Last month I paid almost a thousand dollars, flew across the country, and drove four hours to sleep in a tent and tell strangers the truth. For five days, we woke with the sun beneath the pale blue Sonoran desert sky and gathered at the picnic tables of our group campsite to share our dreams from the night before. During the day, we wandered the parched ground of Joshua Tree National Park with big questions - questions of meaning and longing and beauty that our culture files under the categories of unimportant, naive, and frivolous. When we passed each other, we met eyes and smiled. When someone was crying, we listened and cared. When someone laughed, we all did too.
In five days, I discovered something I’ve been seeking my whole life; a way of belonging and being human that thousands of generations enjoyed and that modern systems of industry and thought have nearly destroyed. On the last day of the intensive, I sat atop a hill a few hundred yards from camp and wept as the sun rose over dolloped boulders and armor-wrapped cacti. Hummingbirds and woodpeckers were waking up and coyote howls from the starry night were still bouncing through my body. I had finally experienced true belonging and now it was time to go back to the game where we ignore each other and stare with empty hearts into the glowing agendas of our digital masters.
This column is called “What’s Your Beef?” and for this month and the rest of my life, my beef is the lie we call western culture that indoctrinates us to believe belonging is earned. In five days of attending to dreams, imbibing the natural world, and telling others about my actual experience, I discovered what I long imagined I would only unearth with degrees, sacrifices, and financial foresight. Turns out, all it really takes to be happy is a temporary willingness to stop believing in the necessity of progress.
We bicker and enact violence in the name of all these things we think we belong to. American, Montanan, Republican, Democrat; we think that’s what we’re seeing when we look in the mirror and we waste all of our metaphorical oxygen puffing up pin-holed identity balloons that take us ever further from the only belonging we’ll actually have. How much dignity, honesty, and vitality have we sacrificed in the name of barren ideals? Look around as you walk down the street and really take in the empty stares and anonymity of this society. Note the near-total avoidance of anything resembling meaning that passes for comfortable conversation. Doesn’t something in your heart break?
I’ve got beef with the fact that only the privileged, like me, can afford to meet heartbroken others also longing to invest their resources into connection. I’ve got beef with the sorry excuses for leaders, entertainment, and education that we accept as normal and I’ve got beef with a system that robs us of our imaginations in favor of a standardized, numbed, and hyper-violent mythology. We shouldn’t have to fly across the country to sit with people and speak openly, listen compassionately, and marvel at the fact that we’re flying through star-freckled infinity. That’s some beefy bullshit.