I’m not really sure how I can begin to tackle the grandiose challenge of an “about me.” How can I explain my transition from neuroscience and pre-med, to biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship, to spirituality and nature-based practice, to travel and storytelling, in a way that is both comprehensive and concise?
For now, I’ve decided to start with one of my earliest memories.
I remember the frustration I felt, sitting on the black leather seat of my dad’s car, realizing I could flip a coin one million times, and I would never know beforehand what side it would land. In that moment, I realized I would always have more questions and never have all the answers.
I now see how that moment served as a harbinger. My quest has always been about resolution: following the trail of inquiry into those questions that linger.
As an adolescent, the main question I had was: Could I help others, enjoy my work, and support myself at the same time? I loved math and science, and I loved business. Rather, I was good at them, and I equated proficiency with love. I decided my path would be whatever intersection I could find that existed between science, math, and business.
In the beginning of my collegiate years, I studied neuroscience at the University of Michigan. I was to become a doctor. Yet, I wasn’t ready to close the door on entrepreneurship. I found solace in rationalization. I told myself, “I could be a practicing doctor, with an enterprising attitude.”
The first moment, which really shook my world, came while volunteering on ambulances in Israel. My initial clinical experience included failing to resuscitate a patient with CPR, as the patient’s wife looked on. Feeling a reduced hope in Western medicine, I made a pivotal decision: I would place my energy into biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship. I wanted to innovate the tools healthcare professionals used, rather than be a practitioner. It was the intersection between math, science and business that I had sought for.
Though I was on a path to help others, I was doing the opposite for myself. I was drowning in the stress of academic work and entrepreneurial projects and imposing unnecessary pressure upon myself. I recall 2013 and 2014 as being some of the hardest years of my life.
In the Fall of 2013, I stumbled into a university course on meditation. At first, I hated it. I felt extremely uncomfortable and could not understand why we had to feel our breathing or walk outdoors in silence. I only remained in the course because my friends were in it and I was too lazy to switch out. Though, something happened mid-way through the semester. When class ended, at times, I noticed that I felt better, my friends and I interacted more fluidly, and music sounded more vibrant. For mere moments, life felt manageable.
During these classes, I came to see how overbearing my mind was and how cluttered my mental space had become. Though, something about meditation and nature were promoting better wellbeing. I began absorbing all I could to support an internal journey. I took several classes with my teacher, a Quechua medicine women, on meditation, nature-based mindfulness, and deep spiritual ecology (you can find the work of my teacher, Martha Travers, here: http://natureandhealing.org). I started to practice ashtanga yoga. And, each day, I would immerse, in silence and solitude, in the natural world.
At the end of 2014, I got into a foolish altercation. I was tackled and my head broke the fall on concrete. The result was a life-threatening traumatic brain injury (TBI), including a fractured skull, concussion, and brain bleeding near a major artery. Ironically, an injury that almost took my life, enabled me to live more fully. I was shown how fragile and precious life was. Each moment felt inherently valuable. I realized what I considered to be “problems”, were only problems because I labeled them that way. I started teaching meditation and nature-based mindfulness to gyms and corporations, and lead a large student wellness collective that helped hundreds of students de-stress, connect to nature, and find more meaning in their university experience.
As my university years came to a close, I was still a biomedical engineering student, who was now flourishing in entrepreneurship. My graduate team and I created a medical device, which was distinguished as the 2nd place winner in the National Medical Design Excellence Awards. I also founded and led several other entrepreneurial endeavors and student organizations.
To an outside observer, the path would have seemed laid out for me with biomedical engineer and entrepreneurship. Though, as I continued with meditation, yoga, and nature-based practice, I was finding deeper meaning in things, which seemed opposed to my degree: helping others through guiding mindfulness, immersing in nature, and having philosophical conversations. For once, not only was I helping others, but I was also helping myself; not only was I doing work to serve a greater good, I was fulfilled.
In April 2016, I completed my Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan. Leaving university, I knew that I wanted to continue learning, though outside of the rigid bounds of Western academia. I decided that I would travel alone. I didn’t know how, or where, but I knew that I would. In my last year of school, I heard of the Bonderman Fellowship, a grant given to four graduating undergraduate students to travel alone and immerse in non-Westernized cultures, with little structure or responsibilities, for 8 consecutive months. The only requirement was for them to write about their experiences. Crazy enough, I was only eligible to apply for the fellowship due to the brain-injury delaying the completion of my undergraduate studies (I ended up finishing my undergraduate and graduate studies at the same time.)
I applied to the fellowship to further see how a spiritual understanding could integrate with a Western, scientific framework. I applied to learn from the roots of my meditation teachers’ knowledge. I applied to observe and learn from the way traditional nature-based cultures lived with the natural world. I applied to find and further my capacity to serve the collective.
As a Bonderman fellow, I solo-traveled to 10 different countries from August 2016 – August 2017 and lived with tribes and villages across Borneo, the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Amazon. Traveling alone, into cultures with different world views and without parents, teachers or friends to dictate my inquiry, slowly answered the questions I had regarding my path. The intersection I dreamt of finding came to me in an unexpected place: storytelling - and many of the forms it comes in - such as, writing, photography, systems design, and speaking.
