In an overpopulated city like Los Angeles, it can be easy to get swept up in a disillusioned outlook on, well, basically everything. Having been born and raised here, I haven’t been immune to that. In fact, I considered my cynicism to be a source a pride, something that allowed me to overlook disappointment and only be genuinely surprised when something really worthwhile happened. Sometimes, though, coming back to a fresh, unassuming state of mind can liberate more than hinder, and when it does, it’s a beautiful thing.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon in early March, my two dogs and I ventured a whole two miles south to Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, something I wouldn’t normally do considering Saturdays in any park on an unusually warm day like that one would bring out hordes of families, runners and children. My general dislike for people often leads me to avoid places like that, if only to save me from the chance of having to say hello to a stranger — I know, it’s bad. Considering that Bonelli Park is also home to Puddingstone Reservoir, an urban haven for trout fishing, jet skiing and even a spa resort, I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly when I brought myself there.
Yet, what I found while walking uphill was a distinct and odd lucidity that I thought I already owned in my unforgiving idea of reality. As I looked forward to the top of the hill, the dirt path turned right and down so it appeared as if I was walking into the azure sky, the reservoir accompanying me on the left. It’s funny how gazing into that blank destination allowed me to tune in to everything else. The light beating of dirt beneath my feet and the dogs’ paws, rhythmic and leisurely. Strands of hair flew in my face, annoying and pacifying at the same time. The gentle, chilly breeze grazed me with the smell of…nothing at all — and it was perfect. Turning my brain off — as well as my assumptions about my environment — left an emptiness that gave me a rather profound sense of peace. Even as I passed other park goers and groups of runners, I felt grounded, focused and tranquil, something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
It wasn’t even a connection with nature that had me feeling that way. It was, quite simply, finding myself in a new environment that demanded nothing of me. Then I realized that nature doesn’t assume anything. It doesn’t have deadlines, expectations, or judgments. Nature just is, regardless of who’s around and is content with that. Without all the chaotic noise and bustling of droning cars and urbanites usually found while dog-walking on a sidewalk, my defenses went down, and I realized it felt really good. Maintaining a hard shell might be acceptable and helpful in the city, but it’s not the only outlook to have — or even the healthiest one. Having a mental nothingness that resulted from not thinking anything about others or their perception of me created a weird harmony between me as I am, bitter and subjective, and me as I would like to be, open and at peace.
As melodramatic as it sounds, my clear mind seemed impervious to usual provocations throughout the week. It didn’t matter that others’ nasty behavior might be indicative of a nastier mindset. It didn’t matter that sitting in terrible traffic meant other drivers are looking at something other than the road. It didn’t even matter that others didn’t reply or even make eye contact with me when I said, “hi.” Being wholly in the moment — indeed, just being — provided a refreshing, renewed sense of self that my beaten spirit needed. It was more than just being with nature: it was the allure of openness inherent in nature that even my cynical tendencies couldn’t resist. Though I hope regular visits to Bonelli Park will recreate that experience and help to dismantle other stresses, like balancing two jobs and a seemingly immobile career change, just having achieved that sort of psychological peace at all — even if just temporarily — opened a new stream of thought. I hope it will help me defy the negativity that city life oozes and embrace moments and people just as they are, not what I assume they will be. I’m only a product of my environment, but it doesn’t have to be that way.