A friend told me that the world is going to hell which sounds like a big inconvenience. He also said that in spite of this inconvenience, it’s like the powers-that-be keep giving us superhero movies to keep us distracted; but then again, he said, we keep buying tickets to them so maybe we like to be distracted, especially in these increasingly uncertain times.
It got me wondering whether all films are naturally, inherently escapist by definition.
I admit there’s a spectrum, a seemingly big difference between a documentary and an action movie, but then again to say any film is escapist suggests one person’s life and experiences are somehow more real and genuine than those of another; and more specifically, that someone watching a film, no matter the film, is having a less genuine experience than someone, say, working their nine to five.
Is there any real science in determining something like that? Is listening to a story strictly an act of removing ourselves from our own day-to-day experience, or is the act itself ultimately not escapist, since it’s technically part of our day?
The more important question may be whether it’s escapist to be enjoying the company of friends, or good music or taking a nice evening stroll and not worrying about our problems. Is it only a problem when we do more of the former at the expense of the latter, when we do more of what we want to do at the expense of what probably needs doing?
Is seeing a film or reading a book really a means of getting away from our own lives, or is it a more subtle manner in which to view our lives through the experiences of other people, regardless of whether or not that experience is fictional?
Are not the same or similar psychological forces at work when we’re hearing a friend, family member or acquaintance relate a situation happening in their own lives? How much of the act is pure voyeurism on the part of the audience, and how much is a deeper attempt by the audience to better understand itself?
The steam rose ominously from the surface. The pools were clear and strikingly blue, beautiful to look upon like the water in Crater Lake, that collapsed volcano in Oregon whose fresh water continually forms from the annual snowfall.
Crater Lake has its own volcanic history, mostly thousands of years in the past. Here in Yellowstone, of course, that history is ongoing, as its volcano is still very active; and I was constantly reminded of it from the geysers, hot springs and prismatic pools I faced that afternoon. Beautiful indeed, deceptively so. Look at them for long enough and you might feel that slight inclination to jump in. Don’t be fooled by the undeniable beauty. Contact with that boiling water would be excruciating and possibly fatal. I recalled the sirens of Greek mythology, who with their enchanting voices lure sailors to their own shipwrecked doom on the sirens’ rocky shores.
Yellowstone National Park stands atop an active super volcano. Its caldera mainly encompasses the perimeter of the park. Nearly all its marvelous and most defining physical features, like its geysers and springs, are owed to this continuing volcanic activity. The scientific consensus is that we’ll have plenty of indicators, like earthquakes, before an eventual eruption. It’s an ominous fact that’s hard to ignore.
Even so, one can ultimately learn to surrender and embrace the sheer majesty of a place so unique and teeming with life, no matter how volatile the source of that life may seem, or how violent its natural, topographical history. Here you’ll find a precious, expansive wilderness home to a wide variety of wildlife iconic to the American west. The mighty buffalo, the elk, big-horned sheep, wolves, wolverines, bobcats, coyotes, otters, badgers, mountain lions, and of course that solitary king of the mountain, the grizzly bear. And that’s just the wildlife. Yellowstone offers one of the most incredible natural landscapes in all the world that includes a vast array of geysers, Yellowstone Lake, and another one of my personal favorites, that serenely beautiful waterfall cascading down the marvelous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
At Midway Geyser Basin, I continued past a few of the crystal-clear pools on the basin and towards a hulking mass of steam rising from the southern end. As we approached, it blew toward us like a dust storm, enveloping us to the point where we could only see a foot or two in front of us. It cleared for a flashing moment and then thickened again.
The warmth felt nice. A welcome change to the chilly mountain air of the early afternoon. We continued as the steam cleared again at random intervals for short windows of time just long enough for me to get a glimpse of what stood before us. A shot of blue, then orange and red. A wondrous vision that I might have regarded as mere fantasy were I not catching my first glimpses of it right then and there. The steam cleared, and I saw it in full. The Grand Prismatic Spring.
I never lost sight of the fact that I was walking atop an active super volcano, and yet somehow the recognition didn’t fill me with dread but with a rush of joy. My only impulse was to stay and listen and feel, for I felt as close to the planet’s core as I’d ever been and may ever be. I could see it as a threat to my own human existence, or I could view it as a natural part of the living, breathing planet that is my home.
