Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rattlesnake Ridge Trail

The first meditative experience I had was not called meditation at all. 

The school where I spent my fifth through twelfth grade years sent each class to camp for a week during the year.  Fifth graders went one week, sixth another, etc.  Each year we went we learned some new skill or had some new emphasis – low ropes, high ropes, rock climbing, rafting, orienteering.  Much of the experience was not meditative.  Learning the skills was rigorous physical and mental effort (that I still use today).  Many of my classmates had little to no interest in being there – the younger ages brattier and the older ages more sullen, each painfully inconvenienced by the primitive isolation.  I, on the other hand, and many of my good friends, ate it up.  I’d always wanted to go to camp (thank you, YA fiction, Salute Your Shorts, and The Parent Trap).  I loved hiking, mud, not having a television, being cold and tucking into a mummy wrap sleeping bag. 

One activity we did each year, without fail and without regard to whatever other skill we were developing that particular week, was to go on solos.  Basically, we would hike as a group to a reasonably remote spot (remote = not on a trail just walking straight out into the woods (in a park where there weren’t rules where you had to stick to a trail), where we were unable to hear or see a highway or any other people).  Then the counselor would have us scatter about so we were no closer than 40-50 feet from the nearest person, and sit.  We’d just sit there in the woods and then after a certain amount of time, the counselor would blow a whistle and we’d reconvene and hike back.  Sometimes we’d have a journal to write in, but mostly we just sat there, safely alone in the woods.  Instructions: just sit.

No one explained that it was meditating.  No one told us what to do or think, except that we were just to sit there and not talk.  We could do whatever we wanted while we were there.   What do you do in that situation?  You either think about things, or you observe.  And given enough time, you start to observe out of the boredom of your own thoughts.  There’s much to see and hear and touch sitting out in the woods.  And so, as the time wore on, you became more and more mindful of the experience of being alone, sitting quietly with your brain, observing yourself and your surroundings.  You started meditating as naturally as it really is to do so, without naming it, without trying.  It was beautiful and simple, quiet and transformative.  

Also, no one explained that it was relatively rare in this modern age and area of the world to be able to be alone in the woods (people who live in the woods notwithstanding).  It seems like a lot of parks have a ‘don’t go off the trail’ rule (and for good reason), but this park had no such rule and in fact had no trails.  It was all back country, all traipsing around.  You really got a feel for the landscape and learned to notice the shape of the woods and waterways as visual landmarks, rather than sticking to a clean trail.  You weren’t really trying to go anywhere (to the top, to the lake, to the view, etc.), you were just enjoying the woods, then enjoying them alone.  Even now, if I can find a trail that is mostly people-less, rare if ever is the time when I’m not with a few of my own compatriots (lest I end up having to cut my own arm off or some equal disaster sure to befall me if I go hiking alone…).

I think these lovely formative experiences have colored my reactions to hikes and woods.  The biggest issue is: the more crowded a hike is, the less I like it.   Rattlesnake Ridge was the most crowded hike I’ve ever been on.  It was nearly a nonstop stream of people, and when you got to the very nice overlook, there were so many people there was almost nowhere to sit or stand to take in the view.  It is for this reason that I do not recommend this hike – or that if you go on this hike, you do it when it’s colder but not raining, as the view is the point, and if there’s too much cloud cover or rain you probably won’t get the payoff. 

The thing about the Northwest is, you don’t have to do an uncomfortable crowded hike, because there are many hikes that have spectacular views that aren’t overstuffed.  I recommend one of the other hikes mentioned on this blog, or not yet on this blog that doesn’t describe itself as ‘popular’.  If you do not mind crowds, are invigorated by shared experiences, this could be up your alley, and it does have attractive views.  I will be on a trail where I can sit idly and forget that anyone is around (if they even are).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Logical AND Polite: One Idea

Work today, right?  No matter what you do, chances are you have to communicate with someone(s) else while you’re doing it.  Probably you do this by email.  If not, this article is not for you, but thank you for reading (spoiler alert: wasn't that painless?).  If so, there’s a possibility that you also have the kind of job/personality where you want/need to increase your efficiency.  No one wants to waste time reading stupid emails (‘stupid’ is a subjective term)!  It’s unproductive (‘unproductive’ is slightly less subjective)!  We want emails that are concise, informative, and hopefully contain a dash of wit!  It’s hard to argue against this, unless you are being paid by the word or being emailed by your child.

Other articles I've read address this issue with tips on how to achieve such a noble goal.  Most of these tips are good.  Some are bad.  One is just confusing.  The advice that confuses me is in regards to the Thank You Email.  There’s a lot out there blanketly discouraging the writing of the Thank You Email.  The common argument against the Thank You Email basically amounts to “Stop clogging my inbox!”   

