wouldn’t be able to feel the freedom of disconnection. I hated that I wasn’t forced to be bored, and forced to be OK with it. I hated that after I had a little whisky I started checking Facebook to pass the time, instead of reading, writing, or just being. I hated that it all made me feel less mindful.
I’ve written before about how the distraction of our smartphone is a distraction of our own making. Quite simply, we can log off any apps that bother us or just put the phone down. But you you know as well as I, that’s way easier said than done.
We all have a complicated relationship with our smartphones. Sometimes we laugh the afternoon away texting with a friend and sometimes we thumb-type seriously stupid things in anger. Sometimes we snuggle with our phone in bed and sometimes we want to throw it across the room.
The trick for me, and with most things in life, is to find a balance. In order to be mindful we shouldn’t have to give up on all modern conveniences to live in a shack in the woods. I should be able to use all the great and worthy features of my smartphone but also be OK with setting it down for periods of time. There’s room in this life for both mindlessness and mindfulness.
I'm about to head to Joshua Tree National Park with a small group of friends for a stargazing weekend. I stayed at this very campground last August so I know for sure that my phone won’t work. I’m looking forward to it, and getting out in nature is a great way for any of us to get a little more mindful.
But in two days I’ll be back in the city. The phone and my love/hate relationship with it will still exist. You can’t just run away from your problems, you have to face them head on.
So I’m going to make an effort to learn from my complicated relationship -- let the things I love about my smartphone help me use it more wisely, while letting the things I hate about it remind me to take a break once in awhile.
It’s a worthy endeavor, for all of us. Make a list of all the things you both love and hate about our modern technologies. Then use both the negative and the positive to inspire you toward balance.
There’s that moment when you switch off airplane mode on your phone and the only message you see in the upper-corner, coverage indicator area is “Searching…”
It’s the moment when you're about to reconnect from whatever escape you were just on. The moment you return from whatever forced you to disconnect in the first place, be it from going to a movie, hiking or camping in the mountains, or maybe actually being on an airplane.
For me, it’s the moment I switch from the relative calm of searching for myself in the real world, back to the unending search for signals and distractions in digital world.
I write a lot about distraction and disconnection here, not because I’ve got it all figured out, but because it’s an issue I struggle with, especially with finding a balance between the two.
It’s way too easy for me to get on my phone and spend hours on mindless tasks, and when I say hours it's no exaggeration. One Google search easily turns into ten, twenty, thirty. One article turns into a clickhole of largely meaningless and depressing news information gathering. A momentary check of Facebook quickly turns into an hour of “just scroll a little bit more!” Most days, being on my phone is the first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night, and the thing I do many times in between to pass the time.
All of this is just a way I trick my mind into thinking it’s being productive, when in reality most of what I’m doing is entirely inconsequential. Worse, these are all things that take away from the time I could be doing something real, like writing this blog, or hiking, or connecting with friends, or applying for jobs, or calling my mother.
So when I disconnect, it’s for a purpose. When I disconnect, I do it so I can go searching instead.…
Searching for mindfulness.
Searching for my thoughts.
Searching for meaning.
Searching for me.
Not long ago I came back down the mountain from an excellent camping trip with a group of some of my closest friends. When we got close to the valley floor I switched off airplane mode and immediately began staring at that “Searching…” message in the upper corner, intently waiting for all those bars and signals to escort me back to the modern world.
But after a 10 second attempt, it gave me the “No Service” message instead of bars. I was disappointed, of course. I was eager to post to Instagram and Facebook to share with you all the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
But then I remembered “Searching…”
When my phone was in airplane mode that weekend, instead of searching for a signal the whole time, I was doing the searching instead. It allowed me to read and spend quiet time with my own thoughts. It allowed me to share my love of camping with friends who hadn’t been in ages. It allowed me to watch as those friends’ eyes opened to the lessons of comfort, distraction, and expectation that come from the remote camping experience. It allowed us all to be present with each other in a way we’ve never been before, to bond in ways you can’t predict or replicate.
When I let my device do the searching, that means I’m searching for a way out. An excuse to be somewhere else. To add yet another method of distraction to my over-complicated world.
When I do the searching myself, that means I’m finally living.
I switched my phone back into airplane mode. This was the last moment of disconnection I would have for a while. It was our last moments together without all those distractions. Our last moments in the real world. And besides, I didn’t have a signal anyway.
Phone coverage will come and go, but what are you really searching for?
Are you searching for a constant digital connection using a combination of letters and pictures, or a perhaps more intermittent but deeper and more direct connection with those you actually care about?
Are you searching for a following of 1,000 on Instagram, or a following of 10 real friends who actually mean something to you?
Are you searching for more “likes,” or real love?
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