Humans have long recalled the healing effects time spent in nature has on the mind, body and soul. It is a concept that has been explored by classic novelists, poets and more recently, scientists and neurologists.
While perhaps still unexplainable, the refreshing, rejuvenating qualities of spending time disconnected from the real world and connected to our real roots is undeniable.
Though I believed I had loved and appreciated and felt nature’s healing properties before in my existence, it wasn’t until I spent a week fully plugged into the wonders of camping in the Torres del Paine National Park of Chile that I finally understood.
Seven days without a shower. Six mornings of oatmeal for breakfast. An average of 20 kilometers of trekking per day. Living in tents, permanent dirt under fingernails, glaciers, wild horses, guanacos, sore knees, friends, turquoise lakes, golden fields, autumn foliage and blistering, snow-crested, looming dark grey mountains.
And the whole time, I was present.
I wasn’t thinking about who did this or achieved that; who landed a new job or started a business, who got engaged, started dating or went to the raging party last night.
I was disconnected from this “real world,” and these thoughts that had nothing to do with me nor affected my truth or being. It was just me and nature and my own, honest thoughts. And no one, especially not nature, was there to judge me.
We are not naturally programmed to concern ourselves with what others are saying and doing. It is a social construction taught to us, induced and reinforced by the media in commercials, movies, songs and advertisements. It is a concept that has found its most influential platform, today, through social media in particular.
We are living in a world and culture that is driven by consumerism and monetary gains- gains that flourish from honing in on human fears and egos.
These all-surrounding, mass-broadcast thoughts, are distractions in the simplest form. They are the fears and concerns that we consume and allow to pull us away from the truths that we know about ourselves, our wants, dreams and needs.
They are the elements of seeming complexity that we inhale and tack on to our self-knowledge, making it deceivingly difficult to decipher what it is we really want to do and how we want to live our lives.
These distractions are the ones that take our dedication and desire to travel the world or pursue our dream career and mix them with Johnny getting accepted into a rigorous graduate program and Jane opening a school for civil war refugees. Shouldn’t we be doing something like that instead?
“I should travel right after I finish university because I won’t have the time or money or health to do so later on. I should get into the workforce right away or I’ll fall behind my peers. I should be in a relationship, be engaged and pregnant, I should make that career change, move cross-country, volunteer abroad and exercise more so I can look like him or her.”
Distractions, fears, comparing ourselves to others- they are merely thoughts of negativity that prevent us from listening to the honesty of our hearts and souls; the parts of us that know the answers deep down inside. (They also create a market for corporate consumerism to feed and profit off of).
And they are not natural. When disconnected from these thoughts, nature is an honest, healthy, kind old teacher and friend. She will listen and demonstrate the lessons and knowledge that you are seeking. Nature is the truest and most beautiful reflection of our very selves.
In that week, I was free of all the layers of distractions that wouldn’t ever naturally infiltrate my mind. I knew only my own, unadulterated thoughts and my only concern was the best version of me that I could be.
Through hail, snow, sun and winds, I was stripped down of these negative distortions, being reset back to the truths I knew about me in the first place- a clearer understanding of myself and my life.
I’ve deleted the Facebook application from my phone. I engaged in deep self-reflection in those hours of walking that have guided me to the next steps in living my life truthfully after this trip. I’ve addressed feelings that I’ve avoided for longer than I can remember, and I know how to shine light on them now. I’ve kept these lessons from my Patagonian experience and enlightenment close to heart, and I don’t plan on going another 22 years without the clarity that only nature can bring me back to. On top of it all, it was the most beautiful place I’ve seen on Earth. What could ever compete with that?
Some of my favorite experiences on this trip so far have been the unplanned, yet calculated series of yes’s that lead to outings and interactions with locals. They are the deep, authentic moments of culture immersion that are near impossible to feel on the surface level that is being a tourist. They are the tastes, after all, that are the true makings of travel. They are the experiences that remind us to accept the interconnectedness of life using a broader perspective. The night before Easter was one of those times.
A. and my intentions for that Saturday were to be productive: accomplish some reading, some writing and some financial planning. We had been in Santiago, Chile, for nearly two weeks- the longest we had been in a single place- and we were getting antsy. Though our Airbnb landlord, R., had invited us to a daytime electronic park party in the morning, he found us, hands grasping the barred gates, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, staring at the overly stimulating, yet very over, park darty at 9:30 p.m. that evening.
Laughing, R. followed up his first invite with a second: did we want to join him and his friend at a house party in the “Beverly Hills” of Santiago? Eager not to miss a second shot at fun- whyyeswedid.
The Chilean hillside house was stunning. It was equipped with an in-ground pool and lounge area, a living tree growing through the ceiling in the shower, Buddha statues galore and other sprinkles of modern design.
A local couple approached us shortly after our arrival, offering a kind welcome and intriguing conversation. We hit it off instantly, discussing deep relationships and closeness with others, connectivity and mindfulness. The Chilean man told me that at once point in his life he felt anger and dislike toward certain individuals. How could I love a rapist or a thief?, he asked aloud. We concurred together an answer to be something like this: it is morally difficult, but possible when looking at the pixels that are the sameness in each of us.