I present a different view: the Thank You Email not only offers clarity but also indicates good manners - and that these two things are more logically useful and socially valuable than the falsely-perceived efficiency of a prohibition against them.

Sure, I’m happy to elaborate with examples and explanations.  Thanks for asking.  Here’s a bulleted list of the reasons I favor the Thank You Email.  It's bulleted so you can read the highlights and skip the burdensomely extraneous wit (‘wit,’ as used in this sentence, is the MOST subjective term in this article).

1   1.  The Thank You Email confirms to the recipient that you received their last email.  If someone sends you a document or finalizes some plans with you, they will likely want confirmation that you received the document or understand the final plans.  The more pressing the import of these items, the more confirmation matters to their sender.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an email, not sent a quick Thank You Email, and then had someone call me moments later to ask “did you see my email?” Sometimes, they send a follow up email to confirm that I got their previous email.  A quick Thank You Email allows the recipient to assuage sender's concerns up front.  

      2.  It’s polite. Chances are, when a person sends a Thank You Email, they’re being polite.  They’re not trying to cause pain.  If you physically hand someone a document or makes plans with them by the water cooler, they say thanks (hopefully).  I argue that such an email response is an equally important civility.  Please, let’s not try to eliminate common decency for the sake of two point two seconds of efficiency.

      3.  It’s easy for a recipient to delete—without even opening!  Many email systems show a preview of an email’s content and the recipient can instantly see that the body just says ‘Thanks!’  Delete without opening.    Maybe your email doesn’t have a preview, or you want to be extra sure nothing’s below the jump.  Open, scan in approximately 1-5 seconds, delete.  Is that so painful?   Are these moments the difference between achieving daily goals and curling into the fetal position, having been broken by the strain of a Herculean effort?

      4. If it actually is too troublesome, and genuinely does make you give up in despair, perhaps you have greater concerns to address.  Perhaps you:

a.     Have too many emails already, and it overwhelms you to see more emails.  Delete things you don’t need. This eliminates visual clutter.  Afraid to delete?  Move it to a folder (as easy as click and drag or check and file).  You’ll forget they’re there, but you can rest comfortably knowing that you’ve squirreled them away and you can read them later (you won't).

b.     Don’t understand antiquated notions of human interaction.  Try to think about how the ‘olds’ used to rely on ‘conversations’ to get their ‘point across’.  It’s like that.  Feel free to delete.

c.      Are too impatient/important/busy to want to deal with the words of others.  Slow down!  But I mean, really, if this is you – how did you even get this far into this article?

d.     Actually do have too much to do to withstand this simple thoughtfulness without going fetal.  Consider:

                                               i.     Delegating some thing(s);
                                              ii.     Quitting some thing(s);
                                            iii.     Getting separate email box(es) for separate thing(s);
                                            iv.     Setting aside a block of time to just manage email;
                                              v.     Trashing or filing some of your email (see 4a);
                                            vi.     Finding a job that doesn’t require email;
                                           vii.     Deleting all the unnecessary emails you’ve never deleted because Gmail just offers so much space that you don’t need to (including Thank You Emails, emails you’ve never read, and subscriptions) and then keeping up on this so you don’t cry every time you see that you have 1,475 unread emails (allow your unread emails number to truly reflect unread emails you actually need to look at, even if it is just to delete them);
                                         viii.     Realizing that keeping up on email isn’t as important as some other values, and letting go of your anger at your perception of the sender's 'thoughtlessness'.

Side Bar Note To the Thank You Emailers: Don’t abuse the facility of your free-wheeling email-happy lifestyle.  Be considerate on this end, too.

      1. DON’T HIT REPLY ALL unless all the recipients really do need to be thanked by only you.  Chances are quite high that’s not the case.  You can thank the one who truly deserves thanks in a humble ‘reply’.  It doesn’t make you look like a better person to be the first to thank someone, and you don’t need to feel obligated by a reply-all avalanche to be the thirty-third one to do so (Likely no one will even notice you didn't follow the group because they'll be overwhelmed/annoyed by all the other thankers. You won’t look like a jerk if you don’t follow suit.  The only jerk-o here is the one who started this avalanche in the first place by abusing the Reply All).

(My answer: no)

2. Consider that some emails don’t require a thanks at all.  For example, if someone thanks you for sending something, you maybe don’t need to say “No, thank YOU!” or “Thank you TOO."  

If you only read one thing here, when considering sending and receiving a Thank You Email, approach it with this crazy idea: Be Logical AND Polite.