Travel to non-western regions exposed me to the pervasive spread of modernization, portraying to me how detrimental this way of life is for psychological and ecological welfare. Resultantly, I knew I had to devote myself, and the stories I would tell, toward forming new narratives and institutions that promote life instead of systematically destroying it. I am most interested in the relationship between humans and the natural world. I aim to re-kindle the once universal bond between humans and the more-than-human-world, in order to promote a healthier planet with healthier people. Through re-integrating populations within the natural world, I intend to facilitate more well and capable people, who also feel a deeper connection to the natural world, and thus a deeper desire to sustain nature. With the writing I create, I aim to help re-build the narratives of modern culture. This is not an attempt to abandon modernity, rather to create for differing perspectives, which seek to use the inventions, technology, and opportunities of the modern world in reverence, rather than in opposition to nature.
Along the way, to support myself and grow my capacity and connections to do this work, I have taken on a lot of different roles. I have worked as the investigative journalist for International Tribe Design. I led the South American region of the non-profit One Light Global. I have been the lead writer for MeditationWorks and Breathe With B. I created and gave nature-based mindfulness workshops in Bolivia and Peru. Most recent and notably, I worked as the first in-house editorial produce for Summit (Summit.co), a global collective comprised of the worlds’ most influential change makers. My work was to interview their main speakers, 1-on-1, at their flagship event in November in LA, and create editorials around the interview. I interviewed: Ray Dalio (the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, author of Principles: Life and Work, a New York Times #1 best-seller, and founder of OceanX), Ceasar Conde (Chairman of NBC Universal International Group), Martine Rothblatt (creator of Sirius XM radio and top earning biopharmaceutical CEO in the world), Anthony Romero (the executive director of the ACLU), Gary Vaynerchuck (author, speaker, investor), Eckhart Tolle (the world's most popular spiritual author), Marien Goodell (the CEO of Burning Man), Kate Brandt (the Chief Sustainability Officer at Google, and formerly at the White House), and several others. Three interviews that I conducted are now published, you may read them here:
Currently, I have honed in on my work. I am focused on writing a book, running an organization, and teaching select individuals nature-based mindfulness and wellness practices. All this work is bound by a common thread: creating for different perspectives and experiences that connect people to nature, in order to promote both healthier people and a healthier environment.
If you wish to learn more about the book, you can find a working synopsis here: “How The Modern World Creates Unwellness and What We Can Do About It.”
The organization I am running SideOut aims to improve to the health of humans and the environment by growing the connection humans have to nature. Our approach is multi-faceted: physically integrating nature into locational experience, while teaching populations to interact with the nature around us. On the physical level, we conserve, re-generate, and integrate nature into modern spaces. On a psychological level, we teach modern populations to interact with the natural world through outdoor education, nature-based mindfulness, and storytelling.
Our first projects include:
1. Helping create a worldwide campaign funded by WWF UK, Youth For Our Planet, to mobilize youth action for the environment ahead of and during 2020. The campaign is designed to show that youth around the world are leading the way to take action for the environment.
2. Creating an eco-tourism program with a Shiwiar Amazonian community to help them maintain their land and way of life, from petroleum company acquisition, while giving tourists exposure to lifestyles that have a more intimate relationship with nature. This is the first of many indigenous communities we will be working with.
3. Teaching-based mindfulness to schools and corporations. We are building out a template and teacher training to offer this nationwide.
4. Offering workshops and webinars, on storytelling derived from natural experience to environmental organizations. Our first webinars are to be given to CoalitionWild, Team54 Project, and Youth For Our Planet.
A website detailing our mission, vision, values and offerings is now being constructed and should be complete by the month of May.
If you wish to see previous work I have published you can find most of it on this website or in other places such as: International Tribe Design, Perspectives Magazine, MeditationWorks.com, NatureWriting.com, WiseMindGentleSoul.com, Everyday-Mindfulness.org, Acumen-Poetry.co.uk, Breathe With B, or my Instagram:@HaberScott.
Notably, the essay I submitted titled “A Voice In Nature’s Choir” was awarded an honorable mention in the International Essay Competition for Young People, one of only 64 essays to place or receive mention out of over 15,000 applications from over 150 countries: http://scotthaber.com/2017/10/30/voice-natures-choir/.
What continues to be one of the most important constructs in my life is a connection to nature. For the past several years, on a daily basis, I have had the opportunity to be immersed in the natural world in solitude. With me I bring the intention of pausing, listening, and connecting. As a storyteller with a visceral love for the outdoors, nature isn’t only where I go to recharge, it’s a source of continual inspiration, the foundation for these words, and the direction of my service.
As the author and philosopher, Charles Eisenstein wrote about, I hesitate to call any of this “my” work; it isn’t mine. It is constituted through a collage of experiences: interactions, observations, books, and those who sustain my inspiration to continue doing this work.
I hope this work – our work – can provoke systemic questioning, while also making you feel a little more connected to those we walk among.
Daniel Schmachtenberger, Charles Eisenstein, Martha Travers, Alan Watts, David Abram, Richard Louv, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abby, Daniel B. Quinn, Gary Snyder, Nietzsche, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Campbell, Victor Frankl, Ken Wilber, Thich Nhat Hahn, James Carse, Angela Jamison.