A Mindfulness Ecology Lesson
This area in Sequoia National Park used to be blanketed in development: cars, a gas station, grocery store, parking lots, a multi-building historic lodge. Now most of that is gone, demolished, cleared out. The park service rewilded it, for the sake of the sequoias and the whole ecosystem that depends on them.
You could think of mindfulness and living in the now as a rebuke of dwelling on what happened way back when, but the present is not ignorant of the past. You can let the yesterday overwhelm you so you’re paralyzed today, or you can use the past to inform your present and future.
Like the sequoia grove of this Giant Forest, we can never fully undo the damage and trauma of our past, but we make a choice to learn from it as we charge into a better future.
Nature is the Great Equalizer
I’m a gay liberal, you might be a straight conservative, and most everyone is actually somewhere in between. Nature can bring us all together.
When I’m out in the woods by myself I have a lot of time to think… about how sore I’m going to be tomorrow, about how I miss my dog, about those pesky gnats, and always eventually about mindfulness and the peace I find in the unavoidable now of nature.
I end up thinking big thoughts too, and lately I can’t help but think about the the ballooning divisions in our society.
The community of nature is so welcoming, whether it be your fellow trail hikers and campers, or the easy-to-anthropomorphize community of wildlife that’s out there with you. But the communities where we all normally live — these cities and towns and sub-developments and this nation as whole — they’re not so happy-go-lucky these days. One quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter and the division is gaping. One little stroll down a street in diversifying neighborhood, and the canyon sinks deeper. Last year’s presidential election dangerously widened the fracture.
These are some of my communities: I’m a human, an American, a Californian, and a Los Angeleno. I like yoga, whisky, dogs, music, camping, and hiking. I am a politically liberal white man, one who grew up lower income but now comes from some fiscal privilege, though I know by being a white man I’ve had privilege the whole way. Oh, and I’m also gay.
The community of liberal, city-dwelling, yoga-bending, music-singing gays is a prevalent one (we’ve had our own sitcom!), so I’m well aware of the stereotype that presume we aren’t interested in the outdoors, camping, or generally anything dirty. We like fashion, brunch, and Lady Gaga, right? I guess I do like brunch, so that’s 1 out of 3 for me. That’s the thing about stereotypes, they may be true for some, but they’re also complete bullshit for others.
No community is ubiquitous. We are not one thing or the other, we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things. The divisions between different communities are almost as numerous as the divisions within a community.
So what is it about this community of the woods that draws me away from the one I call home?
In nature I see a place where a whole array of people from different enclaves, experiences, ethnicities, and educations come together to trek through our common ground. It’s a place where everyone, from hippies to hikers to hunters, finds happiness. It’s a place where nothing belongs to any one of us, because it belongs to all of us. It’s a place of acceptance, where the stereotypes and expectations hold less importance. It’s a place where we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things.
When I travel alone, far outside my normal community safety net, I feel more secure than ever. The community of nature is a bond beyond — a visceral, natural, native bond, that transcends modern political and ideological boundaries.
Not every community has had a chance to experience nature as I have, specifically people of color. I consider that another point of my own privilege and it’s something we need to change. But in those public lands, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how often you’ve been there, it still belongs to you.
That mountain, this forest, those streams we explore, they sand off the rough edges of our differences. They’re inherently a part of us, we’re a part of them, and that makes us all part of the same thing — mankind.
I’m a gay man. That’s one slice of my own personally pieced together community. It’s a community fraught with as many internal struggles as any, but by and large it is one of acceptance and free expression. Those who came before me fought hard to create it, and that fight allows me the freedom to expand outside its boundaries. I am exceptionally proud of my community.
But I am a gay man who also loves the mountains, so I have more than one community to tend to. Maybe we all do. Maybe it’s through the interaction and intersection of those communities that we start to come together as a nation and as a society. Maybe, nature is the great equalizer that helps us get there.
Our society desperately needs to tear down the walls of separation that some continually seek to build. Nature and our public lands are like wrecking balls, ready to demolish that which would divide us up, giving us the space to put common courtesy and kindness back together in its place. Because in the wilderness we are all family.
The Mindful Activist
How do you create mindfulness when there are so many terrible things going on in the world?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot over the last few months, or really for as long as I can remember.
Its a difficult question to answer, because lately it seems America’s collective calm has gone off the rails. But here’s one attempt. How do we flip the script and turn the somewhat self-indulgent game of mindfulness into a force for good? By becoming mindful activists.
