One of the particular pleasures of living in the city is the opportunities it provides for walking. I take advantage of those opportunities throughout the year, and even more so now that summer has truly arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. On average of late, I tend to get in a good five miles or more of walking each day. The more, the better. I walk my errands and my pleasures: grocery shopping, shipping packages at the post office, picking up books at the library, the occasional eating out, a pint and a movie at the second run theater, a visit to the park, or just an evening walk with my fiancee.
I find that walking grounds me. I suppose it does that in a certain literal way as I pass across the city, each footstep a small transfer of energy between myself and the earth (even if it so often is, sadly, intermediated by concrete). But it also places me into a rhythm, a satisfied state of mind, and engages my body in ways healthy not just physically, but mentally as well. Walking often settles me emotionally. And when I don’t read while walking (an occasional habit) it helps me to both clear my mind and to break away from my preoccupation with the troubles of the human world.
It’s too often forgotten that the human world is just one small part of our world. The rest is there around us, though too commonly ignored: our swirling ecosystem made up of so much more than humans and our myriad artifacts. I hear it in the chatter and cries of the crows, in the feel of the breeze, the rustle of trees and plants, the blooming scent of flowers, the pollen-induced sneezes, maddened squirrels, and the well- and not-so-well-tended gardens. It’s far easier to lose track of the nonhuman world here in the city, with its gridded streets and right-angled buildings, and yet it’s still not nearly so dominant as we imagine. There’s a lot of world out there that has little to do with humanity.
This all grounds me. And in a time of increasing chaos and upheaval, that grounding is critical. I’m a person who reads and studies and tracks our various predicaments. I don’t imagine I need to go through the data points to convince those reading this that we live in very troubled times, and that the future tends to look worse, not better, than the present. It’s hard living in such a time, and understanding that our future promises the harsh realities of decline rather than the prosperous upswing of ascent can create a certain grouchiness among society’s participants. I read a lot, track elements of our decline, and worry at times about our future; a deep mental burrowing into such topics creates strain and stress that can build until it manifests into useless, self-defeating, and at times downright destructive behavior.
Staying grounded and, in particular, staying rooted in and conscious of the realities of the non-human world helps even me out, calms me, heartens me, and brings me back to joy and pleasure. It mitigates the strain of decline and places the slow collapse of industrial civilization into perspective. Human civilizations do this, after all, and non-human populations do the same. We live and we die. We ascend and descend. We grow, prosper, contract, and collapse. It all is natural. It all is rooted in the unending ecological cycles of our world.
Walking helps me remember this. Sometimes it does so explicitly, but the vast majority of the time it simply is through the movement of my body, the sight and sounds of the crows and songbirds, a stray squirrel or dog or child, the wind or the sun or the rain, exuberant and sore muscles: the feedback from and asserting of the natural world around me. It grounds me in these times of trouble. It brings me pleasure and satisfaction to mitigate the frustration of seeing the world fragment around me.
I intend to write more about this in the introduction to the upcoming Summer 2017 issue of Into the Ruins, but in the meantime, I want to hear from you readers. What grounds you? In this time of decline, what helps keep you measured and sane and provides you respite from the many troubles bearing down on us (not to mention already arriving)? What puts your mind in order when it risks spiraling off down too-dark paths?
As usual, I’m hoping for some thoughts that are printable as letters to the editor, though I welcome all comments regardless of if you want them considered for publication. You can respond as a comment to this post or directly to me via email. If you don’t want your comments to be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please say so. And if you email, please include your location in the form of city and state; you can do so in the comments, as well, or I’ll work to get in touch with you for that information if I want to publish your comments in the magazine.
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4 thoughts on “Staying Grounded in Upheaval”
I have become more grounded by turning away from what used to be an obsession: reading about, tracking, and studying our various predicaments (to use your words). Only intermittently do I now tune in to media accounts of “the news” and even then, only via brief visits to a handful of alternative media sites that have earned my trust. By focusing on bigger pictures, the narratives or myths that frame the information fed to us and drive what’s left of our civilization ever-closer to the cliff edge, I refuse to let the trees distract my attention from the forest, the natural world apart from “humans and (their) myriad artifacts,” so evocatively described in your article. Simultaneously, I focus on another bigger picture, one which puts the natural world into even larger context. This is the spiritual journey which, I am thankful, remains a live option for me, although it has understandably become a dead end for many others. The centerpiece of that journey is an unorthodox devotion to the “historical Jesus” and his radical message about the kingdom of god, a myth starkly juxtaposed to those that pervade and permeate our sick society and ecocidal world order. For me, these bigger pictures come together in a universal, elemental value that I struggle to embody and which sustains me, what Schweitzer called “reverence for life.”
Wonderful, Newton! Thank you for this comment. I agree–removing oneself from much of the news of collapse is a very good option, and I continue to have an internal debate with myself as to where a healthy level lies. After a few days back out on the rural coast and then a few more days in the forest, camping, it feels as though less is more. I likely will be writing more about that soon.
Thanks again for your thoughts. I would be very interested in hearing more about your spiritual journey, as well!
I use daily meditation and Heartmath breathing as techniques to help me stay grounded and calm. Practicing forgiveness of myself, others, and events has helped a lot a well. Also, as I work in my garden and walk around my community, I enjoy observing the activity of insects on the flowers. I’ve reconciled to the fact that our ‘civilization’ will pass away at some point, but remain curious and fascinated by the details. An ecologist by training, I’m inspired by the web of life and cycles.
Thank you, Stephen! Also an excellent comment. I have a number of fond memories of stopping to watch insects on flowers. I remember, in particular, a time out in my old garden on the coast, being taken by the impressive diversity of small insects and pollinators–a few honey bees, but most of them not–swarming over flowering brassicas. Very inspiring!
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