Inspiration from a small, mountain town…

Have you ever wanted to try living somewhere that’s entirely different than where you currently live? Recently, I’ve been thinking it would be fun to try something new for awhile. For the last 15 years, I’ve lived in big cities… New York, Boston and Los Angeles… I love the energy, diversity, and excitement of a bustling city. But of course there are drawbacks, like the traffic, crowds, pollution and overall grittiness that comes with city living. One of my best friends recently visited me from Montana and commented that as fun as it was to visit LA, she wasn’t sure she could get used to the noise. What noise, I wondered? Then I moved to Idaho. The constant hum of Los Angeles traffic was replaced by the whisper of the wind in the trees… and I thought, ah, that’s what she meant.

For the record, technically I didn’t move. But I did rent a place in a small mountain town for six weeks—much longer than my average vacation. By changing my surroundings for such a significant period of time and distancing myself from the mundane challenges that seem so important while mired in daily routines, I’ve gained a wonderful perspective. But most importantly, I have fallen in love with not just the fresh air, beautiful mountains, and expansive blue sky, but small town living. So much so, I’ve realized I’d really like to create a life where I can divide my time between a city and a small town. That may not happen right away though, so I’ve been thinking of different ways I can bring the experience of living in a mountain town back to the city and apply it to my everyday life.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

1) Slow down. The pace is what most people notice when moving between a big city and small town, and I’m no exception. I never feel rushed here. Unlike LA, where I always feel like there’s some time clock I’m rushing to beat. Even when I’m not in a hurry, inevitably people around me are, and their energy affects me—you know what I mean if you’ve ever waited in line next to someone who is clearly running late, tapping his fingers, sighing loudly, mumbling about how long it’s taking. Others’ anxiety can make you anxious. It took me almost a week of being here to let go of the need to rush—someone would be taking his or her time ahead of me in a line, slowing me down, and I would be annoyed. Then the other day, I noticed I no longer cared… take as long as you want picking out that pastry, sir, I’ll get to where I’m going when I get there, I was thinking. I was relaxed and calm and it felt great. I think the lack of traffic is part of it—it doesn’t take more than about ten minutes to get anywhere in town compared to the hour it could take to drive ten miles in LA, so even if I’m running a little behind I won’t be too late. But mostly, I think it’s the energy of the people around me. And when I tap into that energy and the more relaxed, slower pace of living, I’m calmer and happier. When I go back to LA, I want to be more aware of when I’m experiencing that rushed, restless feeling—whether it’s coming from me or those around me—and try to slow down, take a breath, and realize I’ll get where I’m going when I get there… rushing will just makes me anxious and makes the process of getting there less enjoyable.

2) Unplug. Surprisingly, I’ve had cell phone service this entire trip. During the 14 hour drive here I was probably only out of range about 30 minutes and even on hikes deep into the wilderness, my phone has been beeping and ringing away. Receiving texts and emails is so incongruous with being in the middle of nature without a person or building in sight—it’s almost jarring—the messages are so out of context with what I’m experiencing in the moment. So I’ve started muting my phone on hikes. After I return to town, I often forget to un-mute and find myself going hours without checking my phone. It’s so peaceful… I can read a paper or book without being interrupted. I can write without distractions. And my mind is able to focus on one thing at a time, rather than being pulled away from the moment every time my phone makes a noise. So I’m committing to turning off my phone for a few hours every day so I can focus on what’s in front of me.

3) Be more aware of messages in my environment. The other day I had to make the thirty-minute drive to the next town over to get my car fixed. While driving, I noticed I didn’t pass one billboard or advertisement and between towns I didn’t pass any stores either—just mountains, rivers, horses and a herd of goats. It was such a striking difference from Los Angeles where advertisements are screaming for your attention at every corner. Billboards loom over every street, storefronts have loud window displays, and some stores even hire someone to stand on the street twirling signs to divert drivers’ attention from the road to their store—I’m amazed there aren’t more car accidents. In LA, you are literally bombarded by ads telling you what to do, what you want, what you need, etc… Obviously I can’t remove the billboards or stores from LA, but I can be more aware of the messages I’m receiving every day. I’m not surprised that I haven’t once thought of shopping since living here, while in LA I’m always wondering if I need that new gadget or new item of clothing. If my current mountain environment is sending me any message, it’s to get outside and take a hike or go for a bike ride. Although I may not be able to fully tune out the ads surrounding me in the city, I am committing to being more conscious and wary of their influence.

