Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

Tell it on the mountainMy boyfriend has been having trouble sleeping lately. Since he has barely slept in the past two days, I suggested that we watch a “boring” movie about hiking. I even remarked, “This will put you to sleep for certain,” and we started to watch Tell It on the Mountain, a story of seven people’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile trek from Mexico to Canada. But once the film started, my beau didn’t check his iPad, his iPhone, his wristwatch or anything else for that matter. He sat engrossed in the film, witnessing the evolution of seven individuals as they marched along one of the most beautiful and rugged sections of the American West. He even insisted that we watch the movie to the end – staying up late with his eyes wide open – not drooping a second – until the film ended.

What’s remarkable about this film is its quiet grace. Producer Shaun Carrigan and Director Lisa Diener did not mar the pristine landscape with personal tragedy – in order to dramatize the scenery – one of the aspects of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that upset so many hikers. The filmmakers did not get lost in the mire of self-hood and sulking, so popular with memoirs these days. Instead, they told deeply personal stories about life outside, keeping their focus on the scenery and the human expressions of delight, fear, pain and happiness.

pctThat took incredible skill. The film touched on many themes, which I’ve struggled to articulate myself: the freedom and beauty that envelopes the very soul and heart of hikers, the sense of individualism and unity that comes with walking alone and with others, and the incredible feeling of being alive and connected to the wild landscape. With only the essentials on your mind and beauty before your eyes, you forget all about the material world with its excess and ugliness and instead are free to examine yourself, your life and the mountain skyline.

A year or so ago, I tried to explain to my book editor that writing a confessional about my life – was not what I was intending – because it would put me before the most beautiful thing that I’ve come to know, and that’s backwards. The wilderness is the primary thing, the first and best thing we have in America. While I’m still sorting out exactly how to express that, Carrigan and Diener got it exactly right in this film. They told great stories, seven of them, and they effectively enshrined the wilderness as a sacred place and life on the trail as a spiritual, physical and mental odyssey. It’s a triumph. Bravo.

Watch it – rather than the big game.

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.John Hope Franklin


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Overlooking Amphitheater Lake

My father said to me last week, “We don’t want you to end up living in a broken down truck by the Guadalupe River.”

At least, there is a beaver family living down there in San Jose (for the first time in a century too), so perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.

My parents are generally supportive, but I’ve gotten myself into a challenging situation, which they’re concerned about. I’ve shifted my career all around in order to do this “green thing.” That’s another catch phrase from my father, who is very practical.

I don’t disagree with his practical philosophy either. I’ve had to earn every penny of my savings since college, and I’ve spent nearly every penny too. Not on a house or stuff. Okay, maybe a truck, but that was 10 years ago. I’ve spent most of my savings writing a book about the best places I know and reporting on water policy. My hiking book did win a bronze Ippy for best e-book in the western region this March, and I’m truly happy about that. It indicates that I can put sentences together. But at the moment, I’ve opted to not promote it.

So let me cut to the chase and get to the last chapter—the most important part.

medals1The book is not about how wonderful I am – nor is it a misery memoir. It’s about the most beautiful places that I’ve come to know, and how long it took me to appreciate them. When you travel just about anywhere, you start to see ugly things. Many years ago, I took a hiking trip to northern California, and I came back depressed. I thought there would be trees up there. I thought I would walk among the rich dewy forests of the Cascade Range. The map said forest, at least. But I found a lot of clear-cuts and just little patches of life left on the highway. It broke my heart. I wanted to run away, and eventually I did.

I began to look outside of California, hoping that I could find something as beautiful as my home state, but cheaper, more remote, less damaged. I traveled to Utah, Washington, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and beyond. I hopped on planes and flew to South America and New Zealand… searching for utopia.

