When despair for the world grows in me … I come into the peace of wild things. ~Wendell Berry
I got lost this spring, and not in a good way. Early quarantine found me struggling to find balance between taking my life online and staying true to the needs of my soul. I spent countless hours on Zoom and Facetime teaching, far too much time scrolling social and news stories for updates on the crisis. There were livestreams joined, Netflix binged, OMchannel classes uploaded, video chat apps downloaded. My iphone fell into low power mode almost daily. Screen time was my normal.
And then, on April 12, at 8:43 in the morning, everything changed. So many of life’s momentous shifts come with shouts and fanfare, but mine came quietly, an alert stating that my weekly screen time was up 39% from the previous week.
I stared at the number, shocked and ashamed. I was spending around six hours a day online.
I’ve always needed wide-open spaces to breathe. Walls and screens separate me from my truest self, remove me from my natural state. What happened to me?
In many traditional shamanic communities, if you went to see the medicine woman because you were ill, she would ask you four things:
“When did you stop singing?”
“When did you stop dancing?”
“When did you stop sharing stories?”
“When did you stop sitting in silence?”
These Four Universal Healing Salves were thought to be just as effective for physical maladies as for depression, anxiety, or general ennui.
Sadly, I believe our modern-day world must ask another crucial question lest we experience the loss of our own souls…
“When did you stop spending time in nature?”
Just like human mothers, Mother Nature nurtures her children – us.
But even in quarantine, most of us are spending less time outside and more time plugged in. Global internet traffic is up 40% during the COVID19 crisis. It never occurred to the shamans that there would be a time when humanity was disengaged from nature, but there you have it. By spending more time staring into a screen, we are losing a basic building block of our human experience, stimulated but not fulfilled, distracted but not connected.
One of the gifts of quarantine has been the deep breath we’ve gifted Mother Nature. With so many of us working for home, global carbon emissions are down a whopping 17%. Yet I hadn’t gotten out enough to notice the bluer skies and clearer water.
Healing happens in fits and starts and it took a minute to find my way home. I took a hike and tried to really notice the leaves and flowers. I scheduled some time to stare out my window as the rain poured down from the heavens. I grabbed my Canon and took bookend photos of the sunrise and sunset. Not to post on social, but as a heart reminder that we’re promised nothing but another planetary rotation.
If I were to ever find myself, I would have to intentionally go out and look up.
Early this morning, with my naked eye, I saw the Pegasus constellation, shining brightly beside Neptune and Mars. In the past, I needed my telescope to see the distant star that completes his wing. Stargazing keeps loneliness at bay; I imagine people all over the world staring upward at the same star cluster, telling their children about the white winged horse that sprang from Medusa’s neck when Perseus beheaded her.
Better yet are the new birds gathering at my feeder. I’ve always enjoyed watching the woodpeckers and sparrows, the finches and juncos, the bright red cardinals fighting for a mate. We have owls and red-tailed hawks, and the occasional falcon swoops by. I laugh at the grackles, brave enough to waddle right up to me should I be eating, looking for any crumb I’ll share. The goldfinches and indigo buntings are my favorites, painting the wind as they zip by in their bright yellow and blue jackets.
But in the past month, we’ve also seen Baltimore orioles, with their orange feathers striped like Lord Baltimore’s coat-of-arms. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, who look like they’ve spilled strawberry juice down their white, downy fronts. We even saw a yellow cardinal, a rare mutation where the bird lacks the enzyme that metabolizes carotenoid pigments into the red plumage we expect.
It stole my breath but restored my hope and wonder.
The South Korean ancient proverb, shin to bul ee, means, body and soil are one. Not soul, but soil. We don’t come to earth at birth, but from it. We are borne of earth and fire and water and air and ether. What exists without exists within.
Let this be a prayer that I remember always the peace of wild things.