In our society’s competition to survive and thrive, we’ve partitioned ourselves into different cultures, races, religions, orientations, genders, and classes. Most people celebrate that diversity, learn from our differences, and mark it as one of our great strengths. Other people (sadly) use those divisions to judge, profile, hate, fight, and kill.
This has been happening for centuries, but right now it feels like a fever pitch.
The list terrible acts of callousness and ignorance is so long I feel like I don’t even need to get into it. For the sake of making this post timelessly relevant, I won’t, except to point out the obvious: the current leader of the United States seems to have no interest in peace, or kindness, or mindfulness, and most of the time actively incites the opposite. That fact is relevant, presently and historically.
The digital age and social media only amplifies this conflict. In the past our information was limited to the local paper and the nightly news. Today we can turn on any number of screens to find disturbing videos, tweets, articles, tweets, opinions, comment arguments, mooooorrree tweets, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Information can be a powerful catalyst for advancement in a society, but it can also quickly become overwhelming and confusing, especially when that information is tragic, especially when biased sources replace fact with opinion.
.All this mayhem may encourage you to tune out, but that’s the exact opposite of what you should do.
I propose we get more involved, using some core mindfulness principles to become clear-eyed advocates for progress.
People have this impression that the practice of mindfulness is selfish one; self-indulgent, navel-gazing, me-time used to meditate and process our emotions into mellow, melty, American cheese squares. OK a few Buddhist monks just keeled over, but seriously, that’s the impression. Figuring out your emotions and life path is always a worthy endeavor, but if we look a little deeper we’ll find that’s only one way to use this philosophy.
We use mindfulness to seek more internal clarity, so what if we also used it to see through the fog of a tumultuous world? We use mindfulness to find personal purpose, so what if we also found a global and community purpose? We use mindfulness to find peace in the present moment of our personal lives, what if that isn’t all that different from finding peace in the swirling present moment of the world at large.
That is, instead of bemoaning this morning’s terribly tweeted tragedy, we stop dwelling on it for another 24 hour news cycle and instead get up right now in the present to organize and fight back.
When we start applying mindfulness to the big picture, we come to realize that completely disconnecting from reality, whatever your reality, is an act of willful ignorance. But getting directly involved, in the moment, in the present, rechannels those negative emotions toward a positive impact.
Make America Kind Again.I’m no expert, I’m just a journeyman learning and doing my best to use the ancient tool of mindfulness to find some sanity in this modern complex world. What I’ve come to learn in my own journey is that that you don’t overcome negativity by pretending it doesn’t exist, you overcome by observing it, learning from it, challenging it, and then changing it.
It’s a fact, terrible things exist. Violence exists. Hatred and callousness exist. Murder and mayhem and atrocities all exist… we’re seeing it all over our newsfeeds, as we speak. But through mindfulness you begin to see you have a choice:
When you do that, your personal mindfulness practice grows into mindful activism. You find hope in our collective outrage. You see progress by creating it. You translate personal peace into a more peaceful world.
It happens with each of us — one smile, one conversation, one click to educate yourself, one tweet (I guess), one act of kindness, one acknowledgement of privilege, one call to your representative, one hour improving your community, one hour getting to know a different community — one moment at a time.
Then repeat those moments over and over again until they become your personal norm. Repeat them with others until it’s a community norm. Repeat them with community until it’s a societal norm.
Honestly, we’re never going to get rid of all the hatred in the world. There is no kumbaya. That’s a sad reality if you choose to dwell on it. But by getting involved to create more understanding and love, not just inside you but all around you, we can at least push things in a better direction, in the direction of kindness. That is an act that uplifts us all.
The collective power of those who care is stronger than the power of those who incite. The battle is ours to lose.
Respect Your Park, Leave No Trace
Graffiti in a National Monument. Sadly, it’s a thing.
I do a lot of hiking around Los Angeles, and it’s inevitable that I see vandalism. Damaged structures, stickers on signs, trampled plants, trash on the trail — every glimpse of destruction breaks my heart a little. It’s all so avoidable if we all just take little responsibility for ourselves and follow a few Leave No Trace principles.
But what I saw in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument at the Big Horn Mine Trail was especially egregious — an explosion of obviously illegal graffiti.
Street art can be beautiful in the right environment, especially if there’s a cultural or political message behind it, and it’s part of what makes our cities so vibrant. But the a street and a trail are very different places. But when you see graffiti not just in nature, but on nature, it’s jarring — it plucks you out of that indescribably perfect environmentality and tosses you back into the mucky pond of self indulgent humanity. There’s no relevant artistic value to it, it’s disrespectful to our planet, and offensive to all those of us who want to see this planet protected.
