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Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D.
Jeff Skolnick M.D., P.h.D.

Life—the Great Escape

Are you running from or to life?

Stressed Woman

Do you need to do something to unwind and relax, to shake off the day or cope with stress? Here’s the question: Are these things becoming unhealthy, obsessive or out of balance? If they are, you are eligible to join a highly inclusive club. It’s called Club Humanity.

If you’re caught up doing things to distress or cope or unwind, things that are not serving you, you are likely running from life. So, choose your poison. Whether you move a lot (the “geographic cure”), drink or use drugs; can’t wait to turn on the TV, watch a movie or open your book; eat to feel good, really need to have sex, live for the next vacation, or go from relationship to relationship like Tarzan goes from vine to vine—you may be already be caught up in a vortex of escapism.

Again, it is a rare person who is not trying to escape. Look at the obesity epidemic in children and adults. People eat to feel good. And they find it hard to stop. Again, it’s universal.

Whether it’s an elderly black woman in Uganda, a white teen in the US or a Japanese man in Tokyo, we all try to escape life. Why? Because life is really hard. Because we are vulnerable, sensitive beings who upset each other. Because we hurt ourselves with self-limiting, self-critical beliefs. Because life will never be as good as we can imagine. Because we are just self-aware enough to know that we’ve been given a magnificent miracle called existence, which is going to go away some day.

Even when things are great, some people just can’t enjoy it. They need to add a beer or wish it was better or worry it won’t last.

Now, I’m not trying to be radical here. Some amount of escapism is probably fine. The problem is, for the vast majority of us, escapism becomes a trap. It’s a vicious cycle that propels us dizzyingly through life more stressed, scared and unhappy than we would have been if we just turned and faced what we were running from.

What am I talking about when I say, “turn and face what we are running from”? It amounts to: “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” (Thoreau). Live in the moment. Be here, now. (Ram Das) “Radical Acceptance.” (Tara Brach). “The Power of Now” (Eckhart Tolle). Carpe diem.

These sayings hint at the opposite of escapism: bathing. Bathing in now. Saturating ourselves in our experience. Immersing ourselves in our senses, thoughts and feelings. So, why do most people get caught up in whirlpools of escapism rather than bathing in their experience of life? In other words, why don’t we just “be here now”?

Well, who wants to bathe in sadness? Who wants to immerse themselves in boredom? Who would want to purposefully feel anything negative? Because that is what “being here now” means. Acceptance means embracing everything just the way it is. So, here’s a key question: Why would we want to bathe when we can escape?

There are many reasons. One, for example, is that escapism only works for so long. The underlying problem you’re trying to escape from usually gets worse. So, escaping doesn’t usually solve problems.

More importantly, bathing in now shows us a higher part of ourselves that most people aren’t acquainted with. Called many things, like the “inner you,” a “higher self,” your “true nature,” your soul (in a nonreligious sense), it lies very deep within your experience. When touched you feel insanely alive and profoundly grateful for your existence. A source of exhilaration, energy and deep happiness—it’s there no matter what is happening around you or within your emotions. Here’s the catch: Touching this deeper core requires that you completely accept the moment the way it is. You can’t get in there any other way.

So, while most people around the world desperately seek to escape from the drudgeries and hardship of life—creating mega empires in food, alcohol and entertainment industries—some have discovered how to bathe in the moment. More and more people are figuring out how to luxuriate in their experience, even when it is harsh. So can you.

How do you do it? It’s a skill. A skill that can be broken down into sub-skills. There are lots of ways to learn parts of it, just a few ways to learn all of it and lots of people who teach it. Start though by asking yourself: am I running to or from life?

Well, I’ve gotta go. I’ve had hard day and I’m going to fix some popcorn, get a beer and watch a movie.

For more information on Dr. Skolnick, the SatoriWest Method or SatoriWest LifeClubs, go to

About the Author
Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D.

Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Washington.

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