I recently returned from a backcountry hiking trip. This means you pack everything you need – food, tent, sleeping bag – into the wilderness on your back. As you might imagine, things like lovely leather sandals, hair products, computers and ice cream get left behind. In fact, you have to deliberately pare down to only the necessities. This is one of the things I love on these trips. I quickly learn that I can do without just about everything! Puts a real damper on that insistent consumerist craving for more, more, more. (Although admittedly over the years, I have “added” to my backpacking gear – like walking sticks for these creaky knees!)
My brain powers down too, and I can palpably feel the expansion. In “real life” I often get bored. Like most of us, I’ve adapted to the near-constant barrage of stimulation. Emails, FB posts, a quick pop-up ad, a horn blaring, those darn sirens, signs blinking, texts, YouTubes, deal and sales, menu decisions – geez, I’m getting tired just listing these! It’s boom, boom, boom – and It makes it harder to slow down. I crave the wide-open, unknown palette of Nature. I’m just watching, just listening, just moving in a lovely flow, like the rock of the ocean. My internal pace matches the external pace of breeze, chirping, lapping waves, loping legs. There is a unity there that’s calming. (See the research on this. It’s actually quite fascinating and makes me feel vindicated after all these years of “needing” nature vacations from the big city. “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams is a particularly good summary of why Nature helps us.)
This mind openness is equivalent to certain meditational states, and not surprisingly I find myself more alert and able to notice what arises. On this trip I noticed a bald eagle sitting on a stump, just chilling. No idea how majestic he is. One morning, languidly eating oatmeal on the beach, a sea otter toddled up out of the sea and over the rocks not 10 feet from me. On the trail, I stopped to locate the origin of this cool bird chirping sound (cooler somehow than city robins), and I saw a large, lovely blue-ish bird with a Mohawk (Audra- you would’ve loved the hair style!) As I was admiring, two more swooped in and joined him, playing and pecking and causing a joyful little raucous in the middle of the humanless woods. No boredom here! Just a series of tiny little, unexpected delights. There for our enjoyment if we slow down and look around.
Geez – I do love you, Nature!
But I have to admit, I also love coming home to my bustling, bright city. Ya, it’s because of my comfy bed and easy running water. But mostly it’s because of you – my clients and colleagues and the beautiful gaggles of strangers around me every day. Meditation helps me come back to that open alert state, so I can see your purity and your mischief and the ebb and flow of your pain. I’d like you to see it too! This is what retreating to Nature does for me – or a big piece of it anyway. Try it today: turn off your phone and go to the beach, or a park, or just a small, grassy patch near a tree, and take a few deep breaths. Just look around with a soft, open gaze. Notice colors, and movement. Listen for birds, leaves rustling or water. Let the traffic and sirens fade into the background. Take a few more deep breaths.
Or heck, just come into our office – I’ve attempted to create a jungle in there anyway!