This last weekend I went to the Grand Canyon with some friends. It was my first time camping in about a decade. I realized/remembered that that I am a better person in nature. During our trip, I did a number of things that I try to do at home more successfully that I do them at home.
1) Go to bed early.
In my day to day life, I vow to go to bed before midnight. I have an alarm set on my phone that goes off every night alerting me that it’s 11 PM, and I have half an hour to prepare before my bedtime goal of 11:30. Last night the alarm went off during the first hour of Anatomy of a Murder (which could be call Anatomy of a Really Long Film–2 hours and 43 minutes!). Just after midnight I managed to turn it off before I fell asleep–but was so tired I had to nap on the couch in order to gain enough strength to stagger to the bedroom and fling myself onto the mattress at 1:20AM.
In nature, by contrast, there is no TV, no internet to surf, and after the fire dies down about 10 PM, no light. One can read for a short time by the too-quickly-dimming flashlight. This is something I enjoyed very much as a child, but now, since despite all my efforts I have become my mother, I do believe that much of that will ruin my eyes. Besides I can’t afford to run the batteries all the way down, as I will need the light to avoid running into an elk at four in the morning when I get up to pee.
2) Get Up Early
At home, I’m doing good if I can push my smashed face off the pillow by 8:45 AM in order to leave the house for work at 9:15. During my recent camping trip, I was awake each morning at 5 AM. I wrote in my little moleskin notebook. I meditated and contemplated. Why is that so much easier in nature? If you intuitively feel there’s some causal relationship between points 1 and 2, I suppose I can’t argue with that.There’s also the fact that the sun is out, and that it’s harder to go back to sleep after that first morning bathroom run, when it has entailed a quarter mile brisk walk through frigid air, pausing occasionally to let some elks cross your path. And when you get back to your tent, it’s pretty much as cold inside as it was outside, and the ground is hard–less conducive to sleeping than a soft, warm bed.
If you’re at the Grand Canyon, chances are good you’re there to hike around the Grand Canyon. There’s not a whole lot else on the agenda. When you’re in L.A., it’s not like you’ve settled in one of the most traffic-ridden and expensive places in the country in order to hang out at the LA Fitness. Plus, the city offers many of the afore-mentioned distractions, like soft beds, electricity, internet. Everything takes twice as much willpower if you must first wrest yourself away from the internet.
4) Eat Better
This is really just about someone elses planning, and peer pressure. Each night we had some items to eat: Chicken sausages and peppers, yummy. Quinoa and asparagus. Delicious. In general, when I’m hungry, I tend to eat whatever is there that takes the least time to prepare. Although I love vegetables, I sometimes don’t reach for them until after the frantic part of my hunger has been satiated by the stale tortilla chips on top of the refrigerator, or cold breakfast cereal. While camping, I never ate cold breakfast cereal–we had oatmeal each morning. Again, not a result of any initial effort of my own. The person who did the shopping bought oatmeal. Although I love oatmeal, peppers, asparagus, quinoa devices, I know that left to my own devices, I might well have subsisted for the entire weekend on powerbars and trail mix, so, yay for peer pressure.
5) Be Neater and Less Cluttered
Nothing makes you do your dishes and pack away your crap like the threat of animals of various kinds coming to attack anything that you leave out.
It’s still possible to leave your clothes lying around the tent, but the extent to which you can do that is limited when you only have three changes of clothes.
So what’s the take-home here? A certain amount of discomfort and limitation might be to my advantage, because it imposes a discipline that is very hard to impose on myself. And yet, it is also hard to impose discomfort and limitation–to choose a hard mat over a soft bed, to choose to be a little cold or hungry…this I guess, is why people enlist other entities to impose these things for them. Most religions have aspects of this, and the military.