Until a few years ago, I had been training diligently in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. In fact, I spent about fourteen years logging numerous hours of training in and out of the dojo every week. Aikido was my passion and, essentially during that time, the primary focus in my life.
But I eventually made the difficult decision to let go of it completely in order to embrace other interests. Simply put, I wanted to spend more time outdoors exploring and learning about Lake Tahoe flora and fauna. And I wanted to do this without having to worry about scrambling after work, for example, to get to the dojo on time for class.
I realize this probably sounds a bit extreme. That is, giving up something that I loved for so long just so that I could leisurely wander around the forest in my off-time. But as much as many of us would like to believe otherwise, when it comes down to it, we can really only serve one master.
Trying to do it all is seldom satisfying. And, as far as I’m concerned, attempting to do so often just yields mediocre results at best. We get a little taste of everything, but we never really get the full meal. And if we haven’t dedicated ourselves to becoming proficient in any one activity (because we’re too busy trying to do lots of different stuff), we don’t really get to experience that immersive feeling of being in the zone when participating in most activities. Instead, we often just find ourselves being bogged down by the basic mechanics of a thing.
There are table top games that I love to play, for example, but I don’t play them enough so I always have to re-read the instructions beforehand and then constantly refer back to them throughout the game. I spend half the session re-familiarizing myself with the rules instead of being immersed in the gaming experience. The same problems apply when playing many different sports or even lifting weights. If we’re not developing those sports specific muscles and building those mental pathways by training diligently on a weekly, if not daily basis, our bodies just aren’t going to perform the way we want them to. And most likely we’re going to be sore in all the wrong ways after the experience.
Another reason it’s hard to get in the zone when trying to do too many things is that we become stuck in a perpetual state of transition from one activity to another. For example, just when we hit our stride in one thing we often have to abandon ship so that we can get to the next activity or event on time. It’s like the guided tour effect where we’re exposed to all of these amazing places and experiences, but rarely have enough time to actually digest any of them. Or it could be similar to the helicopter parenting style of raising kids where we plan out every second of every day for the kids and then whisk them from one activity to the next so that they never have too much idle time on their hands.
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely like having structure, a framework, or at least some sort of loose plan in place before participating in most activities. But I always factor in extra time to simply roam the forest or explore an idea. Actually what I do is only schedule one or two additional events on any given day (outside of the day’s normal routine) to create a buffer before or after the planned activity so that I don’t have to stop just because the clock says so.
Of course this assumes that whatever I’m doing is more meaningful than simply running errands in town. And, clearly, there’s an ebb and flow to training meaning that it’s seldom beneficial to do a thing all day every day. You obviously have to take breaks to recover, as well as to process the work. Also, certain elements of any practice will require less time than others. So if the activity comes to a natural stopping point and I still have enough gas left in the tank, sure, I’ll call it and move on to something else.
But, to me, there’s very few things more frustrating than achieving a flow state and then having to disrupt it by stopping abruptly so that I can move on to some other task that was previously scheduled. I’m not saying that I need an open calendar for the next twenty years. But if I’m in the zone working on a creative project, for example, the last thing I want to do is break that rhythm because inspiration and flow isn’t necessarily a switch that you can just turn on and off.
The same goes for physical endeavors, such as cross-country skiing or trail running. There’s a process to get in the zone, and it’s not always predictable or even guaranteed. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. And it’s not necessarily going to be the same series of steps from session to session. How many times have we gone out to log some miles only to discover that we can’t find a decent pace or rhythm to save our lives (no matter how long we’ve been doing the thing)? Even professional athletes have the occasional off-day. Again, achieving a flow state isn’t a guarantee so when it does arrive I want to ride it out as long as possible.
This happens to be why I tend to go radio silent for days on end and sometimes weeks. It’s usually just because I’m in the zone and, no offense, but I don’t want to stop to text or email or talk on the phone during that time. I suspect that this is the reason that many artists develop a reputation for being pretentious. But it’s only because we place a high value on our time because we understand just how fleeting inspiration and flow can be.
Fortunately, the more we dedicate ourselves to studying a thing the more opportunities we create to tap into that flow. By continuing to return to the activity on a daily or weekly basis, we really begin to embody it which tends to decrease the resistance to achieving flow. This is why I don’t usually pursue learning more than one or two new things (maybe three if they’re all related). Again, we can really only serve one master at a time. So the more we add to our plate, the less fulfilled with our experiences we’re going to be.
If we want to get better at something and really become proficient in it, we have to make space for that success to manifest. Therefore, we have to let go of all the peripheral activities that are taking up our free time.
Admittedly, this process by which I live is also the reason why I’m often perceived as being a fuddy duddy about trying new things or attending multiple events in a day. The bottom line is that if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right, and that means making a commitment. I’m going to train. I’m going to study. And I’m going to dive in head first. I don’t want to be rushed. I want to absorb as much of the experience as possible in the moment. And then I want to have time to process everything afterwards.
