April 2020

Thoughts about…

The Small and the Big

Rest assured that beyond this introduction, I have no intention of actually talking about that which is currently on all of our minds. You can find endless discussions and debates about the viral topic in every possible corner of the internet. I don’t need to expand upon it here.

This isn’t to say that I don’t care. Like many people, I’ve lost my job and have been sheltering in place ever since. But I find it unlikely that I could contribute anything more meaningful to that particular conversation.

Besides, infectious diseases just aren’t on my list of favorite conversational topics.

Landscape of snow and rocks and trees

Cross-country ski touring in Alpine County on March 11, 2020. © Jared Manninen

I try to avoid being swept up in a thing or allowing it to cause my mind to go to dark places. Instead, I use big events, ranging from the personal to the global, as catalysts for self-reflection. Then again, I’m quick to use just about any experience as a reason to reflect. I embrace the “examined life” not as a way in which to second-guess my decisions or romanticize the past. Rather, I use it as a means of gathering information so that I may more seamlessly transition from one position to another or to make a necessary correction to my direction of travel.

This is no different than negotiating variable terrain while cross-country skiing. You take inventory of your technique, equipment, fitness level, motivation, goals, and the time you’ve set aside to complete your journey (internal). Then, you weigh all of that information against the snowpack, terrain, and weather that’s laid out in front of you (external). Finally, you choose the route that most appropriately mates with what you bring to the table and what’s waiting for you when you arrive.

Dramatic clouds with snow-covered mountains near a lake

Dramatic skies over Fallen Leaf Lake on March 13, 2020. © Jared Manninen

This is a continuous process. I don’t wait to start making these examinations for when I arrive at a dangerous terrain feature. I’m constantly re-evaluating my course to avoid from being caught by surprise or trapped in a section of terrain that’s beyond my abilities and safety.

So something as benign as cross-country skiing in a snowstorm, for example, often elicits in me a similar response to an event as significant as a pandemic. This is due to my adoption of a philosophical approach loosely based on a passage in the Tao Te Ching. Again, it’s a loose translation.

Treat the small as the big, and the big as the small.

This subject is obviously one that could be studied in great depth and with far more consideration. For the sake of moving the story forward, however, the basic argument to the statement is that all big things come from small beginnings, and all small things have the potential to become much larger.

Snowstorm with trees

Spring snowstorm at Grass Lake on March 14, 2020. © Jared Manninen

Nothing in life is static. Nothing will remain the same forever. Everything is in transition, moving from the small to the big or the big to the small.

What allows us to navigate this ever-changing world with dignity and composure?

  • Our willingness to adapt to evolving situations.
  • Our resiliency.
  • Our acquisition of relevant and transferable skills.
  • Our ability to let go of attachments in all their manifestations.

Where does a person even start to build the habit or routinely think about this esoteric stuff?

Well, there’s no formal process or battery of tests in which I put myself through when practicing self-reflection.

I simply ask the question…

Am I happy?

I imagine some people might consider it a bold statement, but I believe that to be the only real question worth asking of ourselves. As far as I’m concerned it’s the only one that matters because, simply put, everything refers back to it.

Snowstorm and tall pine trees

The Snowpocalypse continues on March 15, 2020. © Jared Manninen

To clarify, I’m not just talking about the laughing, joking, and smiling type of happy. That’s obviously part of the equation. What I’m really talking about, though, is the type of happy (peace, contentment, or fulfillment – it’s all the same to me) that asks…

If today was my last day on earth, would I be cool with that?

Wait a minute. Didn’t I say earlier that I don’t let my mind go to dark places?

Trust me, I have no fascination or obsession with death. I do have, however, an obsession with being alive. With living. With embracing the world and all it has to offer, for better and worse.

We’re all mortal creatures. We’re all going to eventually lay down and take that long dirt nap because none of us are getting out of here alive.

Winter paradise with snow-flocked trees and blue skies

After the mid-March snowstorm ended on March 17, 2020. © Jared Manninen

So instead of succumbing to doom and gloom and dread and despair, I scrutinize what I’ve been up to and then try to find ways to do it better. I consider the decisions, circumstances, and events that’s lead me to where I am today. I monitor my thoughts, actions, and behaviors. I ask of myself more focused questions.

Keep in mind that, although the subsequent questions I pose are specific, they all boil down to that notion of happiness. Also note that the following list is just a primer. There are too many questions one could ask of themselves to list here. Besides, I tend to modify my line of questioning based on the unique circumstances of which I’m currently experiencing. So, take them or leave them. It’s up to you. But this is about as close of a process as I get to when practicing self-reflection.

