Nature is Cheaper Than Therapy
A lot of us could use some therapy, but ALL of us could use a lot more nature.
So many of us live a hustled, breakneck, claustrophobic life in our cities and suburbs. We keep tight schedules, update our newsfeeds, take on loans, sit in traffic, breathe dirty air, update newsfeeds again, text friends, second-guess their response, update newsfeeds once more. We’ve been doing all this for so long that the accompanying stress becomes an expectation. The road rage, the FOMO, the worry, the doubt, the regret, all just another appointment on the presumed schedule of daily life.
It’s a knot of our own creation, that we then go and pay a therapist to detangle it.
Now don’t get me wrong, therapy is a worthy endeavor. I can say with certainty that all of us could benefit from a few conversations with such an unbiased observer — talking with friends (or to yourself) can only get you so far.
But if all we rely on is therapy, or self-help books, or this blog, we’re still ignoring the elephant in the room, which is the society that drives us insane in the first place.
Nature literally, physiologically, makes us feel better. Science says so. The question to answer then is: why?
It brings us back to our roots. It strips off all the modern complications disguised as conveniences. It gives us a moment of conscientious clarity. It allows space for silence in an increasingly deafening world. It is a momentary portal into a dimension of empathy that preexists within ourselves. It creates a kind of temporary dementia, where we forget about future mental traffic for a minute so we can do nothing but revel in the present peace.
Those are my own answers, your’s may be completely different, but either way we know nature gives us more than just a pretty Instagram photo — it gives us life.
“May your search through nature lead you to yourself” isn’t profound because nature suddenly answers all our questions, it’s profound because it reminds us we already know them.
May I suggest that nature will uncover those inner truths whether you like it or not. May I also suggest that that’s a beautiful thing.
Nature is my kind of therapy.
Here's to the Sun in your Eye
The sun is a metaphor for life. It's glare is how we know.
Figuring out how to capture a natural sun glare was the first thing I learned on my “fancy” camera (and might have been the last lol). It’s not the photograph I’m so intrigued by, though yeah it is usually pretty. It’s the perspective gained.
A sun dapple is an immense power stymied and diluted by distance, filtered through a nearly infinite number of elements on its way to your eye. Even at the very last moment before reaching you with its life sustaining rays, it hits a singular needle on one of a million pine trees on this particular range of mountains, dispersing it’s power one last time into something simply beautiful.
I’m not even sure what that says about life, about you or I, about the cosmos or the forest, about politics or the present, but I know it gives me joy to feel both small and incredibly important as the one eye that gets to see that one glare at that one moment. This moment.
Out of the City, Into the Wild
So often we make the mistake of of assuming we have to give up the wild in order to live in the modern. Society has spent millennia trying to control nature, to the point where so many of us forget it even exists.
But nature is our lifeblood, it’s the essence of our evolution as a species. Our ancestors lived among it, and relished in it. When we give up the wild for the modern, we give up a piece of our soul.
It’s OK to cut the cord once in awhile. It’s OK to spend some time in the quiet of the mountains. It’s OK to let it all go for a minute.
Whether it’s long-term camping or a short-term picnic, disconnecting the tether is freeing — your mind and soul are allowed to roam. There’s no vibration coming from your pocket, only warmth coming from your soul. There’s no Siri to ask questions, only your own mind to answer them. There’s no Google Maps to give you direction, the only direction is of your own choosing.
human in the San GabrielsNothing against technology. I mean hell, I’m using it to type and post this right now. Urban disconnection is just a suggestion, that maybe you should escape the city for nature once in a while, that maybe I think you’ll really like it.
No, not maybe, definitely. You’ll definitely like it.
Shine Bright Like a Campfire
Sometimes when I’m camping out there by a fire, I start to chronicle the logs.
In many ways this is an act of sheer boredom; I’m alone in the wilderness with no phone service (just as I like it), and there’s not much else to do but stare into the fire, sip whisky, and think. I get all my best thinking done right there.
Each log in the fire is different and unique. Some narrow, others full. Some even, others winding. Some are pieces of kindling splintered off a trunk, burning bright and fast because of their damage. Others are fully intact limbs, substantial, resilient, warriors against the fire, holding their own for hours. No matter what, every log is but one piece of a much larger tree, a small part of a big story, whittled down to it’s essential core.
Each new log of firewood adds more energy, building on its predecessors. Each new log is ultimately consumed by its own light and heat, going back into the earth where it all started. Each log was once a small sapling, then a grand tree, then a flame and an ember, then ash and dust, before transforming into the nutrients the next sapling uses to flourish for years, right up until it sees the same fiery fate.
I take another swig of whisky, and the longer I peer into that glowing fire ring of broken trees, the more I see—I start to see all of us.
