Culture Shock

It’s strange to experience culture shock without leaving the US. Yet going from Montana to the Bronx left me reeling. I felt like a fish plucked from a lake and dropped into Niagara falls.

When I went to Montana I was in pursuit of something, but I was also running away. I was running from the rat race and consumerism. At heart I was running from concerns about image.

On a plane today my neighbor told me how concerned she was about cartoons these days. Sure thing I thought: violence, materialism, shallow curiosity, stunted attention spans… plenty to be disturbed by. Nope, she was worried about the farting and burping.

Not much of a concern in the woods. In that way Montana’s got it right. Not that I’m advocating some gassy solution to our problems; I’m talking about stepping far enough away from culture to see that we’ve got bigger issues than courtesy.

Yet after three summers stepping away in the Northern Rockies I found myself missing parts of culture: things like ingenuity, bringing ideas into being and growth.

For a while I thought I was suffering from a bad case of greener grasses. But now I’ve come to understand this tension differently. Jung talks about growth coming from harmony between our conscious and unconscious mind.

The woods feel like the unconscious: They are silent, mysterious and beyond me. They are both indifferent and caring. They are ancient and full of things that stir my core, things like beauty, power and simplicity.

The city feels like the conscious mind. It is busy, scattered and loves shiny things. Under the influence of the city I cut my hair and my clothes are cleaner. But I also notice that I want to define my interests, challenge my ideas and create.

I like judging things so it’s hard for me to say that the point isn’t to decide which is right. The point is balance and dialogue between the two.

I’ve come to believe that this analogy exists because we create culture in our image. This is scary because that means the litany of environmental and social issues reflect our personal insanity. But it is also empowering because the solution is within our reach.

I’m not talking about taking time to go camping, although I do love that. If this analogy holds then the most revolutionary thing we can do is begin exploring the wilderness of our minds. I have no doubt that those expeditions would yield all the cultural change we hope for.

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