• Lessons from summer camp: Food appreciation

    Meals at Camp Grounded were another well thought out part of the weekend. Everything we ate (with maybe the exception of campfire s’mores) was local or organic with the nutrients needed to keep us going. Most of the time we ate family-style in a classic summer camp cafeteria (minus the fear of awful waffles) with sing-a-longs to conclude each sitting. However, there was one meal that stood out from the rest because it was such a novel experience.

    Picture a table on a grass field long enough to seat 250 people facing one another. Everyone is dressed in white and tea light candles held in large pieces of wood adorn the tabletops. At this point, feel free to make some jokes about joining a cult. All you can hear are birds conversing, a soft breeze moving through the trees and melodic piano music. As you take your seat, you notice a card on the table explaining this is a silent meal with the intention to make it more mindful. It encourages you to fully taste and savor what your senses interpret. It asks you to consider all the things that needed to happen to make this meal possible. The creation of the universe, a habitable planet that supports growth, the transport of that food and the final preparation.

    Food is served and you commence eating. You look at your neighbor, but the eye contact does not have a motive. It’s natural. You hear utensils clinking as people cut their food. You figure you may as give this a shot. No other meal you’ve ever had is quite like this and the only thing you can compare it to is a silent family dinner where no one is talking to you because you did something really wrong. Only it’s not awkward and you don’t feel bad. You enjoy sitting there and not jamming food down your throat to move on to the next activity, multitask with a smartphone/television, or engage in the mundane small talk that ordinarily happens when you are sitting next to strangers.

    You chew more than usual and let the textures and flavors rest on your tongue. The chicken is delightfully crisp on the outside and moist inside. The greens produce a peppery sensation for your tastebuds if you give them the chance. The risotto is perfect comfort food to line your stomach and leave you feeling satisfied. You realize people are right when they say the food tastes better when you take the time to appreciate it. Eventually the silence is broken and you speak to your neighbors. You might not have any photos, but these memories are not likely to fade anytime soon.

    This meal changed me. I had already been trying to give more of my meals more focus because most of the time I was trying to do something else to entertain myself or look busy in front of other people. It may not have been my intention, but by doing so I was saying that the food wasn’t enough. In a way, that was disrespectful. In a way, I was missing out on so much by not giving it the attention it deserved.

    Since Camp Grounded, I’ve had many more meals where I just ate and did nothing else. Even in good company and conversation, I remind myself to check in with my senses. The urge to do other things is still there and I’m not perfect, but I am much improved. Eating a meal doesn’t take very long, so why rush through it? I hope this is one habit I can continue to develop. I needed that silent meal to get me there.

  • Lessons from summer camp: There are no shoulds

    Last weekend I journeyed to Camp Grounded. There’s so much I want to tell you about the experience and some of it I just want to keep between camp friends, but one thing I will share are takeaways I believe can help people.

    Along with no digital technology, not knowing anyone’s real name, age, job or what time it was, one of the things we tried to avoid saying is the word should. It’s difficult to do because we rely on the word to guide us daily, but I guess I’ve realized I don’t want it to be a part of my vocabulary anymore. I don’t think I need it.

    We’re often evaluating what we should be doing but I think that just makes us anxious. What should we have accomplished at this point in our lives? Should we be married by now? Where should we be living and in what kind of living situation? It’s so constrictive. 

    It even infiltrates our smaller decisions. We should call our parents. We should visit friends in other cities. It’s all such a guilt trip and you have the opportunity to think of it in an entirely different way.

    What if there were only things you could do? You could pursue your dream job and it’ll feel amazing to be inspired about your work. You could get married because you really love someone and know they’re the one for you. You could call your mom because it might make her day and you could choose to visit your friend 3,000 miles away because it’s been far too long since you laughed hysterically together. See the difference?

    Shoulds often make us feel bad. Perhaps they guide us on a set path or align with social norms, but that isn’t what everyone needs. Coulds inspire intention, possibility and opportunity.

    Try eliminating should from your life and see what happens. There aren’t really any shoulds, only coulds.

  • Let me be

    I’ve made a lot of progress in disconnecting to preserve my sanity. From what I observe, I make more of an effort than most people because I don’t like always being connected. I'm not saying everyone should live like I do, but the constant obligation to be connected stresses me out and makes me anxious. I never consented to that.

    Currently I…

    Don’t sleep with my phone in my bedroom.

    Don’t use any devices while working out.

    Turn off all push notifications.

    Often go into airplane mode or turn my phone off completely to get things done.

    Don’t text back someone immediately unless it’s urgent or I'm really available.

    Don’t use the mobile apps for many sites I use (Facebook, etc).

    I hope to someday...

    Not check any devices before showering, having breakfast and writing something.