Humanity has a lot in common with a campfire. Each of us is a log, a branch of a much larger family tree, burning bright for as long as we can. Each of us unique, with our own history and struggles. Some of us bend to the left, others bend to the right. Some are straight, and others like myself go their own way. Some of us are damaged, others a pillar of perpetuity, at least seemingly. Some are separated from their past, others bonded so strong they’ll never let go.
We each burn as bright as we can individually, but there’s strength in numbers when we ignite together as one. We all hope to stay lit for as long as possible, but no matter how bright and how long, we eventually go back to the earth where it all started. Our purpose is to leave a legacy of knowledge, an ember of warmth, a torch on the path to light the way forward for those who come next.
This isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t some grim tale about the brevity and ultimate uselessness of life.
This is the true story of the continuing circle of life on earth. It’s a centrifuge of motion that powers our inspiration. It’s why we radiate with as much strength and light into the world as we can, while we can. It’s how we accept that one day we will burn out, but as long as we pass down our spark, the process of living is truly the most beautiful undertaking ever engineered.
Even the smallest logs provide the embers that keep the fire smoldering. Even the biggest logs, if placed awry, can smother the fire. We each have our part in the this communal campfire, our story to tell, our light to pass on. It’s up to each of us where we place ourselves in the pit, how we choose to burn, what we choose to contribute.
In this way we are all granted the power to both live now and live on, in perpetuity, a circle of life and light in the middle of an otherwise bleak darkness.
I take another sip of whisky. It’s strange and wondrous how much more sense the world makes when I’m alone in the wild, a quiet witness to the history of the world and the future of ourselves, all in a campfire log.
People talk about “going into nature” like they’re doing something different and special that will give them all the answers. And by people, I mean me.
I write about this topic a lot. I’m kind of obsessed with it. I walk into nature and up a mountain, and when I get to the top I whip out my phone to write all the different and special ideas that came to me because of that walk through nature.
But truthfully, most of the time I don’t find any answers on that trail. Sure, I get some exercise and escape Facebook for a while, both beneficial things, but it’s not like the heavens opened, a beam of light shined down, and I discovered the meaning of life.
That’s because we’re thinking about nature all wrong. You, me, and most people.
Nature — all those forests and mountains and waterfalls and streams and critters— it isn’t some remote object that gives you all the feels because it’s pretty to look at. The reason it gives you all those feels is because nature is home.
Nature is us. We are nature.
And before you dismiss me as some flower power hippie, let me tell you why I believe that. Actually, why I know that.
A walk in the woods is like connecting a tap to our heritage. From it, knowledge flows. These are the trees that shaded our ancestors from the heat and fueled our fire in the cold. This is the water that sustained them. Those are the plants and animals that fed them. It is a community of interconnected living things of which we have been a part of for millennia.
Out in nature, you briefly create a direct connection to that lineage, and it activates a knowledge that’s embedded deep in our DNA.
This is why we love nature so much, and why hiking into it gives us so much in return.
I know this because it is our history. I know this because it is my history. I know this because sometimes I connect my own tap and I feel it, I hear it, I can't avoid it.
In our modern understanding of life and order, the way we now process things, it feels like we escape to nature to give us all the answers, but that's not it at all. When we go into nature we go home, and the comfort of home quietly lets us know that that answers are not out there somewhere, they're inside you and they've been there all along.
It's a shame we’ve gone to such efforts to remove ourselves from the natural world. We paved over it, carefully landscaped it, and then boxed in what was leftover into an artifact we call a “park.” We distract ourselves with fake social media friendships, fake virtual worlds, and fake news. We’re the one intelligent being that has the power to do all this, and I know it makes us feel safer in the world, but by conquering nature we denied a central, vital, natural part of our soul.
We left nature, but lost ourselves in the process.
We ask questions, but we already know the answers.
But when we go back into the woods, and spend time with it, deliberately, we’re given a gift. One that opens our minds wide enough to see the truth that lies within, as long as we let it.
The Power of Doing
There's a dangerous passivity encouraged by the “power of positive thinking.”
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/the-power-of-doing
We’ve all heard of the “power of positive thinking”. It’s this idea that your destiny is controlled by your state of mind. Think a few happy thoughts and boom!, you’re happy.
There are multiple variations on this theme. Create a vision board to imagine an amazing future and boom!, the future becomes amazing. Meditate everyday and boom!, you have mindfulness in spades. Raise your arms in the air like you won a race one minute before an interview and boom!, you win and you’re hired (seriously, that’s a thing).
I’m here to say, no. No to all of that.
