Despite its small size, Portland packs a punch in myriad ways as a hub for foodies, coffee aficionados, and artists. Fans of IFC's Portlandia likely remember the show spoofing the city's eclectic, funky, and "keep the city weird" ethos. Which goes to say, Portland attracts a wide variety of people longing to escape traditionalism and rigidity. By most people's standards, the city's culture oozes with eccentricity and a unique charm. Compared to West Coast counterparts Seattle and San Francisco, Portland seems to be less interested in corporate success and more into pleasure and self-gratification. There's a seemingly endless list of epicurean extravagance. And in moderation, this extravagance can be enjoyed and appreciated. Portland's culinary scene is bar none, attracting many of the most innovative chefs and restaurateurs. Here's how a recent Eater article put it: "Portland’s commitment to a daring, perfectionist hedonism is still the city’s strongest culinary unifier." But for all the opportunities that Portland offers to supercharge our dopamine receptors, sometimes it only serves to distract us from the terrifying experience the pandemic exposed. Simply being alone with our own thoughts. Furthermore, prior to the pandemic Portland wasn’t often associated with burnout. But as opportunities for pleasure became more limited being cooped up at home, we opted for the distraction of work. A recent Portland Business Journal survey now reports 59% of Portland residents are experiencing burnout. So where do we turn? What do we do?



Part of the reason we Portlanders feel so overwhelmed is because the constant pursuit of pleasure and 24/7 stimulation is simply unnatural to how humans are wired. In her 2021 New York Times bestseller Dopamine Nation, Dr. Anna Lembke of Stanford University explains: “We’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance: drugs, food, news gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting… the increased numbers, variety and potency of highly rewarding stimuli today is staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation. If you haven’t met your drug of choice yet, it’s coming soon to a website near you.” Moreover, a case could be made that the environment and culture we are living in is actually making us incapable of being alone with our thoughts. So much is happening around us everyday that goes unprocessed. We automatically accept the (sometimes) toxic narratives of the city and social media as truth, without thinking twice. Dr. Lembke later explains, “our brains are not evolved for this world of plenty… we now need more reward to feel pleasure, and less injury to feel pain… the dendrites, the branches off the neuron, become longer and more numerous in response to high-dopamine rewards. This process is called experience-dependent plasticity.” Eventually, the prospect of simply sitting in silence becomes even more daunting. But we humans need moments of contemplation. And if you haven’t noticed by now, the natural habitat to do so was woven into the fabric of existence. In 2020, Yale reported on a massive study of 20,000 people, remarking: “A team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. Two hours was a hard boundary: The study, published last June, showed there were no benefits for people who didn’t meet that threshold.” Portlanders may bemoan the persistent drizzle and gloom in the colder months, but the city's high rainfall lends itself to lush, green areas dotted throughout. Portland is nothing short of a majestic nature spot. The American Psychological Association adds: “Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits.” In the end, perhaps the most telling statement from Yale was that, “the studies “point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.”


Before the rise of both the industrial revolution and the digital age, being immersed in this type of environment was more of a given for our ancestors. In fact, the original followers of Jesus proposed the magnificent beauty of nature was one of the indicators of God’s existence. Paul, writer of Romans, proposes: “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Observing the foundations of the natural world and contemplating the creative genius behind it provokes a natural wonder within us. It’s in these types of environments that our smallness suddenly gets put into perspective. We no longer need to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. Which goes to say, there is something to be discovered when we are immersed in nature, both about ourselves and the reality of the world we live in. Perhaps no one in human history understood this better than Jesus. The gospels report that “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Upon further investigation, we discover a pattern of him retreating into the mountains to prepare for major tasks, major decisions, to recharge, to work through grief and to process distress. He modeled what would later be known as silence and solitude. Now it’s important to make a distinction between isolation and solitude, because they are quite literally opposites. One psychologist explained it this way: “Solitude is usually actively sought after and is a personal choice that comes from an inner yearning. Isolation is usually actively avoided and is forced from the outside. Solitude allows for expansion and freedom of thought, providing the chance to soar above the ordinary in order to come back to the world refreshed and reinvigorated. Isolation contracts the walls and makes a prison, draining the will and leaving you exhausted.” As we learn from Jesus, solitude is an intentional getaway, designed for a greater purpose. Retreating into nature isn’t simply about being around some trees or becoming more zen, as great as those things are. For Jesus, it represented a meeting place with God. A place to be refreshed before the transcendent Creator, who he referred to affectionately as Abba. And during this refreshment, as we process our feelings and thoughts, we acquire the power we need to go back out into the world and love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. This is what solitude produces, highlighting just one of the reasons why the way of Jesus is so compelling and how it changed the course of human history.


