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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.

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