Alan Watts once suggested something to the effect that the world should shut away all of its Bibles for 100 years so that people could read them with fresh eyes once again. He speculated that people would be shocked at how revolutionary and subversive it would read once it was separated from the dogma, the church, and the traditions. In that same vein, I shut away nature for almost two months (with a few exceptions). When I came back to it, I was shocked to find out just how powerful its medicine can be.
I have a weird job. I’m part therapist, part teacher, part hall monitor, and part bureaucrat. I work within a narrowly defined set of rules that is bewildering in its minutiae. I sit in an office without windows beneath fluorescent lights and stare at a computer (like I’m doing now) while I write notes in a bizarre jargon that has me referring to myself in third person. I dispense medications that cause all kinds of unpleasant side-effects for the sake of sparing people even more unpleasant symptoms. Sometimes, I do this so often and for so long that I try to open up my apartment door with my staff keys. I like my job, but it is effing weird.
I suspect it is somewhat the same for everybody. We all work in some kind of environment that has at least one majorly bizarre (if not twenty) aspect to its culture. And we all work to live in a world that is full of majorly bizarre aspects. We eat food out of a box, even though the components of the food come from several different locations and were processed at several different times and touched by several different people. We drive in machines that are powered by controlled explosions at ridiculously fast rates all while trying to sneak peaks at glowing rectangles while listening to music created on computers. We wear clothes that advertise the clothes we’re wearing. We watch grown who make millions of dollars to play games. We read hiking blogs.
Life is weird.
We take it all for granted because it has become the environment we expect. We’ve grown up with it and have grown up through it, and most people accept it as the way of things without considering what that world is founded on. I’m not saying that this is good or bad or that we are all headed for a bad end. I really have no idea. However, like the Book that everybody has read so many times that they forgot what it was about, it often seems like people think the real world is something entirely different from the one that has been here for billions of years.
Last night, I laid awake in bed trying to shut out my brain’s attempts to process working 24 of my last 27 days. My social life outside of my wife has largely consisted of assessing chronically mentally ill individuals for safety, symptoms, and substance abuse. I thought about this doctor’s appointment and that distorted thought or whether I was going to get talked to for not finishing all of my notes. I woke up at 5:30 am knowing that I was not getting back to sleep. I have burnt myself out with my efforts to make some extra money and try to do a solid for my job. I was losing perspective.
This morning, I broke my hiking fast by going for a stroll through both Doane Valleys at Palomar State Park. I stepped out of my car, and within five minutes, I saw ripples on a pond with cattails swaying in the breeze. This summer’s skunk cabbage had withered due to the drought. Black oak and cottonwood leaves shimmered with the wind, and silver-tinged fir needles formed patterns like a snowflake. The ground was covered in an orderly mess of leaves, twigs, acorns, and scurrying ants. The air was cool on my skin, although there was a touch of humidity in the air from the moisture riding up out of the Gulf of California. After a month of chaos, I had stepped into paradise.
I’m never going to try to convince anybody that we should do away with modern civilization. That would be stupid and foolish. Besides, no matter what humans do, it will be rife with imperfections, frustrations, inefficiencies, and a fair share of stupidity to go along with all of the positives. That seems to be the way we roll. However, there is a part of us that is part of a larger world. We are more than just the blood cells in the organism of civilization; we are animals who evolved along with trees, thunderstorms, flowers, breezes, and shady recesses. I will always believe we are diminished when we lose sight of one for the other.
My quick little sojourn out of the chaos of modern life recharged my batteries. More than that, it put everything back into perspective. No matter how bright the fluorescence is or how many times I feel like I’ve fried my brain from staring at a computer screen for too long, I know that black oaks leaves are shimmering in the breeze somewhere. I know that wild turkeys are hiding in the shade. I know that pine trees are casting shadows on a meadow. I know that a hawk is soaring on the updrafts. It’s happening all the time no matter how absurd and unreal the “real world” gets.