Here’s a sampling of the hideous sights you’ll see on the trail:
Look, I get it, the more people tag a trail the more it seems like an acceptable, maybe even fun, idea. And I’m aware that this trail has been cleaned up before, only to be tagged again. So let’s be grown ups for a minute. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves, our park, our San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
This particular National Monument is currently up for review by the anti-environmental zealots in White House, so its future is on shaky ground. That means it’s up to us to protect this natural beauty for future generations. That protection starts with you, and all of us, and me too.
First step is telling the Department of Interior how important this and other National Monuments are to all of us.
Second step is proving how important this National Monument is to us by cleaning up this trail and keeping it that way for all future visitors.
Send me a message if you want to help with a trail clean up, and follow Trash Free Earth on social media to see how you can get more involved with regular events.
This is our park, we have to defend it!
Remember the Sun
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
There's so much noise out there these days--breaking news, politics, tweets, live streams, comment sections--and while it's important to stay aware of the frightening changes happening in our world, sometimes it can all become too much. The noise is like a sky full of clouds, so thick and menacing they block out the sun. The more time you spend in their cold shadow, the less you remember the warmth, what it feels like, that it even exists.
Find a balance. Wade into the the clouds and stay engaged, but not so much that you enter a tropical depression. Remind yourself to go outside and bask in the sun more often than less, communing with friends, nature, and love.
In these times of conflict and uncertainty, we owe it to ourselves, and to our cause, to keep both our awareness and our sanity intact for the battles ahead.
Don't Just Get Angry, Get Involved
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
I'm angry. I've been angry since the election. In fact, my anger has only grown since then.
A lot of you are also angry, I know because you've told me. Opinions polls show an historic majority of this country is angry too. I’m not even talking about a difference of political opinion either, that we’ll just set aside. It’s every disparaging tweet, every absurd conflict of interest, every self serving position, every unqualified nominee that sparks a tiny bit more rage in my soul. If you're not angry--if you’ve been watching all this ridiculousness go down and you’re totally cool with it--that kind of makes me angry too.
So I get it, but also I know it’s time to move forward. Anger alone is dangerous. It’s time to turn that anger into action.
Pure unadulterated anger leads to depression and retreat. Anger sops you of your energy and creative passion. It leads to disengagement, to cruelty, to the very bad behavior we abhor in our new leader. It leads to lost friendships and lost opportunities for understanding. It leads to hopelessness.
Anger can inspire a host of other passions, but by itself it’s the first step towards a meaningless life. Anger can solidify your ideals, but as a stand alone it’s the first line of a losing argument. Anger can lead you into a more positive future, but if you let it hold you back it takes you nowhere.
Don’t let anger drain your drive.
Don't let anger cut you off from the world.
Don’t let anger crush your hope.
Use that anger inspire action. Let it push you to make signs and take to the streets. To support the organizations and local campaigns that can make a difference. To always stand up and speak out to the cruel and unjust.
Use that anger to inspire community. Let it lead to the comfort found in like-minded, progressive solidarity. Let it create more connection and understanding toward everyone else in the world, especially those with whom you disagree. In the end, those connections are what will forge the path of progress.
Use that anger to inspire optimism. Let it bring your spirit of activism to life. Even as society seems to regress towards fear and hate, let the beacon of light that leads to a better future start with you.
It's ok to be angry, but in the end the only way to move forward in life is to do something with that anger. We grow a community through kindness. We grow kindness with hope. We grow hope through direct and sustained action.
When you waste all your time in anger you won't have any room left for love, and love always wins in the end.
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.
America is Still Beautiful
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/america-is-still-beautiful
My profession has always been political advocacy, but in the last few years my heart has been in mindfulness. So you can imagine how this past week was quite an emotional tug of war.
As a matter of personal philosophy, I believe in kindness and human decency. So I was shocked, extremely shocked, last Tuesday when a man with a complete lack of human decency became president-elect Donald Trump.
My flash reaction was to lose hope in the goodness of man, like I’d been punched in the gut by the bully of a truly harsh reality. A troublingly large amount of people turned out to be selfish and vulgar, or if not, they were OK enough with selfish vulgarity to vote for someone who is, which is almost as bad.
