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escapeConventional wisdom tells us that we can’t escape the reality of who we are by changing the location of our physical environment.

According to this logic, our personality is primarily an internal phenomenon consisting of thoughts, feelings, and intentions that have their nature independently of outside conditions.

Any effects that our environments have on us are secondary in relation to the inner attitudes we voluntarily cultivate.

In the song, Can’t Run From Yourself, Tanya Tucker aptly summarizes this perspective:

“You can run for cover. You can run for help. You can run to your lover, but you can’t ever run from yourself. Because there you are. No matter how far you go. You can run to Alaska. Run to L.A. Run home to mama, but you can’t ever run from yourself.” 

I agree with this view. Yet, it fails to tell the whole story.

For most of my life, I’ve touted the mantra “wherever you go, you’ll still be you” as if that were the final word on the subject of making environmental changes.

That was before discovering the works of thinkers like Christopher Alexander, Tarthang Tulku, and Arne Naess.

These scholars, along with many others, have challenged me to carefully reconsider my narrowly defined and static conception of personal identity.

The “you” that you think you are, and the “I” that I think I am, is significantly shaped by the architectural structures we inhabit,  the topographical qualities of the landscapes we navigate,  the manner in which we  see and sense surrounding space, the social networks in which we consciously and unconsciously participate, the frequency with which we are exposed to various elements within nature,  and a host of other factors that extend beyond the range of our colloquial notions of “personality.”

That is, we are not separate, discrete, isolated individuals. We are communal beings who exists as part of a vast ecological network.

Because we are entangled with everything else, we not only have the power to change our world, but the world also has the power to change us.

By making ourselves available to new places, we awaken and activate interior spaces that make it easier for us to create profound changes in our mental and emotional state.

We cannot escape who we are, but we can escape the rigid and restrictive patterns of thinking that are often reinforced by certain environments.

New settings can help facilitate new perceptions.

Wherever you go, you’ll still be you. However, a change in scenery might be an essential ingredient in helping you think clearly about the person you intend to become.

The mere fact that you’re unable to run from yourself does not mean you should uncritically insist on staying in the same place.

If you need to escape, escape. But don’t escape from reality. Escape from the corrupting influences that prevent you from honestly and healthily engaging reality.

This Post Has 29 Comments
  1. Wow, timely as it relates to my life right now. In addition, I’ve experienced this first hand. I grew up on the east coast on an island lush with vegetation, rain, humidity, and a high population density. For the past twenty years I’ve resided in a dry environment where people are few and the wind blows across the open plain. It does, to an extent, change you.

      1. I admit to a fondness for the lush and green, but I suffered health problems related to that climate all the years I lived there. Relocating here wasn’t a reaction to those health problems, but instead the improved health surfaced as an unexpected fringe benefit. Over the years I’ve gained an increased appreciation for the land around me where the exposed earth shares the geology beneath. At the same time, as I eluded to in my original comment, your post was timely in the sense that there’s a good chance I’ll relocate next year to a place that’s a bit more green and a little less harsh than where I am. Over the past several years I’ve taken steps to restart my life and the move represents the culmination of those efforts.

        1. I think that’s amazing and, one might say, divinely providential, in a way, for you to move to a place that would have such a positive impact on your health. I’m developing an appreciation for, and interest in, geology, ecology, and a host of other similar subjects myself. Our planet is truly a fascinating place. I’m sending you good thoughts as you prep for this next stage wherever it takes you. Whatever you do, escape into the fullness of you 🙂 Cheers!

              1. Post of July 31/2013: ‘Disagreement as a philosophical ritual.’

                “Wow you almost had me there. Hegelian Dialectic – Great tool for social engineering if you are the agenda setter.”

                T.K. Coleman:
                “What do you mean, Ray?”

                Wasn’t sure if Ray was answering your post or mine. Don’t believe I saw a
                response to this. Am curious.

                Read the L.A. Times article on Kashawn Campbell. Love those human interest
                stories. Quite a young man. And the difference that people can make in one’s
                life. His mother, Lillie, and his elderly neighbor/babysitter, Sylvia. Only takes
                one or two when you’re young. Been my experience that when people have
                to try harder, they TRY HARDER. Often overtaking those ‘gifted’ who keep
                waiting for something else….inspiration? Or as Edison so aptly put it: “Genius
                is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

                Read the Christopher Alexander and Tarthang Tulku links. Architecture and
                TSK seem to have a strong affinity.

