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?
If I were to openly express a stereotype I’m working to overcome (in all of its unrighteousness), I would do it here for the purpose of this blog post and it would be about Mondays, in that they are typically and destined to be long, dull and gray. Thus was the case this week.
As expected of an all-inclusive Monday, a few things had gone not-so-ideally and I was fighting a case of the grumps by the time 5:30 p.m. had rolled around.
I had finally finished classes for the day and was met with a striking red traffic light, thwarting my timely trek to the library. I joined the crowd of other students waiting to cross the road, making extended (almost to the point of being awkward) eye contact with a fellow trekker before returning to the screen of my cell phone to address the gray-day’s remaining emails.
I was relieved to find this task consumed but few minutes, and I gratefully put my phone away to give my mind a break for the remainder of my stroll. At this point, I had managed to hit yet another red light and I realized I was still walking in sync with the man-bun student I had made eye contact with two lights ago.
“How’s your Monday going?” I asked. It was yet another one of those moments where I was reminded just how much faster my mouth works than my brain.
Unsurprised by a stranger’s grade-C conversation starter, my walking partner responded by telling me that as of this morning, Monday was his new favorite day. Delighted at this response, I inquired why- somewhat desperately- and allowed my mind and ears to unfold, ready to receive the beautiful insight that so often stems from serendipity.
He told me that he had learned the prefix, mon- in Monday, is the French word meaning ‘my’. Monday, to my new friend Nick, now meant ‘my‘ day, and was synonymous with the glorious carpe diem: seize the day.
Did the gray clouds really break at the sharing of this enchanting idea? I don’t know. But I thought about how accomplished I feel after I have a productive Monday, and how it sets the tone for the rest of my week. I thought about past Mondays and how they aren’t really all dull and gray, not when you have the right mindset. I thought about how grateful I was to have met my new friend Nick, and had a mentality-shifting 2-minute conversation with a stranger. But more than anything, I thought about how I can’t wait to make Monday mine next week.