By Ethan Maurice | December 31st, 2018
This year was a year of discovery and evolution for me.
From life lived from a Honda Element to five months in the mountains just outside Yellowstone National Park to discovering the inner half of the human experience in a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat, the lens through which I view the world was reshaped more in the past year than any year since a stroke quaked the core of my being at sixteen.
Perhaps the most important lesson from all this change was that we will continue to be shaped and reshaped as long as we remain open to the world. An unchanging worldview is not a sign that we've got it all right, but that we lack exposure to new experiences or are blind to what those experiences teach.
The things that shape us are often the things that matter most. In sharing what altered my being this year, it's my hope that a thing or two on this list will resonate with you in a similarly significant way.
Here's a list of the chronological sort of what shaped me in 2018 and why it did:
1. Life in a Honda Element.
I spent five months of 2018 living out of the Honda Element home on wheels I built at the end of 2017. In January, I set out with what I believe to be the perfect setup: a highly mobile, all-wheel-drive, place to sleep that would allow me to live a remarkably inexpensive life of writing and exploration anywhere the road might take me. And life in my Element really did check all those boxes. However, I also learned that the ability to stand up in one's living space, hang out somewhere not in public, and a bathroom larger than a one liter Gatorade bottle are wonderful things. The loneliness of my unaccompanied ramblings eroded my experience at times as well.
A wondrous day wandering, reading, and writing among Redwoods might be followed up with a long, dark night alone in my Element. From this, I gained an appreciation for basic comforts, for community, and for a more traditional existence. Yet, I also had some of the most philosophically and personally profound moments of my life among the wildest places in the Western United States. I’m glad to have experienced full-time “van life,” and equally glad to have a warm room to head back to tonight.
2. Love and heartbreak.
As became quite public in my monthly letters in early 2018, I fell deeply in love with another human being and it came to a tragic sort of end in February. Coupled with the isolation of living out of my Element in lands of strangers, I was broken, emotional, and way too alone. Rather than sticking to the plan of exploring the southern half of the United States, I turned around at the New Mexico-Texas Border to return to my roots in Phoenix—to friends and family and community for two months to heal. In April, light began to break through the dark cloud surrounding my soul and I headed for the west coast rediscovering myself on a month-long road trip from Mexican to Canadian boarder.
The best of that relationship restructured my highest values. I was unaware the connection between two beings could reach such depth, could be so overwhelmingly powerful and nourishing. In the past, I had always looked to myself and my own endeavors as my highest callings, but now understand that we're social beings and the immeasurable love that can be shared between us is one of life's greatest gifts.
3. Static and Dynamic Quality.
A few books significantly altered my take on reality in 2018, but the idea that fascinated me most this year was from the little-known sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance entitled Lila. While Lila's main purpose was to propose an entirely different view of reality than our subject/object view, what most fascinated me was the way the author, Robert Pirsig, saw the crest of the wave of culture: the relationship between something he termed “Static and Dynamic Quality.”
I finally found language for one of my greatest fascinations: the relationship between the way we do things (static quality) and the ever-evolving best way to do things (dynamic quality). I'm endlessly curious about the gap between these two points, how it's traversed (the hero's journey), and how to build systems with the correct balance power between these two states. I plan to do lots of reading and thinking on this subject in 2019.
4. My third and final season running the Range Rider's Lodge.
From May to October, I was manager and bartender of a big old log-cabin lodge, a used-to-be brothel where Hemingway once drank on Saturday nights in the mountains a mile east of Yellowstone National Park. The ways in which three seasons of running “the Rider” have shaped me are innumerable. Its monolithic mountains hold memory of the most out there, epic, and free moments of my life. Its bar brought me in constant contact with the widest variety of walks of life. Its creekside sauna, the site of many profound realizations brought on by heating oneself to the brink, swimming in a creek of snowmelt, and lying under the unobstructed Milky Way Galaxy as a plum of steam from one’s body rises off into the stars. Three summer seasons in this wild place changed rewrote what “a good life” means to me, in addition to financing the three years of my travels and writings.
Pro Tip: If you're interested in this sort of seasonal lifestyle, working “cool jobs in cool places,” I stumbled into this gig through coolworks.com.
5. Hosting WONDER WANDER 2018.
In late September, I hosted a five-day gathering of fifteen creative and adventurous human beings at the Range Rider's Lodge. As the name suggests, we met to wonder and wander together in a communal, collaborative sort of environment sharing “peak” experiences and wildly varying perspectives with each other. This was such growth for me—a further blossoming of belief in my ability to lead. Additionally, it was an affirming experience of the profound connection found in the community my solo travels have often lacked the past four years.
Here's video homage of our experience. Also, I aim to host another WONDER WANDER gathering in 2019! If you're interested, you can sign up to be notified in the form below the video.
6. Ten days living as a monk at a Vipassana meditation retreat.
By far the most perspective-altering experience of my 2018 was one hundred hours of Vipassana meditation over ten days at a Buddhist meditation center in Texas this October. The best way I can think to describe this is with the analogy of a tree. I went twenty-six years only experiencing the trunk, branches, and leaves. There are also roots, down within the ground of our being, that I was completely oblivious of and they’re arguably even more important than the branches and leaves of the human experience. My perspective of everything was undercut by this uncovering and exploration of the foundation of my experience. I won’t endeavor to explain it all here. However, if you're interested, I wrote a detailed piece on my inner-experience and you can also sign up to experience Vipassana yourself here.
7. Protesting for A Green New Deal in Washington D.C.
On December 10th, I joined over 1,100 others with the Sunrise Movement in flooding the offices of Congress to demand support for a select committee on a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal didn't exist in the collective imagination of America prior to this November, but has since become a central pillar of political conversation online and among Democrats. The latest released U.N. IPCC Report says we have 12 years to curb global emissions by 45% to stay under a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit rise avoiding major consequences such as the extinction of coral reefs, major coastal flooding, and estimated financial loses of $54 trillion.
Participating in this act of desperation for the future of all Earthlings was the most moving act of citizenry I have ever experienced. We’re all so distracted by sports, social media, and Trump's latest antics—I found something utterly fulfilling in piercing the veil of distraction and taking action in a way that actually matters. I also can't help but think a little civil disobedience and frank communication with the financially led steering committee of our species is the answer to the feeling of helplessness that pervades our culture here in the United States. I urge you to join me in acts taking your own acts of citizenry in 2019, something our lives and political systems are desperately missing.
My Favorite Things of 2018:
Favorite Book: Sapiens
Favorite Album: Go Farther in Lightness
Favorite Movie: Ex Machina
"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." - Joseph Campbell
Favorite Thing: The electric kettle.
*I believe stuff often distracts more than enhances our lives. However, while living in one place, the ease of the electric kettle means I drink at least three or four cups of tea every day and it’s absolutely wonderful.
There you have it: what shaped me in 2018.
What shaped you this year? Do drop me a note if something you encountered particularly affect your being in a major, positive sort of way.
Your friend in the evolution,