Gratitude eventually cast out any lingering fear. I was grateful for the National Park Service, as I’ve been on so many occasions, for existing, for preserving places like this for us to enjoy and experience. The moment was made all the more poignant by the fact that I was in Yellowstone, our first national park, where I stood face-to-face with the beating heart of the earth. In my own way, I guess I did jump right in after all.
I was thinking about the Headspace app, and how for me, it was the real introduction to mediation. It’s a great app for the beginner, and it does a wonderful job at making something long-considered esoteric more approachable and welcoming.
I started using it in early Spring 2016 and I continued meditating consistently for the next 2-3 years.
The experience taught me how to better handle my thoughts by adding some context and theory to what I probably already knew intrinsically—the simple idea that thoughts come and go and that there is no need to attach ourselves to them unless they are useful.
Simple enough, theoretically, though not necessarily easy to grasp.
The problem I ran into was that I got preoccupied with the notion of how I thought it should be. That is, how mediation should be and how I should be having started the practice.
This of course only led to more thinking, which inhibited me and had me second-guessing myself on matters I’d already more or less settled. How I approach my creativity, chief among them, but really a broad range of matters from how I relate to people to my morning routines, from how I dress and to my taste in music
Those hiccups might seem unfortunate, but maybe they were necessary in order to stand on more solid ground further on up the road.
I’m beginning to see how that sort of thing happens from time to time.
As we continue life in quarantine and many of us spend an increasing amount of time at home, you may or may not have slipped into something of a routine or found yourself doing things to keep you busy or your spirits up.
One thing I’ve found particularly worthwhile is going through photos in my phone.
Now bear with me, because I know it sounds strange. Probably because it is. It’s also a simple way of passing the time which, for me, has proven to be a strong mood booster particularly when things around us seem so uncertain these days.
I take a lot of photos. Probably too many. Maybe I’m a nostalgic person, but I think the habit is due more to the fact that I like to celebrate moments. I take the pictures less as an insurance of not forgetting something, and more as a simple tribute to that singular moment in time.
It’s not that my memory isn’t good, I’m just generally a more visual guy and having the image helps me internalize the moment on another level.
In any case, it leaves me with a fair amount of photos, and while organizing them might seem at first like a tedious job—which it sometimes can be—with the right attitude, it can actually be very gratifying.
If you’ve ever gone through old photos with a family member, maybe old printed copies that were stashed away in a closet somewhere that neither of you had seen in a long time, then maybe you see where I’m going.
I know for me, in those moments, I walk away feeling less nostalgic and more grounded. I walk away with a better understanding of where I come from.
So let’s say I’m go through my photos and delete some, ‘favorite’ others, and as I’m going through maybe I’ll create an album and begin sorting them accordingly. All the while, I’m reflecting on past experiences which–in both subtle and obvious ways–naturally made me who I am.
Put more simply, going through our own history is useful for the same reasons it is going through any kind of history. It helps us better understand and appreciate how we got here. It keeps us grounded. Our feet are more firmly rooted with a greater understanding of self.
And so as we navigate the road ahead, and some of us are pushed to limits we never anticipated, remembrance might prove more valuable, and more necessary than we realize.
The New York Times sat down with each of the 2020 Democratic candidates a few months back and asked them the question: “Does anybody deserve to have a billion dollars?”
Deserve might be a strong word, but still, let’s say that person is an extremely virtuous, all-around beautiful human being with a heart of gold who does nothing but wonderful things. That person might deserve all the money in the world less because their moral character calls for a reward and more because it indicates what they might do with their acquired wealth.
I think, in theory, anyone deserves the money for which they’ve invested the time and labor; but that leads to the second question of whether that person actually worked for all the billion dollars they have. To what degree did their fortune depend on precisely that: fortune, or luck, or the ingenuity and sweat of other people?
Practically speaking, a billion dollars could be too much for any one person to have especially when it would likely be spent on the acquisition of things, which they’d pursue simply because they can and not because they actually need those things. How much of the fortune, conversely, would be invested in something that could make society better or more prosperous, like environmental causes or public infrastructure?
Might the ultimate measure, then, of whether someone deserves a billion dollars be what they plan to do with it? Would it be spent in such a way that would reflect their stake in others, or in a way that would serve and simply reflect their own ego?