One day, a woman in a Utah coffee shop said, “You know that place you’re seeking, it’s really on the inside of you.” I paused and looked into her eyes. I understood the essential truth of what she said, but I still didn’t quite believe it. So I fastened on my hat and kept going. I’ve now moved more times than I care to admit. I’m not a flaky girl. I was just possessed with the idea of owning a home far from environmental destruction and isolated from the continuous groan of consumerism, and its shopping malls, freeways, parking lots and trinkets from the dollar store.

Holy LandBut ultimately, my relentlessness pursuit wasn’t making me happy either. No amount of time outside seemed to cure my ailment. The further I went, the more I recognized what I had left behind. And I’m sorry to admit that it took me a full decade to turn around, to face what I feared and grow the courage to fight.

So yes, I’ve done this “green thing,” and I don’t know what’s going to happen now. This isn’t Hollywood. This is real life. But at the very least, I’ve stood for something that I believe in. I’ve pointed my finger at the best places I know and said go there.

If anyone ever gets their hands on the book, they will see a giant circular route that forms a contorted heart over the West, and it is my own.

“This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me, it is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to future generations.”— George Bernard Shaw

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Find Your Own Light

Last week, I spoke to high school students for career day. My first caveat is that I can’t be called a career expert. Second, I’ve experimented often and had wildly different moments in my own life. I’ve spent two months studying Tango in Argentina, worked summers in Yosemite National Park, sat at a computer working on a hiking book and written complex reports on water policy; I certainly haven’t followed a traditional path. That said, I have gleaned a few tidbits of wisdom regarding happiness from friends, family and my own experience.

And I’d love it if the students found happiness, and there is an essential question they must answer to achieve it. It is simply, “What lights you up?”

It sounds like such a cliche to say, “Pursue your passion.” But it is vital to long-term health, and it’s a challenge that goes unmentioned for most of high school. In general, students have gone through a regimented system, which requires approval from outside sources, such as peers, family and college admissions committees. So knowing yourself and trusting your instincts is a relatively new thing. It’s a reversal. We’re taught to conform, and suddenly, we’re supposed to make major life choices and create our own purpose. And that’s hard work.

Many people opt to march in lockstep with everyone else, instead. So what’s the big deal if you do that? Say you take a mediocre job, sit in an office, collect a paycheck and vacation in the Bahamas. Is that so bad? Yes.

Actually, in the first world where survival isn’t an issue, it’s quite significant. Being inauthentic leads to bad relationships, poor jobs, physical and mental malaise, and a general sense of dissatisfaction. It means you’ll be looking to others to create meaning for you, and you’ll get lost in the fray and end up in the therapist’s office wondering what happened and why you’re blue. As the Dalai Lama says, “If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled.”

Share Your Joy

But how do you figure out who you are? You experiment, you test yourself, you try new things, and you don’t give up. When I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do; I knew only that I wanted to go to college.  So I got in. But I distinctly remember sitting in the dorms, scared by my own thoughts. It was the first time I began to think critically about life. I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I owned a big house, if I’d sold my youth and vitality for it.

Suddenly, the question of “what to do”  loomed large, and I got busy. Three years later, after taking many general education classes and reading a ton of books, I chose to major in journalism and literature, which was my own reversal. (I was voted “most likely to make a million” in high school.)  In writing, I found that I could understand the world better, and I enjoyed struggling to know. I am happy that I made that choice.

People often mistake self-awareness for selfishness, and vice-versa. But generally, if you live a life of your own making, you’ll feel gratitude at the gift of each day. And you won’t be selfish. Instead, you’ll feel empowered to help others. That’s when altruism makes sense. When the Dalai Lama says, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others,” you’ll get the meaning. But there is an order to these events. When you sit on an airplane, if there is an emergency, you’re supposed to put the oxygen on yourself, and then on others. And that’s because you can’t truly aid others without your own source of light, your own oxygen. While it feels good to lend a hand and it can lift your mood temporarily, the feeling won’t last unless you’ve done your own work. As Bell Hooks says, Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape. 

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