4) Talk to strangers. I consider myself friendly and occasionally chit chat with strangers in LA. But usually it’s brief and there’s no real intention to connect behind it—just being polite. Often it’s because I’m simply focused on where I’m going or what I’m doing next. And I suppose part of it, is that in a city with millions of people, I don’t really think I’ll see the person again. But here, in a town of less than four thousand, no one feels like a stranger. There’s a sense that just by living here everyone’s connected to one another—everyone’s welfare is tied up together. And I could certainly see my grocer while also out on a hike or someone from my yoga class at dinner that night. There’s more of a feeling of community and that we’re all in it together. Rather than moving through the crowds in my own little bubble, I’m focused on connecting with people, if even only briefly. Once, in LA, I realized I had made an entire transaction in a store without looking in the eyes of the person helping me as I was fussing with my wallet or looking at my phone. I was having a conversation with someone, and yet I wasn’t taking him in at all. It was rude, and from then on I tried to be more focused. Being here has reminded me just how important it is to have a sense of community—the “all in it together” feeling. I lived in New York City for many years and was there on 9/11. I believe part of the reason the days after were such a powerful time for New Yorkers is because people came together in a way they hadn’t before—overnight it became a tight-knit community of people supporting each other. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to help us become aware of our connection to one another. When I go back to LA, I’m committing to being more aware of being part of a community and developing a deeper connection to more of the people I come into contact with everyday. And no, I don’t plan on talking someone’s ear off in line at the grocery store, but I do plan to be in the moment with, and more focused on, the people I’m interacting with.

5) Connect to nature. For me, being surrounded by the beauty of nature is healing and peaceful and somehow puts everything else in perspective. Problems melt away and my appreciation of life expands. So this one is simple, I am committing to making more time to be in nature. Luckily, in LA this isn’t hard as there are beautiful hikes and beaches all within a short drive. But I am also committing to traveling more. As I sit in my rented home with all the windows open, the only noise I hear is the wind rustling through the trees. This kind of serene environment isn’t easily found in the city, so I plan to take more trips—even if just short weekend adventures to all the beautiful places just outside LA.

6) Break Routines. The most important thing I’ve learned is how helpful it is to mix things up. Perhaps you’d like to travel to another country (which was my original plan, but my elderly dog is keeping me put in the States) or if you live in a small town, perhaps you want to take a trip and explore the benefits of city living. Of course, traveling isn’t always an option and mixing things up doesn’t have to mean such a big change—you can also try taking a new route to work, going to a new restaurant, listening to a different radio station or no radio at all while driving, or try turning off your cell phone if it’s always on… Whatever it is or however you can, I think breaking your everyday routine is essential—it’s only then that we can get the distance we need to see what is and isn’t working in our lives. Trying things another way or living differently for a time gives us perspective and allows us to consider a new approach to a situation or even life in general. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this trip—since I’ve been away I’ve realized I’m a different person than I was when I first moved to LA seven years ago and I may need to make some changes to my lifestyle that are more in alignment with who I am now… My values and priorities have changed, and although I was slowly coming to that awareness over the past year, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to move somewhere else (albeit for just a weeks) and broke my routine, that I realized just how true that was. So I am committing to breaking my routines every few months and trying something new, just to see what I discover…

7) Look around and appreciate the moment. One day I was taking a hike and looking at the path a few feet ahead of me so I wouldn’t trip on any rocks or branches, and I realized I hadn’t looked up in at least fifteen minutes. I was so focused on where I was going that I wasn’t enjoying the journey—but of course a hike is all about the journey. I stopped and looked around, I was still among the trees so I wasn’t in a particularly good place to get the most scenic view, but I ended up taking one my favorite photos and appreciating the unbelievably fresh, earthy smell of the forest. When I’m in the city, I find I’m always focused on getting to where I’m going—whether it be a place or reaching some goal I’ve set—but there’s always something to be found during the journey. I am committing to stopping, looking around more often, and appreciating the moment—even if the moment is just a brief stop on the way to somewhere else.

Alison Forbes
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