    Stop eating in front of screens and take the time to enjoy my food.

    Only check email and social media at two designated times per day.

    It’s still not enough though. That’s why I’m headed to rehab at Camp Grounded.

  • Defend your city with more than words

    Every so often an inflammatory article gains enough momentum to really piss people off. It happened when Reasons Why San Francisco Is The Worst Place Ever went viral and I’ve been waiting to let my thoughts settle before spilling how I feel about responding to criticism of where you live. It pierces an emotional vein for many of us because we have an allegiance to our hometown or chosen home. For those of us lucky enough to have choices, we want reasons to justify living where we do.

    What I saw in the defensive reaction of some San Franciscans is one of the traits I admire least (in a place where there’s a lot to love). I find it incredibly needy to insist that someone is wrong because they don’t think your city is the best for them. I much prefer the reaction of Angelenos, who for the most part don’t care what you think of Los Angeles. Before you crucify me, I understand if you don’t feel me on that. Maybe you hypothesize Angelenos don’t think their city is that special or they’re more apathetic about life in general. You take pride in giving a damn. You take it personally because you consider it your civic duty to stand up for your city. I get it.

    The reason I refuse to join in is because it’s akin to slacktivism. I’m not against discussion, but I’d much rather it happens in person or some real action is taken. You already know this, but arguing on social media is a waste of energy and does nothing to make things better. Pride alone doesn’t mean much. If you truly believe in your city, have some confidence and stop acting like you have an inferiority complex. If you feel like the city is not meeting its potential, make it your mission to do something about that.

    If we’re going to get stressed out, I suggest we trip out about making our cities what we want them to be. We’re going to have disagreements on those visions. The tech culture here disturbs me because I think it’s important for different types of people to be able to afford to live here. But somewhere along the line I’ve realized I’ve gotta go Gandhi and be the change I wish to see in the world. I can make sure I support the types of people I believe in with my time, energy and dollar. I can talk to my representatives about my concerns or I can find like-minded folks and talk about how we can collectively preserve and nurture the kind of community we want to live in. That’s just one example, but you can apply that attitude to whatever you feel strongly about. What we love about a place was never promised to last forever and sometimes you do need to take action before it’s completed eroded. At the same time, accept that it’s never going to stay completely the same, nor was it quite as perfect in the past as we remember.

    The easiest or most convenient actions rarely make a difference. It’s human nature (and Einstein’s definition of insanity) to keep doing the easy thing when we know it doesn’t work, but if you really want to make sure where you live is amazing, participate. Don’t just be a talking head or wait for someone else to do the hard part. Give everyone another reason to love the city you live in by doing something great.

  • Maui Memories

    Nearly one year ago, I wrote about a recent trip to Maui - my first to Hawaii. I can remember wanting to write much more, but I never got around to it and have been carrying around two sheets of paper ever since. Here's what I wrote down.

    May 2, 2013

    My trip to Maui was fantastic and I'm once again reminded how lucky I am to have friends all over the country and world to stay with. Yes - it's because I have put myself in situations to make friends with interesting people that just Go Do, but I need to express gratitude for being part of the circle I'm in.

    This excursion was as close to spontaneous travel as I've ever done in that I said, "I've never been to Hawaii, so why don't I just book a flight?" It did help that I was tipsy and being encouraged by a cute girl at the bar (who checked up on me to make sure I booked my flight), but I get the feeling this is just the beginning. Book flights when you're drunk, you guys. You can figure out all the pesky, little details later. For me, those details were a place to stay and I figured worst case (or best case) scenario, I'd just Airbnb it. Luckily, my pal Jenna was cool enough to let me crash on her futon and hang, which was great because she'd been living the island life for 18 months and could show me a better local experience.

    Now, Maui's fucking gorgeous but I'm always interested in the locals where I travel. If I don't spend enough time doing that, the trip feels incomplete. Knowing Jenna, I got to meet a handful of her friends and everyone was fuckin' ace. Beyond the island charm, I was surprised that they were inviting ME to join them in activities just hours after meeting them. The dudes wanted me to play football with them and nearly every girl I met greeted me with a smile, friendly kiss on the cheek and genuine interest in who I was. I learned local slang (like kanak attack) and was encouraged to jump off dangerously sharp lava rocks (but with tips on how to not kill myself). They took me to a nude beach with drum circles and fire dancing because it's something I had to see there. Well, I Imagine they wanted to see boobies too. Seriously though, I felt like family within a few hours. In an age where people complain about not being able to make friends after college, I know it's rare.

    It's sad this isn't the case everywhere I've lived (only San Diego was kinda like that to me), but I take notice of stuff like that. I wonder what I did to make this possible. I have this bad habit of beleiving I live in a place after a short stay, but I couldn't help but think I could get used to this life. I really could.