                Arne Naess. Deep Ecology. Especially with Rachel Carson as a source. Read
                her book “Silent Spring” years ago and realized it was ladened with serious
                misconceptions then.

                Here’s a link you might find provocative.:


                Thought-provoking, as usual, T.K.

                1. First of all, I love Jeffrey Tucker. He’s the man. I’ve been listening to a lot of his lectures & interviews on youtube as of late. Such a great teacher. I look forward to reading/watching anything by him. I haven’t read his article on Rachel Carson yet, but I will surely check it out soon and let you know my thoughts. With respect to deep ecology (which I am very very new to), I should probably make the following caveat: From the little I have seen, so far, I’m not so sure if I can vibe with what seems to be the political leanings of leading scholars in this area. But I’ll need to study further to know for sure. The part I’m drawn to the most right now is the eco-psychology aspect (ie. concepts of personal identity that take one’s environment into account). Much for me to explore and consider here.

                  Regarding Christopher Alexander, his books are next on my list. I plan on focusing deeply on all his works as my project for next year. My current goal is to dig my way through all the books in Tarthang Tulku’s TSK series. From both an analytic philosophy and mystical perspective, there is just so much deliciousness in his writings at this point. A lot of it is over my head, but I’m staying with it and gradually gaining ground. It’s a real mind trip.

                  Kashawn Campbell is quite a guy, right? I’m thinking about reaching out to him for a podcast interview. I love his story and I think it’s worth spreading.

                  Been my experience that when people have
                  to try harder, they TRY HARDER. Often overtaking those ‘gifted’ who keep
                  waiting for something else….inspiration? Or as Edison so aptly put it: “Genius
                  is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

                  This is an interesting observation. I just recently listened to a Derek Sivers clip and he talked about an experiment in which students of equal I.Q. were divided into two groups and asked to perform similar tasks. The results were, as expected, similar. The first group was praised for how hard they worked. The second group was praised for how smart they were. The next task? The first group radically outperformed the second group. The kids who saw their results as being the outcome of hard work were far more successful than the kids who saw their results as being the outcome of “who they were” or “what they had.” Lots of interesting stuff.

                  1. Really good idea to reach out to Kashawn Campbell for a podcast
                    interview. Would love to hear the interaction between you both.

                    Interesting experiment about the “hard workers vs. the smart
                    students of equal I.Q.” Labelling children as either stupid or smart
                    can be a burden. “Labelling is disabling” as Dr. Haim Ginott wrote in
                    his famous book “Between Parent and Child.” Better to help people
                    discover and develop their own unique strengths. I’ll have to check
                    out Derek Sivers.

                    Meant to thank you for the link on the interview with Philip K. Dick.
                    Intriguing, given that he is bi-polar, and functioned in spite of it. My
                    daughter-in-law is also bi-polar and I’m greatly admiring of how well
                    she functions. She found her way to “conquer” it. She is a good
                    person, a good wife, a good mother. Very honest and perceptive.
                    So happy that she and my son still love one another 25 years into
                    their marriage. Amazing what people can overcome!

                    It’s their stories.

                    Out of the night that covers me,
                    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
                    I thank whatever gods may be
                    For my unconquerable soul.

                    In the fell clutch of circumstance
                    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
                    Under the bludgeonings of chance
                    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

                    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
                    Looms but the horror of the shade,
                    And yet the menace of the years
                    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

                    It matters not how strait the gate,
                    How charged with punishments the scroll,
                    I am the master of my fate:
                    I am the captain of my soul.

                    (Poem by William Ernest Henley 1849-1903)
                    At the age of 12, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone.
                    A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians
                    announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate
                    directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 17.
                    Inspired him to write this poem. Despite his disability, he survived
                    with one foot intact and led an active life until his death
                    at the age of 53.

                    To all that shimmers and glows.

  2. Each interaction changes both ourselves and the “other”, and in this fashion we die and are reborn each moment. While a geographic shift can accelerate our change, we frequently seek out the familiar and thereby limit our growth and our experiencing of life.

    1. Well said, Brent. Life is a constantly evolving mutual exchange of transformative energy between all things (living and so-called non-living). It’s our choice to live in harmony with that energy or not. Cheers to choosing the possible.

  3. “You can check out any time, but you can never leave.” (The Eagles)

    Agree so much with your clarification of escape.:

    “If you need to escape, escape. But don’t escape from reality. Escape from the corrupting influences that prevent you from honestly and healthily engaging reality.”

