There's Nothing Like Another Soul Who's Been Cut Up the Same

In all honestly, the last fourteen months since coming to Colorado has been a struggle for me.  I faced all the usual struggles of moving, like making new friends and getting settled in, but I have not been able to find meaningful work and that has come at the expense of my family’s financial security.  I’ve been open about this struggle and I’ve also been open about the blessings in my life such as my family, our adventures, our new friends and our church.  There’s been a lot of good that’s come out of our move and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

However, in the alternate universe of social media, I hope I haven’t given anyone the opinion that (1) I live a perfect life or (2) that my life sucks and I’m lying about living a perfect life.  My life is awesome, that’s true.  Jesus promised us an abundant life, not a perfect one, and that’s the life I live, abundant, but not without problems.  

When I post quotes from Marcus Aurelius or from Scripture, it’s not because I’m preaching, it’s because I read that and it spoke to me.  I needed to hear it that day and if I needed to hear it, then maybe someone else in my life needed to hear it too.  I know that’s true because numerous people have bought Meditations due to my repeated quotations of it. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a brother or sister strive for that wisdom and try to improve themselves. I’m glad to have played a part, but I think it says something of the caliber of people I choose to surround myself with that they are working hard every day on their own journeys.  

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I love celebrating life’s little moments with all of my loved ones, but my pain, vulnerability and despair are saved for those closest to me.  I know there’s a lot more people out there that love me and would be there for me, but it’s sometimes tough to let some of those things out.  As Brian Fallon wrote in “Handwritten”, “There’s nothing like another soul who’s been cut up the same.”  We reach for those who understand what we’re going through, or we reach for those who understand us completely.  

As a writer, I sometimes bleed onto the page, whether that is the pure written word or one of the many thousands of songs I’ve written over the last twenty-five years.  I give a part of myself away there, or here, but so often it’s cloaked in metaphor or in storytelling so as to not give that pain away directly.  I’m currently working on my memoir and I’m opening my jugular and spilling my pain, heartbreak, joy and sadness all directly to the page. It’s not easy to do, in fact, on more than one occasion I had to stop writing because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to type.  That’ll get released when it’s done, but I can’t let go of that every day to the world via social media.

So, if you see something I post and think thoughts like, “who the hell does he think he is?”, that’s okay, I don’t blame you.  I’m sure it comes off as arrogance or bragging sometimes, but in my heart, I’m just trying to inspire others the way many of you inspire me.  I want everyone to live an abundant life, because it really is magical, even if it’s not without its pain and anguish.  

Define Yourself by Who You Are, Not Who You Aren’t

It’s difficult sometimes for a person to describe themselves.  The labels thrown around in the media often don’t do us justice; maybe we call ourselves conservative but we don’t like the president. Or maybe, as recently happened to me, a person called themselves an anti-hunter, but I know this person eats bacon double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s on a regular basis.  We find ourselves to be incredibly complex creatures and therefore hard to describe.  Though, in one of life’s many contradictions, many of us find it very easy to label others. Throughout all of this, I see one major distinction in people: those who describe themselves by who they are, versus those who describe themselves by who they aren’t or what they aren’t.  Let’s look at a few of these.

Anti-Trump.  God bless the president, for if nothing else, he’s given us so much to talk about outside the realm of politics.  People who call themselves anti-Trump are telling us absolutely nothing about themselves.  You hate one man.  Good. Why?  It usually boils down to “Orange Man bad.”  For eight years I never heard one person describe themselves as “anti-Obama” though I’m sure they existed.  I rarely agreed with Mr. Obama but it was always because I’m a libertarian, not because of some personal vendetta.  You don’t have to like the president, but if that’s how you define yourself, then maybe you should spend a little more time developing your character and personality.  Read a book, join community theater, take up yoga, do something.  

Atheist.  Great, you don’t believe in God.  What do you believe?  Take a cue from Dr. Greg Graffin, who dislikes the term “atheist” and describes himself as a monistic naturalist, meaning he believes in one plane of existence and it came about naturally without the intervention of any deity.  Do you believe in secular humanist principles? Are you a follower of some nontheistic moral philosophy?  Or are you just intellectually lazy?  All but the intellectually lazy and narcissistic hedonists have some sort of moral code, what is yours?  