Thoughts are just that, thoughts. By definition they are only in your mind. They can be powerful forces to guide your life into happiness and success, but not by themselves. The only way for your thoughts to effect the actual world you live in is for you to do one very critical thing: act on them.
There’s a dangerous passivity encouraged by this theory of the power of positive thinking. It gives us the impression that we can sit back, imagine our ideal life, and if we wish for it hard enough it we’ll watch it magically unfold.
But that ideal life isn’t created by imagination, it’s created by doing. It’s built up over a series of difficult decisions and decisive actions. It’s a slowly visualized rainbow that is made up of the darkness failure, the light of success, and a thousand of gradients of unexpected color in between.
Our thoughts and ideas are definitely important. Meditation, daily affirmations, setting an intention, thinking through the tough decisions in life, and thinking through our response to those around us, they are the foundation of our betterment. But ultimately, a simple idea is useless if we never put it into practice. Our life is realized when we build a structure on that foundation. And our happiness is determined by what we build.
Or in short: what truly matters most isn’t what you think, it’s what you do with that thought.
So use the power of your mind all you want. Ponder the meaning of life, brainstorm it, vision board it, talk to friends you trust, hire a life coach, whatever. But don’t stop there. Make a plan. Make multiple plans. Take action. See it through. Life will not be handed to you on a silver platter just because you dream up a silver platter. Your life is created by you.
I know you're frustrated, I'm frustrated too. But guess what? There's hope.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
I'm angry. I'm disappointed. Once in a while these days a wave inescapable melancholy washes over me. The events that have transpired across the world over the past year have been unmistakably heavy. I have a hunch that a lot of you feel the same.
2016 was a difficult year. Some would call it a terrible, horrific, never ending nightmare of a dumpster fire, but let’s just stick with “difficult” for the sake of sanity.
Russia, Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, China, Russia again, the hottest year on record, the death of a slew of extremely talented artists, the dangerous proliferation of fake news, all the people with an uncritical eye who believe it, the 2016 presidential election season, the day of the 2016 presidential election itself, the day(s) after the 2016 presidential election, the hatred and racism it all exposed, and perhaps worst of all, the demagogue of destructive division that is president-elect Trump... just to name a few.
This year piled it on like dirty laundry. Like rows of chipped plates at a Goodwill. Like net after net of suffocating fish on boat deck. It broke the Guinness World Record for awful years.
But I’m going to tell you something you may not be expecting to hear: 2016 was amazing.
That’s right, I said it.
While it's true, there is a long list of terrible things that happened in 2016, there’s an even longer list of beautiful things: your friends, your family, all the mind-blowing things you learned and the stunning sights you witnessed, every meaningful conversation, every hug and every smooch, all the moments where you created, you cried, you smiled.
Least of all, 2016 was an amazing year because you were here to live it. No matter how much the acidic fermentation of hatred, disapointment, and chaos soured this year, you survived it, you learned from it, and you’re better off for it.
When things go downhill like they did in 2016—when we see cruelty, violence, ignorance, war, and struggle — it’s easy to just give up. Stick our heads in the sand of distraction and procrastination. Chalk this off as a rotten year, plug our noses, and pray that when we ring in 2017 and put up a new wall calendar it’s somehow going to fix everything.
That is the exact opposite thing we should do.
Wallowing in the darkness of the past doesn't make your future any brighter. The only way to do that is to mindfully stand in the light of the present.
I’m still here ready and able to fight, you are too, and that gives me hope. It pulls me out of the funk of this past year and gets me back to work today, in the present. I know deep down that no matter how many terrible things happen, in this or any year, there are still good and decent people in the world. Our very existence proves it.
You are lucky to be alive right now—we are all lucky to be alive right now—because as long as we’re alive, hope lives as well. That is the spark of inspiration that we use to ignite a better world.
Instead of putting out the flame because things didn’t go our way, how about we use all this as fuel to burn even brighter, every day, from here on out?
Instead of worrying about the lack of kindness in the world, how about we turn the tide by showing more kindness ourselves?
Instead of fretting over the myriad ways our president-elect can screw up societal progress, the complex global economy, our increasingly tense international relations, and the environment, how about we volunteer and donate to the organizations that will pick up the fight in his absence?
Instead of pouting while we wait for 2017 to somehow usher in better news, how about we create some good news right now while 2016 still exists?
We are lucky to be alive because it means we still have a chance. Right now is your chance. Stand up, step forward, and take it.
How To Survive An Election - 10 Easy Steps!
Elections drive everyone insane. Here are some survival tips.
New post on my new Medium.com page!
Wild vs. Wifi
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.
See It Through ~ A Hiking Life LEsson
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.
Nature is Everywhere
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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My name is Jason Wise. Life's all about the journey, man. Find me on Instagram and Facebook.