This is how I studied Aikido. I attended regular classes throughout the week and, when available, seminars on the weekends. I practiced on my own early in the morning or whenever I had free time. Sometimes I taught adult classes. Other times I volunteered with the kids’ program. I watched videos, read books, wrote essays, and had discussions with peers and mentors. Sometimes I trained with friends in the middle of the forest. Nothing formal, just some open-ended exploration of the art in different environments. I wasn’t necessarily training to this degree every one of those fourteen years. But for many of them it was a near-daily practice.
Even though I did let go of Aikido, that’s not to say that it hasn’t, nor doesn’t still, profoundly influence my life.
In fact, this is the same way I’ve been training in cross-country skiing for the past nine winters. I fully immerse myself in the art so that I can take the experience as far as possible. I also took this approach when I participated in the Tahoe Wildflower Big Year (2022) and the Tahoe Birding Big Year (2021). And I can tell you that when I was looking for wildflowers last year, I ignored the birds. And when I was chasing birds the previous year, I denied the wildflowers. You just can’t do it all at the same time. You have to pick one and stick with it.
We can obviously have lots of fun doing just about anything without actually possessing any sort of mastery over the activity in question. And, of course, we all have diverse interests so there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying new things or switching between activities. But those shorter-term and (probably) unrelated experiences will never quite be as deep or rewarding as when you’ve been studying a thing for many years and have learned to embody the practice.
So a big part of my spring cleaning process is not only decluttering the house, but also the mind. I use this transitional season to clarify my purpose, or define some goals for the year, and then create space in my mind that will allow for new information and experiences related to those goals.
I agree that few people, if any, have ever used the word “spontaneous” to describe me. But that’s okay because this is how I choose to live life. In fact, as I get older, I realize that I’d much rather see a world in a grain of sand rather visiting every beach on the planet.
My presentation titled Immerse Yourself in Nature at the South Lake Tahoe Library last Tuesday (4/25/23) went exceptionally well. A great turnout with lots of audience participation. There were 40-50 people in attendance, and it became standing room only soon after I began. There were many accomplished naturalists in the audience, including Will Richardson (Executive Director of the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, and host of the Tahoe Big Years) and Maria Mircheva (Executive Director of the Sugar Pine Foundation). Both offered informational input and stimulating questions.
If you didn’t see the announcement in last month’s newsletter, basically I gave an hour and a half presentation about my experience participating in multiple Tahoe Big Years (2019 plants, 2021 birds, and 2022 plants). While I spoke, I played on a projector screen a slideshow featuring 200 photos of birds, wildflowers, and other critters.
Unfortunately, I didn’t record the presentation. In fact, I didn’t actually think of filming it until a friend asked me that morning. But by that time it was too late for me to try to coordinate anything. That said, I plan to create a YouTube video presentation based on the material that I covered. Not sure when that’s going to happen, but I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, you can read the two articles on which the presentation was based below (Considerations and Reasons for Doing a Big Year, Cultivating Adventure in Your Daily Life).
Thank you so much to everyone who was in attendance. You made the event even more memorable!
I finished strong for the month of April regarding YouTube videos. Basically, I made a couple more xc ski vlogs in the last week based on some slightly longer backcountry tours. Nothing overnight, but the routes would’ve been extremely challenging in the deep snow (which was the norm for this winter). I traveled to Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness (vlog #52), a route from Carson Pass to Big Meadow (vlog #53), and a challenging route in the Steven’s Peak area (vlog #54, technically from the beginning of May).
In a lot of respects, it feels like I’m making up for lost time by xc skiing these moderate backcountry routes because I just never really had a lot of opportunity during the bulk of the winter (due to a persistently unstable snowpack).
As I mentioned above, the first two articles here are what I based my Big Year presentation on. Otherwise, here are a couple of other articles that are relevant at about this time of the year 🙂
Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…
Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.
If you like any of the images I post in these newsletters, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to upload them to my RedBubble account so that you can order prints and other merchandise featuring the images.
A Note about Patreon and PayPal…
Patreon (orange button) is an online platform for providing financial support to creators who provide quality digital content that’s otherwise free. I offer various subscription tiers starting at $3. And all subscription tiers from $6 and up will receive original artwork after six consecutive months of contributions. The button directly below the Patreon button is a way in which to provide a one-time payment via PayPal (if subscriptions aren’t your thing).
My newsletters here on JaredManninen.com, the articles that I publish on Tahoe Trail Guide, and the videos I upload to YouTube will always be free. But if you’re interested in contributing to the health and longevity of my websites and YouTube channel, consider subscribing. Even a little goes a long way 🙂
To broaden my audience and get more mileage out of these newsletters, I’ve begun to adapt them into short videos for YouTube. I’ll incorporate short video clips into these recaps whenever possible as I do often capture nature videos when I’m outdoors (but don’t use the footage anywhere else). Essentially, I want to make two different presentations with a minimal amount of extra work rather than just creating a 1-to-1 adaptation of these text and photo versions of my newsletters.
BINGO! Hit the nail on the head with the May newsletter. Thanks ALWAYS, my friend for your wisdom, advice, photos and friendship. ✌💚🌲
Thanks, Teresa 🙂 I appreciate the kind words as always.