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How To Tighten Your Grip On Reality In An Increasingly Virtual World

The elephant in the room this year can only be summarized as the year itself. We’ve been trapped in order to help everyone keep safe. And as a result, everything has become more acute — including the coping mechanisms we employ to help us stay sane.

After some time, I found myself choosing to see things with rose-tinted glasses. This kind of outlook is part of my nature but also echoes my love for Instagram filters. Trusty Clarendon and Sierra help me magnify a moment. Mayfair helps quiet my mind. Altering realities to suit my particular tastes gives me a sense of control in a time when it feels like we have none at all.

Instagram is wondrous for the connection, intimacy, and inspiration it brings. But it’s also the crack cocaine of the digital era. The app doles out intermittent hits of dopamine and seduces us into hyper-personalized reality bubbles. We then taint our experiences of nature and lose those precious times for solitude.

To bounce out of our bubbles and broaden, or even brighten our worldviews, here’s what can prove helpful.

1. Direct Speech

“Don’t say that!”

From time to time, my grandfather could be heard shouting this phrase with a hint of playfulness. Or perhaps that’s just how the family internalized it. Papa Al was a spitting image of Albert Einstein and had a very sharp mind as well. When something rubbed him the wrong way (like telling him it might rain when he planned on golfing), he’d snap back with, “Don’t say that!” This was his special way of speaking his mind.

After George Floyd’s murder, Dave Chapelle took the stage to say what many people were thinking but few were saying. He did it his way: no bullshit. When we are presented with so much noise and exposed to so much fodder, it’s hard to discern what’s true. The news has become a mental health hazard. And as our own reality bubbles grow smaller and more impenetrable in the coming months, more than ever we need straight talk.

2. Curb Your Virtualism

Whether it be online yoga classes, zoom meetings, remote conferences, virtual parent-teacher nights, masterclasses, digital therapy, video games or video dating (aren’t they the same thing really?), we’ve all gone virtual. And when the dust settles, no domain will be unaffected by virtuality. The pandemic has forced us to blend the real and the virtual into a new integrated existence.

This virtual insanity means we’re tolerating, and in some cases delighting, in the essence of things instead of their real form. As writer Bruce Nussbaum puts it now that the resistance is gone, “Mixed realities will be the new reality.”

So I try to mind the time on the keyboard and create healthy habits with my technology use. I give my attention to those things that truly deserve it. And I seek novel ways to filter my filters so that I might approach something purer — if only to momentarily expand my horizons.

3. Nature Immersion

“We’ve been waiting for you.”

This is what the burly trees of the Pacific Rim National park would be whispering to me if they had a voice. The western hemlocks, Stika spruces, and sword fern beckon me to their mammoth trunks. I hadn’t a clue that forest bathing (Shinrin Yoku) was an actual thing until a few years ago. You can count on the Japanese to pioneer such a therapeutic practice.

The psychological benefits of forest bathing improve our mood, concentration, and short-term memory. It restores our mental energy and reduces our feelings of stress and anxiety. And these are just the physiological effects, the psychological benefits are way too long to list here.

In the bustle of modern life, it’s all too easy to forget about the rapture that comes from such indulgence. The more time we spend on the screen, the more we need to counterbalance it with uninterrupted time in the physical world. When this balance is out of whack, the easiest hack is to let nature do its work.

In a matter of days or even hours, I can go from being irritable to normalizing to feeling equanimous. The ponds, peaks, pathways, and parks get to work on soothing my soul. And while we may not be able to connect with others in the typical ways now, our tall friends in the forest always await with open arms.

We can heed the call to immerse ourselves in nature. We can use technology as an enabler and not a detractor. And we can give it straight to those in our lives because after all, no filter is required.

I saved a friend from drowning once. He’s still yet to thank me.

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