Escape to Reality: I’m Living in the Woods for a Month. Is it Escapism?

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~John Muir

Escapism, by definition, is the act of running to a comfortable fantasy world to escape the complex real world. It’s a distraction. Some might say it’s unmindful. But maybe that’s not always the case. Maybe sometimes it’s the exact opposite.

Can we escape to reality instead of from reality?

People get into an escapist mindset all the time: when you go on vacation you escape from your everyday responsibilities. At 5pm on Friday you get to escape your job for a fun weekend. Movies, TV, and video games are common escape routes. Some of these escapes are more mindful than others, of course. Your vacation or your weekend could easily be filled with mindful activities — nature, friendship, family, connection — an escape to reality. Your video game most likely isn’t very mindful — an escape to fantasy — but it’s also perfectly fair to take a break from thee stress of real life now and then.

We all need an escape sometimes, be it the mindful kind or not.

I’m about to go on an escape of my own, a pretty big one, leaving the comfortable confines of my home in Los Angeles to spend a month living in Yosemite National Park. Through one prism this looks like classic escapism, but I can present a series of defenses for this action:

  • Exhibit A: even though I will be engaging in my typical #Journeyman exploring, writing, and photographing while there, the primary reason for the trip is to work as a volunteer park ranger for the Yosemite Conservancy. Is it escapism if I’m working while I’m there?
  • Exhibit B: Yosemite is different than home and has a fantastical vibe to it, but it’s certainly no fantasyland. It’s very real, possibly more real than Los Angeles. Is it escapism to go from reality to more reality?​
  • Exhibit C: there’s a certain glee to escapism, leaving the stressful world for something fun and easy, but this month-long trip is not necesarily easy — living in a tent is work and being alone for long periods of time is work. Is it escapism if it’s difficult?

It’s an escape for sure, but is it escapism?

I propose that escapism has more than one meaning: it always involves leaving one’s home for a change of scenery, but sometimes it’s not about bolting from the real world to fantasy, it’s about making a difficult decision to leave the real world in order to experience a different kind of real world… and then reaping the benefits.

A change of scenery is so important for our psyche, or at least it is for mine. I can’t imagine standing still. I want to see new views, experience new ideas, meet new people, get out of my comfort zone, because all of that makes me a better person. We can all benefit from some level of diversity in our lives.

Yosemite National Park, and spending time in nature in general, gifts us with a whole new spectacular level of diversity. In this modern age, we live in cities with paved streets and grocery stories and digital connectivity at every step. In Yosemite, in the woods, we live simply as men have lived for centuries, with trees, trails, fires, maybe a bear box for good measure, and most likely no phone service. The two worlds could not be more polar opposites, yet both are real.

Spending some time living like our ancestors enables us to understand life outside of the digital distractions, teaches us to appreciate our modern conveniences, and reminds us how to just be present with one another. When you spend some time switching between these two worlds, you get more mindful.

A challenge is also important for the soul — it definitely is for mine. A little over a year ago I challenged myself by quitting my job and going off on a three week solo camping trip around the west. Leaving that morning was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life. I was anxious and emotional, and I got very lonely once I was out on my own for a few days. Some people are used to going off alone on trips for work, but I think for a lot of us this “being alone” thing isn’t always the easiest pill to swallow.

I got that change of scenery I wanted though, and I eventually got comfortable and confident with myself. I got more mindful, it just took some time.

So I might be engaging in some escapism by going on this trip, but I’m not escaping some terrible real life situation for a happier pretend one. I’m very purposefully making a burdensome, anxiety-ridden decision to switch between two versions of the real world, all so that I can collect the bounty that doing so brings.

It’s escapism to feel more real, not to dive into a happy fantasy zone. Escapism to improve my life, not to distance myself from it. Escapism to strengthen my resolve, not to lighten my load.

It’s an escape to reality — -the reality of the earth as it is, unobstructed, natural, and free.

So here’s goes, escapism be damned. I’m ready to have a work schedule for the first time in a year, I think. I’m ready to camp for a month straight for the first time ever, mostly. I’m ready to hike and take way too many pictures, for sure. I’m ready to physically explore my favorite national park and spiritually explore life through my writing, definitely.

I’ll write about nature and mindfulness (obviously), the history and meaning of the national parks (it’s the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service afterall), the environmental movement and it’s importance in an election year (#dumptrump), and the intersection of the LGBT community and nature, which I believe can be a key element in creating confidence in our identities and ourselves. The topics of exploration are as endless as the miles of Sierran hiking trails.

In short, I’m going to be quite busy. It’ll take some hard work, but no one ever said life would be easy, thank god.

I hope you’ll follow me on this new journey.

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