More than ever, in these fraught times, it’s essential to have a source of strength and centeredness. An anchor to remind us who we are and what we value most. Yes, it’s also critical to have a belief in a larger effort or cause, something outside our insular daily routines, to provide outward focus. There is immense fulfillment to be had from volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter. Even corporations have gradually realized that contributive employees are happier employees. “Giving back” is a cliché for the simple reason that it’s understood universally.
But we have to give to ourselves, too, and not just in material things; indeed, material things are often a burden, not a joy. We all deserve the gift of time to contemplate, reflect, and be at peace, without the intrusions of obligations and the ever-present to-do list.
Many people have discovered the benefits of meditation and quieter practices such as yoga and tai chi. Attaining a state of mental detachment refreshes not only the body but also the psyche. Calming the monkey mind is becoming increasingly hard to do in our always “on,” perpetually wired-in society, but that very state of continual stimulation and information overload makes it even more important to just breathe and be. We need to consciously choose to give ourselves regular breaks.
My friends and readers of this blog know that I’m a nature girl through and through. As I write this post, I’m sitting on our urban front porch, almost completely surrounded by trees, marveling at the storms of leaves being blown across the streets and sidewalks. It’s a rare 72 degrees here as we approach mid-November, a lengthy period of Indian summer such as this part of Ohio sees perhaps once in a decade. The sounds of cars, trucks, and motorcycles out on the main drag are quite audible as I perch here, but in the pauses, the rustling of leaves can still be heard. I had my usual roster of tasks planned for today, but I couldn’t resist moving the laptop outside, where I can watch the squirrels run up and down the branches, dropping down to my level to retrieve the peanuts I’ve scattered. They’re also eating the pumpkins I’ve put out for decoration, which they’ve never done before, so I’m wondering if that behavior presages a long, cold winter. I don’t in the least take for granted the singular privilege of simply sitting here, being an observer, as nature carries on, indifferent to my presence. And, while I’m obviously not in a Zen-like state at the moment, I’m not worrying about my chores, either.
Over the weekend, though, I did experience pure bliss in the form of a campsite in the middle of a spacious stand of pines overlooking a tranquil pond. There were enough nearby maples, oaks, and ash trees to generate huge piles of jewel-toned leaves, which skittered back and forth across the foundation of dry needles. On Saturday afternoon, the pond was completely still, without a ripple. The campground was silent, because only a few of us were there, and all were doing the same thing we were doing: sitting around enjoying the day. Occasionally, a puff of breeze would stir, sending a small drift of yellow leaves down, like swirls of over-sized snowflakes. Then all movement would stop again. The utter stillness was deeply restorative, serenity on a primal level. Merely existing in the quietude was a blessing bestowed by Mother Earth. I cherish such moments, because they are much too hard to come by. The early naturalists had the right idea: getting out into the woods, fields, and shores is a cure for what ails us.