  • Have I been using my time effectively?
    • Or, have I been allowing myself to become easily distracted?
  • Have I made the most of what I have?
    • Or, have I been living life as if it were an “if, then” statement (if I had this, then I could that).
  • Have I performed acts that enhance my life while contributing to the well-being of others?
    • Or, have I only taken part in activities that directly benefit me?
  • Have I made meaningful commitments and stuck to them?
    • Or, have those so-called commitments simply been placeholders until something better comes along?
  • If I couldn’t finish what I started, would be it enough just to have begun it in earnest?
    • Or, has my life amounted to a series of failed attempts for lack of commitment, therefore, I have so much unfinished business?
  • Have I been kind to friends, family, and strangers (in person and online)?
    • Or, have I spent more time gossiping about them or being irritated and pissed off at them?
  • When speaking with those same folks, were my conversations uplifting, hopeful, or inspiring?
    • Or, were they just gripe sessions filled with complaints about this, that, and the other thing?
  • Do my relationships offer support, inspiration, and meaningful feedback?
    • Or, do the people I surround myself with undermine my decisions and confidence?
  • Do my beliefs and practices yield resilience and the ability to adapt and be flexible?
    • Or, have I become hamstrung by a life of habit and routine?

Clearly, this list of questions could go on and on. That’s not necessarily the point. More important is that you routinely check-in, re-evaluate, and take stock of your life. Don’t just employ this practice for when a major catastrophe occurs. That’s the stereotype, right? The person who only seems to have time to pray, for example, when the chips are down and the world is coming undone.

Blue lakes and snow-flocked trees

Looking across Fallen Leaf Lake at Lake Tahoe on March 19, 2020. © Jared Manninen

I recommend making this reflection, meditation, or prayer a regular and frequent part of your life. The insight gained through self-reflection is invaluable. I also find that doing so enables me to have a better quality of daily life. Often the practice helps me find a correct path. Other times, it reinforces my commitment to the path on which I’m already walking.

Monitoring your thoughts and feelings and questioning your motivations behind the choices you make works much like massaging sore muscles or joints. Initially the experience can be painful, but eventually you become tolerant of the pain to the point where you can work deeper and toward (hopefully) resolving it completely.

Pine trees and snow banks along a river in winter

Cross-country skiing along the Upper Truckee River on March 27, 2020. © Jared Manninen

Do I have life figured out? I mean, who the heck am I to be asking you such questions?

I admit that I’m no one in particular, and that I have yet to figure out life. However, sometimes it simply takes a stranger to point out the obvious for you to make a positive change in your life.

Dramatic clouds backlit by the morning sun

Early bird cross-country skiing at Washoe Meadows State Park on March 29, 2010. © Jared Manninen

To read some interesting historical translations of the Tao Te Ching passage I referenced, check out the Tao Te Ching website (passage 63) that’s been compiled and indexed by Michael P. Garofalo.

More the same this month with regard to publishing YouTube videos. See all of my video work at YouTube.com/JaredManninen. “Like” my videos, post comments, subscribe to my channel … you know, my usual plea!

I’m quickly realizing that there’s a definite cost to making these videos. Not necessarily a financial one, although I have been buying more tools in order to produce better quality videos 😮

But when making these mini-films I basically don’t get much else done, whether that be articles to post on Tahoe Trail Guide, graphic designs to sell on RedBubble… Then again, do we ever have time enough?

This all reinforces my belief that I have to treat my grand plan as a thru-hike, not just a day hike 🙂

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’m trying to monetize (i.e. earn ad revenue) the channel and need 1,000+ subscribers (currently I’m at 425).

Thank you for your support 🙂

The latest rabbit hole I find myself falling down… but it’s actually related to what I’ve been doing all along, right?! 😉

Since I incorporate sound effects into my videos, I’ve had a monthly subscription to an audio file and sound effects website. The subscription is not expensive and I’m happy to support other creative people. However, I’ve always preferred to use my own “stuff” no matter what type of art I produce.

So, I’ve started to experiment with capturing sounds of nature!

For awhile I’ve considered incorporating music into my videos but, at this point, I’d rather not. Natural sounds are music enough, and I want to subtly encourage people to stop bringing their music to the backcountry. Mostly it’s a disruption to others and a distraction to one’s self. Unplugging and being able to enjoy the ambient sounds of nature is one of the most rewarding and important aspects of going outside!

Enjoy these sounds of wind and water. Feel free to listen to them all you want, but please keep your use of them personal.

Just prior to COVID-19 really beginning to disrupt everything, I was fortunate enough to actually attend and complete a Leave No Trace trainer program. This course is a requirement I needed to fulfill in order to (eventually) earn a Wilderness Naturalist certificate through Lake Tahoe Community College’s Wilderness Education and Outdoor Leadership program.

In addition to writing articles about the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, I do plan to teach awareness classes of the seven principles, and maybe produce a video or two related to them. At the very least, just having an understanding about these ethical outdoor practices will help to inform all of my future publications.

Leave No Trace Trainer Certificate

My certificate for becoming an official Leave No Trace Trainer (March 14, 2020)

Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…

-Jared Manninen

Tahoe Trail Guide is an online magazine for sharing my knowledge about hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, as well as information about traveling to (and through) the Lake Tahoe region. I refine that information for a younger audience and produce it in a printed format under the title Wilderness Activity Books. Lastly, Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe.

Categories: Newsletters
Tags: #2020

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