This goes way beyond political ideology. We can debate and respectfully disagree on the issues 'til the cows come, I’m fine with that. But even beyond Trump's particularly extremist positions--on women, minorities, religious freedom, LGBT rights, immigration, the economy, trade, taxes, the environment, and I could go on--there was little to no respect displayed by him during this campaign. The unprecedented reaction of despair and protest you’re seeing around the country right now is a direct result of that.
It was an emotionally chaotic couple of days. I couldn't sleep. I ate way too much. I distracted myself with entertainment and booze. I often felt despondent. Was I wrong all this time to believe in the goodness of humanity?
But the days passed and eventually, here and there, the fog lifted to expose the sun again.
The warm glow shined a light on the truth: America is still beautiful. It is. America is still kind and decent and loving. America is still good.
I saw it in all the diverse and hopeful faces at the peaceful protest last weekend.
I saw it in every passionate advocate at my local Sierra Club political action committee meeting.
I saw it in my mother, who is now a fierce advocate for my rights, the rights of others, and the return of decency.
I saw it in the avalanche of donations to social service charitable organizations that piled up over the last week.
I saw it in the empathy and love that my man and all our friends shared with each other as we struggled to fathom this act of aggression toward our communities and common dignity.
I see kindness and charity and compassion and yes, beauty, all around me.
Sure, I see the fear and division and violence that's going on as well. It started from top with Donald Trump and then trickled down. It's devastating for my soul to bear witness to such an open display of hatred.
But still I believe, no I know, that we are better than that. Love is stronger than hate. It always has been and it always will be.
And in the end, love will win.
So I will not give up. I will fight for justice and equality and decency because we need it now more than ever. And if you stand against those things, or support the guy who does, then I will debate with you respectfully until you understand why those things are so important.
The beauty of America still shines together as one light, radiating into the darkness, a beacon of hope in a troubled nation.
I'm outraged. And I'm totally allowed to be... for now.
This election feels like a sucker punch to everything that is right and good in the world. The shock of it is numbing. We're told we need to come together as a nation, but I'm not sure how I can do that around a person who ran entire campaign based on tearing us apart. Very few of the values of fairness and equality I hold dear are represented in our new government. I feel hopeless.
In this post-outrage world our first instinct might be to give in and give up. But that’s a corrupt mindset that only perpetuates the problem. When we feel hopeless, the first thing we need to do is go out and create hope. And we do that with mindfulness.
Now more than ever before, we need mindfulness.
We need the quiet, introspective kind of mindfulness, where we work to find peace and purpose in our daily lives. Ignoring the hatred and division that has gripped our nation, in favor of hope and light. Remembering to breathe. Remembering to meditate, do yoga, and get out in nature as much as you can. Remembering to not get caught up in the what ifs and holy shits. Remembering that no matter how many times life knocks us on our ass, we stand back up, we move forward.
We also need the loud, righteous, advocate kind of mindfulness, where we work to create more peace and purpose in the world around us. Using the hatred and division as our motivation to make them a thing of the past. Becoming activists. Becoming champions for our earth, our nation, and our fellow man, no matter what their race, faith, gender, or who they love.
This type of mindfulness isn’t going to just magically appear in your life either. This is the mindfulness you create. Start spreading love to those around you who feel hurt by this election. Start spreading understanding to those who celebrate it, because that’s the only way they will understand why you are hurt.
If you don’t like the direction this country is going in, then start taking the country the in right direction yourself. Volunteer for the causes you support. Educate yourself on the causes you don’t fully understand. Educate everyone else in a respectfully until the lesson takes root. Encourage, no demand, that your elected leaders do the right thing. And when they don’t, organize to vote them out of office the next chance you get.
Make a decision everyday to be a part of the solution by being kind to one another, by respecting all people, by protecting the environment, by becoming a fierce advocate for fairness and equality at every level of society.
It feels a little hopeless right now--we’re not used to seeing the bad guys win. But this is only the middle of the movie. It’s the dramatic part where things go south for our hero. But that tension and conflict is exactly what the good guys need to find redemption. This hopeless moment teaches us how to fix our problems, do better, and win in the end.
So lick your wounds. Be sad. Be outraged. You’re allowed to feel that way for now.
But tomorrow morning it’s time for post-outrage. It’s time to wake up and make this world a better place. It’s time to create mindfulness, and fairness, and kindness from the ground up. And it all starts with you.
It’s OK to be Sad.
"The more OK you are with being sad, the less sad you’ll be."
When was the last time you took a selfie while upset?