Anti-Hunter (Meat Eaters).  Returning to the interaction I mentioned previously, I think her logic could be summed up by the fact she said “I’m open-minded” in one sentence and “there’s nothing you can say to change my mind” in the next. She claimed she’d seen animals injured by hunters, and it’s true, it happens, and it’s a tragedy when it does. However, she wanted no part in the conversation about Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson or the fact hunters and fishermen (and archery and firearms enthusiasts) pay for over 90% of conservation dollars to protect those animals.  It was a half-assed moral argument that conveniently ignored the animals hit by cars, the animals that starve to death mostly due to habitat loss, the animals that die by disease and yes, even the occasional accident in the slaughterhouse that produces the meat for her Big Macs.   And what kind of life did those cows have before becoming ground into frozen patties?  Those are all tragedies on the same plane.  So, you’re anti-animal suffering?  Welcome to 99.99% of humans on the planet.  None of us want that.  You’re not anti-hunting really, you’re “anti-anyone else doing anything differently than you would do it.”

When I meet people, I want to know who you are, where you came from and what you believe.  I don’t want to hear about what you’re not.  I’m a Christian, I don’t go around telling people I’m not Jewish.  I’m a hunter, I don’t tell people, “I’m not a vegan.” Describing yourself is tough for sure, I struggle with it because I’m self-centered enough to think I’m more complex than the Average Joe, even though I know I’m not.  Do the words “libertarian”, “Christian”, “father”, “husband”, “hunter”, “artist” or anything else give you a complete picture of who I am?  No, of course not, but they certainly lead you down the path to who I am a lot better than if I tell you who I’m not.  Then once you know who I am, you can decide whether you like me or not.  Unfortunately, even in this world of technological instant gratification, getting to know someone still takes time and effort.  The good news is, it’s usually worth it.

The Power of Unplugging

Every time I travel, especially without my family, I get anxiety.  This is even more true if I’m going off into the woods and I will have no way to know if something happens back home. Sure, there are people who are constantly looking for cell service in the mountains, but I typically shut off my phone when I go in and save the battery for an emergency.  

The first day, I’m a nervous wreck thinking about all the things that couldgo wrong in my absence.  This is partly me and my own anxieties and it’s also partly the world that has taught me to be attached to my damn phone.  As a salesman, my phone is rarely out of reach, and even though that is out of necessity, rather than desire, it has become the new norm and it’s difficult to separate myself from it sometimes.  However, by Day Two, I’m a new man.

Beginning at Day Two, I don’t even remember I have a phone.  Of course, I think about my wife and daughter often, but I know they’re okay and I know my wife can handle any situation that might come up in my absence.  The truth is, there’s too much going on in my immediate situation to think about the trivial things that go on in the world.  Sure, there are serious things going on in the world, poverty, war, etc. but that’s not what most of us are inundated with on a day to day basis; we ignore those things mostly because they’re difficult to think about.  As I write this, outdoors people are arguing over whether or not to buy Yeti products.  I don’t see anything wrong with either the NRA or Yeti, they’re both organizations made up of people with good intentions who sometimes make mistakes. Take a side or don’t, but is something of that sort really worth getting upset about?  I don’t think so.

While we obsess about such nonsense on a day to day basis, when you’re hiking, hunting, fishing, etc., you have real concerns to occupy your brain; the weather, predators, finding game or fish, and perhaps just navigation and not rolling your ankle in a scree field.  Focusing on these immediate issues allows our brains to put the bullshit of civilization away for a while.  No longer are we concerned about pleasing our boss or what our neighbors think of us – they cannot see what we’re up to.  The media, social media, the political conversations at the water cooler are all distant memories for a few days.  

At the very least wilderness is escapism, no different than a comedic movie or a concert or any other form of entertainment.  The wilderness, if you pay attention, is endlessly entertaining. However, I think it’s so much more than that.  Unplugging from the world gives you the time to think about the important stuff in your life uninterrupted.  Maybe you’re struggling in some area (most of us are struggling with something at any given time, no matter how “together” we may have it) and getting away from the noise allows you to meditate or pray on your marriage, your career, your parenting or some other issue.  In the world there is always someone telling you what you should do, but in the wilderness, you get to figure out what is best for you.  That can be daunting, many people prefer to let others make their decisions for them, therefore they have no responsibility or blame if things fail, but that is not a way to live life if you ask me.  Sure, it’s good to seek advice, you’ll already have that in your head when you’re out there and that’s part of the evidence you can examine when making a decision.  However, there’s a greater sense of accomplishment if you solve your own problems.  

If you’re prepared, the wilderness provides all that you need to push the reset button, no matter who you are and what kinds of things you need to do it.  Need action? Go hunting, fishing, climbing, etc. Need peace and quiet?  Sit beside a river under a tree.  Need comfort?  Boil up some tea and sit beside the campfire.  Humans have been going to the wilderness for solace and answers ever since we became civilized enough to separate wilderness from civilization. Wilderness is a part of who we are and I believe if we accept that, it will make us better people and therefore better to each other.