    Have any of your been accused of reading being an “escape?” I used to hear
    this (a lot more) when I was younger (esp. some family members.) Had to think
    about an appropriate answer then.

    Read this some years ago:

    “If reading is an escape, then medicine is an escape from disease, science is an
    escape from the primordial jungle and liberty is an escape from slavery.”

    Perhaps what we are looking for some times is a “Martian” perspective. The
    chance to revisit a familiar connection (that may be overly enmeshed or too
    entangled) from a new viewpoint, mentally and/or physically to gain more
    objectivity and a fresh vision.

    “By making ourselves available to new places, we awaken and activate interior spaces that make it easier for us to create profound changes in our mental and emotional state.”

    We may get lost in one of the streets of the city we live in, but the pilot above
    can guide us out.

    1. WOW! That quote about “If reading is an escape…” is absolutely phenomenal. I have to share that. Heck, I need to memorize that and say it to myself a hundred times. It feels good to have words like that in my soul…know what I mean?

      I like this “Martian Perspective” concept. You’re making want to go read some Philip K. Dick.

      Cheers to “escaping” into the fullness of life.

      1. Oh yes, Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
        Blade Runner! You bet.

        Azimov, Clarke, Heinlein et al. Good stuff!

        2001: A Space Odyssey. As you’ve mentioned in a previous post,
        Sci-Fi morphing into science.

        How about Frederic Brown? Believe he wrote the shortest Sci-Fi
        story ever written: “The last man on earth sat alone in a room…..
        and a knock came to the door.” (Nightmares and Geezenstacks)

        You’ve got quite the posts going! Gets all our neurons firing.

    1. Are you referring to the “Martian” image?

      If so there are 2 books by Dr. Eric Berne entitled “Games People Play” and “What
      Do You Say After You Say Hello?” To help understand what really goes on during our most basic social interactions. And the Martian technique as an extremely
      beneficial tool to accomplish this.

      How to expose the secret ploys and subconscious maneuvers that (could) rule
      our lives and our relationships. (Berne used the term unconscious which all
      therapists used then, but I substitute subconscious.

      Have you ever struggled with a (math) problem and the solution frustratingly eludes you? Then you walk away from it for a while and when you return to it, the answer jumps out. Your subconscious was still working on it. Think if you could give your subconscious a “standing order” to help you solve other problems, whether
      personal or didactic, combined with using the Martian perspective.

      His basic premise: After we say “Hello” the games begin. And the games arise
      from Scripts we live. Which dramatically affect our day-to-day lives.

      He’s a psychologist who first explained that we start to develop Scripts in our
      minds from the earliest age. That some scripts are soft (living a life of “quiet
      desperation”) and some scripts are hard (addiction, toxic relationships, suicide.)
      that the games come from these scripts; and how to live script free.

      I found him very readable and almost poetic in his writings. And sometimes very
      poignant. He doesn’t think it has to take years to become healthy. I didn’t agree with all of his conclusions, but found him to be very thought provoking and very

      Anyway, I don’t know if I’ve gone on a tangent here and answered the correct
      question. Or even if it was addressed to me.

      If so, I hope above helped. (Haven’t figured out why some of my comments are
      chopping out or how to fix it. Not that computer literate.)

      Have enjoyed many of your comments on these posts.

      1. thanks Alana, actually, I meant the image of the young woman jumping from the cage into space with the moon in the top right-hand corner which appears at the top of the article 🙂 but, I’m also grateful for the thoughts and information you provided 🙂

    2. Shucks. I have no idea. I tried to find it online, but couldn’t. I’m a huge fan of surreal art and am part of a forum of fellow lovers of surrealism, so that’s where I found it. I’ll see if anybody knows the original source. If I find out, I’ll let you know. I love it, though, It gave me chills when I first saw it. Cheers 🙂

      1. I tried to find it too, also without success. It evokes so many interesting thoughts for me, and of course I love that it’s a woman who is the jumper… I intend to write a post based on the image – one day lol!

  4. Very true. I’ve found that changing the people around you and your environment does actually give you the opportunity to assess who you really are. Other people influence you to a great degree and being a calm, rational person is difficult when you live with irrational people or in an irrational community.

    1. Well said, Ray. It’s so easy to uncritically affirm the “you are who you are” philosophy that we forget the other side of that coin. We can, indeed, open the door to new discoveries within ourselves via the making of social/environmental changes.

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