No we don’t do that, we say “cheese” and smile for the camera. Or even if you don’t smile, you at least have to mug it up with a duck face or a bear smirk.
When was the last time you saw someone walking down the street crying?
If you did you probably thought they were a lunatic. And the last time you felt like crying in public you probably ran home so you could do it in private, like a “normal” person.
Our society is ashamed of sadness, sadly.
When at our saddest, we’ve been trained to hide it. At home we go to our room. At a funeral we put on sunglasses. At work or school we stake out a claim in a bathroom stall.
Heaven forbid if you do cry or become emotional in public — everyone will think you need mental assistance.
Speaking of, our society is ashamed of mental assistance too. Psychology is really just asking a trained professional for a little help with your mind. This blog is a very small act of me doing the same, for myself and maybe you. We all seek mental assistance in some way, be it through the distraction of entertainment, the introspection of music, with medication (prescribed and otherwise), with yoga or meditation, with mindfulness blogs (hi!), and yes, actual real-life therapy.
Western society demands we show control, at least in public. We have to be perky, on it, clever, and together, even when in reality we’re feeling like shit. And when you feel like shit, you act like a shit, and everyone around you starts to think you’re a shitty person.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s OK to be sad.
It’s OK to be bummed about your life and its direction.
It’s OK to feel heartbroken when a relationship doesn’t work out.
It’s OK to end up depressed at the state of our political discourse.
It’s OK to get pissed at a friend who let you down.
It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to cry.
It’s real. You don’t have to hide it.
The more we as a society learn to accept our emotions, all of them, as valid and true, the better we’ll get at handling them when they inevitably arise.
I’m not saying that the next time you feel like crying you should walk out to the middle of a busy intersection and sob in front of all humanity, children included. But if you did happen to start crying there, so what. It’s how you’re feeling, and plus those kids cry all the time without remorse. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from kids.
The best to handle your emotions is to accept them, not fight them. So get OK with being sad. The more OK you are with being sad, the less sad you’ll be.
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!
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 Politics of Love and Fear
Unless you’ve been living alone in the woods for the last few months, you’re well aware that it’s peak political season in the United States.
An election at it’s basic level is a decision, and this idea about the power of our individual, everyday decisions courses through the entire premise of mindfulness. Every day we have a decision to either live in the present or dwell on the past, to learn and grow or stifle our evolution, to get up every morning and conquer the day or roll over and let it pass us by.
A political election requires a decision too, a far less intimate but just as important decision.
At the root of all these decisions is love and fear. It seems simplistic at the face of it, but in reality it’s a complicated struggle between our two most extreme emotions. Too much love and our decisions rely on sentiment instead of reason. Too much fear and our decisions are rooted in distrust and anger. Too much of either makes us unmindful---when we lean too far in any direction we eventually fall over.
A decision based in love or fear is complicated, but usually, hopefully, the result ends up somewhere in the middle---in compromise.
I like to think of these two sides as the classic angel-and-devil-on-the-shoulders meme.
These two little shoulder emotions battle in our hearts and minds all the time. Love tells us to live in the present and accept the beauty of right now, while fears holds us back to worry if we'll ever live up to our past triumphs or live down our past mistakes. Love opens up our mind to accept new ideas, while fear shuts us down to pine after an imagined ideal. Love pushes us to use each day to its full potential, while fear triggers the warm safety of procrastination.
In politics, love and fear fuel another set of decisions. Love leads us to engage and educate our friends, while fear makes us to lash out and insult. Love encourages us to care for our fellow man no matter what their race, religion, or orientation, while fear demands we entrench ourselves, draw deeper into our ideological bubble, and refuse to give an inch. Love requires us to protect our earth for generations to come, while fear whispers lies of doubt around climate change science and encourages a business-first attitude.
When we sit down to decide which candidate to support, we yet again look to love and fear for assistance. Love tells us to vote for who we’re most enthusiastic about and most aligns with our ideals, while fear tells us to vote against the candidate we find troublesome, or even dangerous.
Now before you say it, I know, that was just a long list of overly simplistic, cut and dry, black and white decisions.
In real life we don’t just listen to either the angel or the devil, we hear both. We make good decisions, we make mistakes, we figure things out, and then ultimately we find the best path lies somewhere else. I often call it balance or compromise. Buddhists call it "the middle way"
These when the two competing emotions come together.
We can live in the present while also using the past to inform it. The middle. We can hold on to our values and ideals while staying open to life’s ongoing lessons. The middle. We can have a productive day and also take some “me time” once in a while. The middle.
