I write about Nature all the time—about its countless wonders, small and large; its wise counsel in ways of patience and knowing; and its constant coincidence with my brand of spirituality. I promote closer connections with Nature for everyone, especially children.
But I’m a hypocrite.
I actually don’t spend nearly enough time outdoors. And when I do, I sometimes forget to turn off my cell phone. Too often, I fall victim to the very temptation I urge others to resist: the lazy cosmopolitanism, the false presence, afforded by digital technology’s instant “connections” with people, places and information.
It started, I’m afraid, with the publication of my first book, Under the Wild Ginger; my publisher told me I had to put myself out there and promote, if not actual sales, at least a point of view that would attract like-minded readers. To that extent, the venture has borne fruit. I’ve also made some wonderful friends, folks I’ve come to feel close to even though we’ve never met.
Blaming the medium for its abuse
is a pretty poor excuse.
But cyberspace is a wily seductress. At first, the allure was like the one I felt as a boy when, no longer fooled by that old tin-cans-and-string ruse, I dreamed of having a real walkie-talkie. Or later when I’d spend hours with my ear pressed against the speaker of our tabletop Emerson radio, fine-tuning among the stronger signals and static for distant stations. This communicating beyond the range of my own, unelaborated ear and voice struck me as nothing short of mystical.
There’s a certain boundless freedom in sending and receiving messages over untold expanses, across geographic, political and cultural boundaries. And doing so practically instantaneously only adds to the allure. I experience something like that kind of freedom during my favorite, recurring dream: flying (on my own power, without any device). It feels like the very essence of spiritual connection, a magical oneness with time and space and all of creation—not to mention that it strikes awe and envy into every onlooker.
Well, blaming the medium for its abuse is a pretty poor excuse. What brought this line of reflection to the fore was our last month-long stay last spring in a lovely seaside town in Guerrero Mexico. There, the nice little TV in our villa never once blinked on. Sure, we spent time on our devices most days, keeping in touch with loved ones, sharing a few photos. But those times were quite limited. And, though our minds may have been in cyberspace now and then, physically we were still in direct contact with Nature during all our waking hours.
Even inside our villa, where there’s no wall separating us from the view over the bay, delicious warm breezes waft in day and night, carrying the sounds and smells of the neighborhood and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Critters—butterflies, geckos, bats and the occasional scorpion become our benign companions. Our relationships with our Mexican friends seldom abide the quick phone call, email, or—God forbid—the terse-but-tedious text. No, folks there take the time to come calling, to spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries and just being…well...nice.
It’s not really the physical walls that
hold me back. It’s the virtual ones.
How quickly we get inured to such wonders; by the end of our stay, we were already taking this sustained communion with Nature, including these unhurried relationships with people, for granted. But now, with the singular clarity of hindsight, I know why this month in the tropics was so restorative in so many ways. It was exactly what I’ve been losing, bit by bit, in my life here in the “real” world: the close presence of Nature in my life every day. Paying attention, not just to a little screen, but to the countless real small wonders playing out around me all the time.
No matter what one might see or learn, or even feel, on that little screen, when you get right down to it, does it ever really take you any further than arm’s length out of yourself? But with real wonders, Nature’s wonders, there are no limits. For me, they range from those little “floaters” that punctuate my vision from the inside, to whatever horizon the weather defines that day, to the stars on a clear night, to the still-further reach of my imagination.
Now, I realize it might prove impractical here in Minnesota to remove one side of our urban townhouse and let in the air, light (and mosquitoes). And winter…well, don’t get me started! But I’m thinking it’s not really the physical walls that hold me back. It’s the virtual ones. I’ve been allowing others—content developers, marketers, fellow addicts…whomever—to limit what I can experience, to steer the direction and extent of my vision.
This is not what I want. Is it what you want? Don’t we have our own vision, an outlook which belongs to no one but us? Shouldn’t we be the ones deciding what will surprise and delight us, who will become our next good friend?
...we stop imposing our will on Nature
and life, and vest in them the power to
have their way with us.
MAKING TIME FOR THE CURE
Now that summer’s starting to yield to fall, I aim to reclaim my birthright—the birthright of every human being—my connection, my belonging, to Nature. And the way to start is to, as I like to put it, get off the screen and into the scene. Like surmounting any bad habit, this will require being thoughtful and deliberate—disciplined—in how I spend my time.
What makes it hard is that I have to make time for the cure before I can recover the time spent on the disease. For example, if I’m to take a walk every morning, I’ll have to let go of the time I’m wasting on television or the Internet the night before. Or I may have to re-prioritize the short list of friends I correspond with most often, making room for Nature on that list.
And I most certainly will have to reclaim my point of view. I must remember to practice what I preach, using all my senses, not just taking in the wisdom and beauty of Nature, but giving something to the transaction too. I call it seeing generously. It’s a mindset in which we stop imposing our will and way on Nature and life, and vest in them the power to have their way with us.
That is what we do in the relentless, blast-furnace Mexican sun when we stop every few minutes to rest in familiar pools of shade. It’s what we do when we think we’re going to the park for an hour and end up spending the day. And when we allow ourselves to be moved deeply by even the smallest droplet of beauty shed on us from Nature’s infinite sea of wonder.
These are real connections, ones we can touch and feel, ones that sustain us—physically, emotionally, spiritually. They are to be trusted completely, for they are not only for us; they are of us. It is one thing to recognize the difference between the real and the virtual; it is another entirely to choose the real.
I choose the real.