Instead of getting caught up in the differences, dive into the deeper, shared qualities. It doesn’t mean malicious and unkind acts should be overlooked or justified. It does not make them right or change wrongdoing that has already happened. But remembering the oneness of humanity aids in the relief that is forgiveness and even further, love. At the end of the day, we are all human. It is much easier and deeper to find love for another person remembering that than it is to love, accept or evaluate someone solely for their actions.
It is both the tiny pixilations that compose us, and the magnificent web of oneness that encompasses us all. It is not the insignificant differences that lie in between. We humans share all of the same most magnificent and significant qualities: the universe inside.
Before leaving the party of Chileans, swaying to the dj and having lounge chair conversations under the night sky, our friend left me with one more piece of wisdom: family is the most important.
“At the end of it all, they gave you life. They are humans just like the rest of us. They don’t know what they’re doing. But they brought you here. And without them, you are nothing.”
I woke up feeling homesick on Easter morning, in part due to last night’s conversation with the stranger and to a dream I had about my grandparents and my aunt. But after calling my parents and speaking with some loved ones, and a short moment of condolence from the person who has spent the last 75 straight days with me, I was feeling better and was ready to celebrate Easter the way that I best knew how- like my family.
I pulled an Easter outfit out of my backpack to get me in the spirit: cue pink floral romper and pink lipstick. I compiled three Easter “bags” out of the $10 thousand Chilean pesos’ worth of chocolate I had bought the day before (not included in the backpacker budget): one for my favorite sweet-toothed partner, one for R. and the last for our roommate, T.
I let the three adult men search the house excitedly as I cooked Easter brunch for A. and me, smiling at how much I reminded myself of my mother.
A. helped set the backyard table, munching on his remaining peanut-butter-filled chocolate eggs while we waited for my frittata to finish (I really do need to stop eyeballing measurements- how do you do it, dad?!).
In some time, we moved outside to enjoy a delicious brunch of eggs, home fries, fruit salad and avocado, accompanied by the South American touches of fresh maracuya juice and Chilean red wine.
We sat outside laughing and talking long after the food was finished. If the neighboring cat made an appearance, I might’ve thought I really was home. Or better yet, that my family was all here with me celebrating like we always do. I smiled again at A., feeling loved and full of love.
The stranger was right. I am human, just like him and our families, and just like every other stranger besides him. What’s more, my family did give me this life. They have given me everything. And they are always a part of me.
A few months have passed since my college graduation (woo!!) and like many of my fellow grads, I have returned to my parent’s nest to rebuild a savings account for my next life adventure. I was not originally pleased about this backtracking, as I tend to imagine life as an ever-progressing straight line, but now I’m thinking it’s more like this, and being home is okay for me at this point.
Regardless, I made it my goal to recreate what seems like a frozen-in-the-past lifestyle that I’ve fallen victim to each summer I return home. I slip back into child role under my parent’s tending to (who wouldn’t take it if it’s there?– thanks, ma), I go to the same bars night after night (ily omist), and I forget about all the positive growth I made by challenging myself while away at school.
So, as my undergraduate reminder of all I’ve overcome and all I’ve learned I’m capable of overcoming, I chopped off 11 inches of my hair on my last day in the city that became my home throughout college. The rationale for cutting my hair is true, though obscure to most, as it is with most of my decisions made, but that may have to be a blog post of its own.
July hit yesterday as a second reminder, and I realized it was time to cultivate that healthy growth and newness I felt at school in this environment that seemed all too familiar.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with flowers. Mesmerized by their natural beauty, I’ve filled paper gardens of doodles, enhanced my tardy reputation inhaling their sweet aromas on my walk to class, taken countless pictures of sunlight striking them in different ways. I’ve learned some of my favorite life lessons from flowers.
A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms. — Sensei Ogui, Zen Shin Talks
I used to love receiving them on special occasions, such as graduations or birthdays, but I’m starting to see that having something beautiful of your own isn’t nearly as fulfilling as being beside something beautiful of its own. It’s that way with people, too, I’m learning.
I knew I loved everything about flowers, but it seemed silly that my admiration should stop at eyesight. When you’re passionate about something or someone, isn’t that the case? You yearn to know more about them. The way they like to be taken care of, what makes them tick, what makes them smile, what makes them live.
Thus, I discovered my new summer goal. I set out to invest in some tools and knowledge, and I’m well on my way in learning to identify the beautiful life that colors our earth and fills our air with sweet scents. The very same world can be so different when you’re seeing it in a new perspective lens. My backyard is much less just the space where I grew during high school than it is full of Sassafras trees and varieties of Rhododendron and Hosta.
I also bought this beautiful little succulent called Hens and Chicks (named Suca) that marks the start of my future garden in my future adventure. I can’t be sure that its location will be here at home, but like my favorite little teachers, I know I’ll have the strength to soak in the sunshine with the rain, withstand uprooting and transplant myself away from toxic areas to those which will nourish my living to a greater extent. But most importantly, I’ll never forget that I am always capable of, and meant to grow. Now that’s some flower power.