In an election, we can make a voting decision based on both love for a candidate that moves us forward with progress, as well as fear over the dangerous regress the alternative will usher. The middle.
On the issues, love can focus us on our commonalities instead of conflicts, while fear reminds us to speak out loudly against dangerous demagogues. The middle. Love can rightly attract us to peace, equality, and fairness, while fear demands we fight directly against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. The middle. Love can urge us to protect and rebuild our environment, while fear reminds us that political leaders who deny the existence of climate change are steering us toward catastrophe and must be stopped at all costs. The middle.
My love for every interconnected living thing on this earth and my desire to make it a better place, leads me to vote for Hillary Clinton. My fear of the destruction, treacherousness, hatred, and bluster that has and will undoubtedly continue to rise from her chief opponent, leads me to the same conclusion.
Both love and fear, meeting in the middle, for progress in America.
Progress Goes in Ebbs and Flows
As someone taking the time to read the blog, I'm making a few assumptions about you.
#1, I assume you’re ravishingly attractive. No seriously, the inner beauty you craft through mindfulness almost always exudes an outer beauty of cool self-confidence.
#2, getting to the real point of this piece though, I assume you're interested in improving yourself, being more present in the world around you, and making that world a better place. Basically, you believe in progress. Individual, social, political progress.
But progress isn't an easy topic to define. Coming from their own individual starting point, everyone undoubtedly develops their own idea of what progress means. Those differences make the path of progress a challenging and uncertain one to follow.
But in the end we will always move forward.
In my own mindful world, progress fluctuates. One day I’ll do a hike, spend a few hours writing, maybe actually publish an article, check off a bunch of to-do list items, cook a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Then the next morning I’ll oversleep and waste the day on Facebook. My own progress ebbs and flows.
I won’t pretend to know what's happening day-to-day in your world, but I’m just going to go ahead and make another assumption, that you experience days very similar to mine. Otherwise, why would you be reading up on ways to find more mindfulness in your life on this blog? Everybody’s individual progress ebbs and flows too.
Interpersonal progress follows the same pattern as well. All relationships come and go, grow or wither over time. The more time we spend getting to know different people, the more we change, the more they change, and the more the relationship between the two changes. Sometimes it changes in a way that draws you closer. Sometimes, you drift apart. The progress of interpersonal connection also ebbs and flows.
You’ll find the same order in the world of political progress. Empire’s come and go. Sometimes the Republicans are in charge, and sometimes it’s the Democrats. Laws are passed and laws are repealed. The politics of power and the issues of the day are constantly in flux
I’ll use a recent example: a few short years ago marriage equality for the LGBTQ community was a divisive issue for most Americans, and a hot potato issue for most politicians. These days a decent majority of Americans support it, and for anyone in the liberal-to-moderate realm, it’s the expectation. You even have the current Republican presidential candidate name-dropping “LGBTQ” in his nomination acceptance speech. That's progress too, but at the same time his party’s platform calls for roll back of all LGBTQ protective laws, marriage equality included. You can bet that if the tide of power shifts in their direction the rights we now take for granted will quickly evaporate. The progress of politics ebbs and flows.
Despite all this---the constant change, the victories and failures, from an individual to a national scale---we eventually move forward.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr. King was speaking about the politics of civil rights in the United States, which itself saw various ebbs and flows over time. From kings and queens of their continent, to slaves in a far off land; breaking the chains of slavery, to persecution by segregation; obtaining voting rights, to literacy tests and poll taxes that block those rights; the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination, even while racism continued (and continues). The progress of civil rights, like all politics, like our individual and interpersonal growth, ebbs and flows.
But in the end it flows forward. There is marked improvement of conditions, of equality, of fairness, of liberty over time. Maybe progress doesn't always move as fast as some of us would like, but it still moves. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, eventually.
We're all somewhere on that arc of progress. I have a lot of work left to do on myself, but I’m slowly getting there. I hope you are all in the same boat---advancing, improving, or at least making an effort. Each relationship moves forward, sometimes into calm waters and sometimes more treacherous, but always evolving. And in politics, even when conditions seem hopelessly unjust, off in the distance there's a glimmer of hope... progress.
Knowing and accepting that life won’t be perfect, that everything won’t go our way, that we will run into both fast lanes and road blocks---that knowledge is power.
This is the way progress goes, sometimes it ebbs and sometimes it flows, but always it grows.
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My name is Jason Wise. Life's all about the journey, man. Find me on Instagram and Facebook.