At this point, we must acknowledge the obvious. Since Portland is known for nature, it would appear to be plush with opportunities to get away. So what’s the problem? We would propose that when it comes to contemplation, all environments are not created equal. It matters where you retreat to and what you are doing in your time there. We need distraction-free spaces for daily solitude. Given this, our team went on a search for contemplative green spaces in (or just outside of) the city. Locations that are lightly trafficked and off-the-beaten path, providing an oasis from city life. What we found left us in awe and filled with wonder. A walk through Forest Park transports you into a Narnia-esque landscape filled with quiet streams, moss-covered castles, and towering maple trees. A hike up the Council Crest Park trail rewards you with a 180 degree lookout point with views of nearby mountains like Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson. Accordingly, we’ve labeled these places getaways. Most of these spots are located within Portland, at most a 15-20 minute drive away. If you don't have a car, you can Uber or use a daily car rental like Car2Go or Zipcar.


So before we get to the good stuff and show you each space, let’s talk through expectations. If you’re anything like us, your starting point to silence and solitude is probably with a mind polluted by distraction. Which goes to say, as you start engaging these contemplative places, don’t be surprised if peace doesn’t come immediately. This takes time. And that shouldn’t be the near-term goal anyway, rather the focus should be on developing rhythms. Make it a daily habit to go off-the-beaten path. Identify what works best for your schedule, whether that be mornings, lunchtime or after work, in addition to the weekends. And be intentional about your time there. If you’ve been a park-goer in the past, you know first hand how easy it is to enter a place like Forest Park or Hoyt Arboretum without any sort of contemplative intentionality.  For instance, Portland's parks are some of the best for trail runners, avid bikers, and fitness enthusiasts. Men's Health once named Portland as "the most active city in the country." Pacific Northwesterners in general tend to be super active, making it hard to resist a day full of exploration and discovery.  While all those things can be fun in their own regard, that’s not the intention here. The purpose is to get away, to make it a habit of being present with our own thoughts and to let natural wonder emerge. Like Jesus, consider it to be a safe space to process before a God who loves you. A creator who not only stitched together the foundations of the natural world, but who also is affectionately referred to as Abba. It’s in these places of refreshment and encounter, as we mentioned before, that we acquire the strength we need to go back out into the world and love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. Here are some practical tips to get started:

1) Pick a time & place

As you browse through our list of getaways, consider where you will regularly frequent and when you will do that. Is it before work in the morning? Is it midday if your schedule is flexible? Which getaway is most accessible to you?

2) Start small

Success is not defined by anything other than simply showing up. You’ve already hit the goal if you make the effort to get away regularly. Additionally, habits are built by starting small. Rather than saying we’re going to get away for 90 minutes every morning, try retreating for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times a week. If you get in a rhythm doing that, maybe increase that to an hour for 2-3 times a week. And so forth.

3) Put your phone on silent

This probably goes without saying, but try putting your phone on silent and resisting the urge to pull it out. Try to be present in the moment.

4) Consider your wiring

While many of the getaways we are about to recommend are stationery spots, if you like to be active, consider engaging your body by going on a walk in the mornings through these parts of nature.

5) Bring a blanket

Conversely, many of the places we feature below are great spots to sit, relax and/or lay down. Consider buying a blanket and using it to rest as you enter a place of contemplation.

6) Bring a journal

In an active effort to fight against stuffing away your thoughts, start actively processing them through this form of feeling prayer. Become aware of how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Name the emotions coming up - envy, greed, sadness, grief, etc. Like Jesus, our emotions are a place to meet with God.

7) Contemplate scripture

The ancient practice of Lectio Divina, involves picking a small passage to meditate on. Even if you haven’t read scripture in ages, this could simply mean a Psalm or something that Jesus said in the gospels. For example, if a scripture comes up about humility or loving your neighbor, pray for a greater understanding of how to model that in your life. See what comes to your mind. You can pick up a copy of the new Passion Translation here.

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude is hard for us. Sometimes it feels like we suffer from chronic short-term memory loss, only able to see what we don't have or how our circumstances are less than ideal. And while there might be truth in that, this perspective causes us to miss the precious things of life that are sitting right in front of us each and every day. Take some time to write down prayers of gratitude, even for the smallest of things.

9) Be silent

Some days, you might want to just be silent. Here, engage your breathing via the form of breathing prayer. As you breathe, listen to the sounds around you. The birds. The breeze. The water, if you’re in front of the lake.

Depending on where you live in relation to the parks, what time you start work and your family dynamic, it may not be possible to develop these rhythms everyday in nature. There are also the added variables of the four seasons and the travel times to get to places requiring a longer drive or more effort (such as taking a ferry). Convenience is king in our culture. Which goes to say, you don’t need to be in these spaces to enter a place of contemplation and meet with God. They are simply beautiful conduits that provide distraction-free zones that provide an ideal space to get away from the crowds, as Jesus did. So maybe this means you retreat to these places a couple of times a week, reaching the two hours needed (or beyond) in green spaces in a more condensed time period. And for the other days, you start developing these rhythms in a quiet space in your apartment. This might look different for each of us, but it’s essential that all of us create space to get away. It’s nourishment for the soul. And with that, we introduce you to our beautiful getaways around Portland.


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