Yesterday, on the way back to my dwelling unit from the rainy slopes of Stevens Pass, I was examining some thoughts that were coming and going. These thoughts ranged from things that needed to be done or addressed, to financial obligations, Christmas presents that need to be bought, plans that need to be finalized, news that I read earlier in the day and I realized I was suddenly picking at my thumbs with an elevated level of anxiety.
My thumbs often bleed. Not because they randomly bleed without cause, they bleed because I pick at them nervously until I crack the epidermis and leak my life juice out the side of my nails. It’s not a healthy habit. I’ve done it on and off for years… many years… actually, make that, many, many years… like since I was 14 or 15 years old. Lately, however, I have been abstaining from such a childlike reaction to my internal anxieties. Although I do still pick at my thumbs, I do so much less than I used to and they are starting to look less like bloody nubs and more like what they’re supposed to look like. Still, I do not feel I am far enough along in my habit of not picking to say that it was something that I used to do. I, again, still pick. I am hoping to not pick by the end of next month. All I have to do is not pick… easy, right? We’ll see, I guess… I have faith.
When I noticed my thoughts drifting towards this hole of anxiety, the hole that leads to picking, I backed off the thought, took in a deep breath and realized I was creating unnecessary stress for myself. I told myself to enjoy the moment instead of dwell on things that were currently out of my control and as my perspective shifted I started to observe the lush and wet forest, a waterfall and the river below the road, and the surrounding peaks as I drove through the Cascades that were getting hammered by a dreary mid-December day. From there my mind shifted and began to wonder. I began imaging myself looking down from atop one of the high peaks and back at my car as it drove across US Interstate 2. These are the type of peaks that I have been to the top of where the sound of the highway becomes a distant hum and you just exist, there, on top of a fucking mountain. It’s moments on top of those mountains that let me escape from feeling trapped in the monotony of “it all.”
While this thought manifested itself in my brain I had the profound epiphany that moments are incredibly fleeting and what had currently been stressing me out was nothing more than a snapshot of a bigger and more complex ecosystem. Ecosystem may seem like an odd word, but I would beg to differ. From that mountain’s peak, whatever peak it may be, my daily problems vanish and are replaced with one necessity: survival. On that mountaintop I’m just another creature, with admittedly much better gear, amongst other living things like goats, pika, bears, deer, deer ticks, trees, mice, etc. For me, that’s a really peaceful place that silences my restlessness. More importantly, from there, I don’t even notice the car pass, I don’t worry about the things that I was thinking about that make my thumbs bleed. Instead, from there , I just observe.
My thoughts didn’t stop there. I, then, imagined that version of me on that mountaintop and I zoomed out further. Now, I see more of that ecosystem and one barely visible man on a mountain looking at a passing car. One more zoom out and I fall out of sight and my problems no longer exist at all because I’m now looking at a large body of tree covered wilderness with Glacier Peak and the North Cascades… And another zoom out and there are cities bustling with human life integrated into the landscape… And then it’s just a ball suspended in nothingness. You get the idea; it keeps going.
The visualization of me looking back at myself made me realize that the feelings I had felt were not only going to pass, but they change drastically based on what my surroundings and mental state is. I came to realize that the only thing that mattered was how I reacted to the feelings because of the butterfly effect it creates. There’s no reason that driving back to society should give me any sort of anxiety, (I mean, Christ, I just spent the day skiing) so every time an emotion occurs that I recognize as negative, I should react in relation to how I want to live and how my reaction will align with my goals. The counter to this would be to let the emotion consume me, start overthinking something I have little to no control over, hence building a stronger neurological connection to it; bloody thumbs.
Looking down from the mountaintop I am calm, content and happy. I’m definitely not weighted down with unnecessary stresses. I’m just there thinking about how cool it is to be able to be on top of a god damn mountain. Even while hiking to the top of the mountain I would not be stressed. During the trek, there is just one goal to accomplish: get to the top. My thought process from here was that anything currently fucking with me is just another boulder I have to get around to conquer the target goal of the summit. When I am hiking and these obstacles present themselves, I am calm and figure out how to do circumvent them with the guts to scramble to the top if it’s necessary and not too dangerous. The same principles should be applied to my life. 1. Define the goal. 2. Do not stress over the obstacles 3. Be content with the journey and the destination.
