Well – I just touched down in Nicaragua after a week of R&R in Peru and what a week it was. I spent my week at an eco-lodge in the Sacred Valley and I can honestly say the trip was a life-changing experience (in many more ways than one). I had the opportunity to look inward but was also able to connect with the local Andes culture and I learned so much from them. For now, I am going to focus on my two biggest learnings in the following posts:
- The importance of connecting with nature to recharge and cultivate a sense of gratitude and wonder
- Using symbolism/rituals as tools to renew the mind and refresh the spirit
This post will cover the nature component
While in Peru, one thing that immediately stood out to me about the local culture was their relationship with “Mother Earth” aka Pacha Mama. Their relationship with the Earth (both plants and animals) is sacred and they take it very seriously. This comes from the fact that for generations, they’ve relied on nature for survival (i.e., using animal behavior to predict the weather and to determine which crops should be planted that year) and for wisdom – seeing nature as an intelligent problem solver and pulling lessons from it. When speaking with some of the locals, I began to understand this symbiotic relationship and the deep gratitude (for the food, for the rain, for the sun, etc.) that comes with it – you take care of the Earth and nurture the relationship and the Earth in turn takes care of and nurtures you. There was also a sensitivity to the different stimuli within nature, with locals constantly pointing out the sound of birds chirping, the warmth of the sun and the wind cooling our skin – there is a consistent mindfulness that they carry, which most of the time we only experience while on our yoga mat or in our meditation chair (if we’re lucky).
As I immersed myself in the culture, I started to think about life back at home and realized how far much of our culture has gone from this place of gratitude and sensitivity toward nature. In many of our daily environments – highly populated cities, high-demand jobs – we are bombarded with intense stimuli. To deal with this, our brain, over time, learns to tune out many of these stimuli to keep us sane (if we were hyper aware of every stimulus going during our commute in NYC, it wouldn’t be long before our brain blew a few circuits.) While this desensitizing is a gift, there is also a downside…our brains also desensitize to stimuli that foster a wonder and appreciation for our world which keeps our spirits charged.
There is something deeply human about connecting with nature – there was once a time where all of our ancestors shared a similarly dependent relationship with the Earth but in many developed cultures, that relationship has been long forgotten. While in many cases we’ve removed ourselves from nature, I believe we are deeply wired to connect with it and by callusing ourselves over time, we inadvertently suppress our spirit. Just think about the countless studies showing the impact of windowless offices or the studies on the difference between offices with or without plants. More importantly, think back to a time where you’ve witnessed a beautiful sunset or listened to the sound of waves on the beach and felt a deep sense of gratitude and wonder – I’d bet that if you dig deep, you can all recall a memory like that. Why should we limit ourselves to that feeling only once a year on vacation? Albert Einstein said it best, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
For those of you thinking “easy for you to say on a 6 month sabbatical…” I get it. I understand that opportunities to go deep into nature for an extended period of time are not always within our control – but that’s not what I am suggesting. I do however, believe there is something we all can learn from this and apply in our daily life. To me, the lesson is more about cultivating a daily mindset of wonder and gratitude than heading to a specific place in nature. Think of the things that you do have control over in your day to day:
- How you set up the space in your office
- Where you take your lunch/coffee breaks
- Your mindset toward nature the food it produces
Setting up a few succulents or air plants around your office is a simple and low maintenance way to bring some nature into your daily life. Taking lunch or coffee breaks outside when possible is a great way to connect with nature as well. More importantly however, is the mindset in which you approach these small treasures. Having plants at your desk or taking a walk outside is not going to do much for you if you are not approaching these things mindfully – with this sense of gratitude and wonder. When you set up your desk plants or take your lunch break outside, take a moment to appreciate these things. Be grateful for the food that you are putting into your body which nourishes you and provides you with energy for the day. Each morning when you arrive at your desk, take a minute to appreciate natures beauty and intelligence. Just watch how your mindset changes over time. And finally, when you do get the chance, take a trip deep into nature to immerse yourself and reconnect/recharge those precious batteries of yours.