The visualization of looking back at the mountaintop from space goes even deeper down this rabbit hole. It ventures into the unknown and stares back like the snapshot of time, the underlying stress, doesn’t exist at all. In fact, from this great of a distance, the picture of Earth suspended in space is the same image if I were to focus on the car or on the mountaintop. When you look from this angle, that passing thought is just one moment in the mind of one creature on one planet in one solar system in one galaxy in one universe… and that’s about all we understand. There’s probably a lot more to that story, and we may never know what that story is. The take away is that it doesn’t matter. From this distance, it’s just a beautiful sea of stars, planets, comets and whatever else, all moving around colliding with each other.
My brain shifted to evolution and how being human lies within our ability to think and reason. Thinking has allowed us to break free of primitive life by granting us the ability to create the tools needed to build flourishing societies which in turn birthed cultures, but it also allows us to break out of those practices and start new ones… new thoughts, new technologies, new advancements that shape new societies and the new societal normalcies that go along with them. As populations have grown and technology has advanced rapidly and evolved our methods of communication, it has given more people access to new ideas and more outlets to spread those ideas as well as their own. These ideas often differ from the ideas of our peers, but all of them make their own case for what is right or wrong. Other species are incapable of this level of thinking. An ant, for instant, isn’t going to decide to break free of the colony, study physics its whole life, create the theory of relativity, and establish a whole fundamental change and foundation for a new era of science. An ant is going to do ant shit; I think they like carrying leaves and making hills. But, why would I underestimate an ant, do we really understand the intricacies of all the animals that are and have been? Still, with the gifts of human intellect comes the ability to knowingly change the environment around us. Left unchecked, however, the human mind can get absorbed with the stresses of this modern environment that we navigate. This is an unnatural environment that is wired to keep us unsatisfied and always desiring more. That is built into the algorithm. Social media is an undeniable example of this, the way you interact with it and the algorithms that feed you nonsense based on things you have clicked on. As we have seen in the short period of time that social media has been around, people tend to fall into camps and share similar ideas that counter or compliment other camps. This is a very tribal thing to do that may just be inherently human, the method by which the tribalism is created is the only unnatural factor. Which brings me to the something I’ve been pondering lately, what things do or nuances do I have that are exclusively inherent to my genetics, ancestry or, even, human evolution? Are thoughts constricted to our environments and upbringing?
Which brings me full circle to the habits that we create to deal with this new highly technological environment and the reason I pick my thumbs. We have all these new habits that we have all created to remain “productive,” entertain ourselves, keep up with current events, know what is right or wrong, offer us the tribalism, grant us human interaction that, I would say, humanity is currently lacking. I don’t necessarily think all these habits are good or bad, instead, they just are. What’s bad is forgetting that this environment is contrived and that we should use the tools that we now have to help shape our environment to the one we want to live in. Getting sucked into the stress does not help change that environment and instead becomes the tool that drives us instead of us using a tool to assist us in creation. I forget that sometimes and when I do, I need to remember the mountaintop, find my peace, and come back to find myself without self-doubt and ready to get after my well-defined goal. But, mainly, can I just not pick my damn thumbs?!
Author note: I keep promising things and not following through. For example, I was supposed to post my weekly journal yesterday. It’s not because it’s my intent not to follow through, I would like to. I sometimes don’t post what I write as it becomes too personal, I just flatly don’t like it or I find myself just writing to write and don’t feel it’s worthy of being shared. I don’t like carrying the stress of posting on a schedule, instead, I am going to, from here on out, post when I want to post. Sharing my experiences, thoughts and status reports when I feel I have something important to share. Thank you for reading and I’m excited for what is to come.