“Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life and yet less attached to it.” — Ram Dass
It’s easy to get fixated on the idea of pursuing our goals. We work tirelessly, oftentimes mindlessly, just to tick off the next item on our to-do list. As we set forth to build and secure our future, we basically fail to appreciate the here and now or what the Japanese refer to as ichi-go ichi-e. It translates as “This moment exists only now and won’t come again.”
Such is the paradox of progress, a paradox that shows us how we actually end up losing more despite possessing greater fame, wealth and power. We live in a world wherein we are consumed by what we think we desire, an unquenchable yearning that is like a painful cancer of the soul that is worsened by our toxic, noisy, and gluttonous culture. We end up being caught in the vicious downward spiral of fatigue, failure, regret, depression and meaninglessness. We then ask ourselves the question, “Where am I? What now?”
Sometimes, the best way to be able to take the next step forward is by taking a necessary step back. Strangely, it is when we detach and loosen our grip that we begin to take hold of our lives or, better yet, begin to have an awareness of the beauty and richness of our world beyond the cage of our overly planned lives. When the soul has already taken much beating from the all the noise and toxicity of modern life, a journey back to nature will give solace, rest, and relief .
Rumi spoke of an enigmatic relationship between man and nature, “At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me.” Despite modern man’s mind-bending, soul-entangling technological progress, the same primal need remains and that is the need to be “breathed into.”
Believe it or not, I’m actually looking at the world’s tiniest orchid. Tinier than a pinhead!
Manukan Island may be one of the most important places in my life. My trip to Sabah was a life-changing experience. Nature truly has a way of speaking to the human soul. We just have to learn to listen.
Witnessed the elusive Rafflesia in Sabah’s rain forest!
With a Rafflesia in full bloom!
Trekked the jungles of Mount Kinabalu and found some of the rarest wild orchids in the world.
The biologist in me couldn’t get enough of Sabah’s rich and diverse flora! Look at this pitcher plant!
Life was ultimately simple for our early Paleolithic ancestors. To survive, they had to live in harmony with nature. Their population density was greatly scarce, they hunted game for meat, gathered wood and stones for weapons and tools. Several thousand years later, early Homo sapiens learned in baby steps how to “subdue” nature by inventing farming and agriculture thus speeding up the human evolutionary process. This in turn gave us, modern humans, distinct superficial characteristics like skin color, hair texture, and even metabolic differences. It also gave us new diseases so common nowadays. The formation of cities and the flourishing of civilizations may have been the result of the great leap from Paleolithic man to Neolithic man but there was a caveat: humanity has become more insatiable, greedy, and violent.
Fast-forward to today, our culture is frantic, complicated, gluttonous, wasteful, and impersonal. We have become so busy that we have actually forgotten our own inherent biology. We now have a gravely flawed concept of what it means to be a thriving species. We have replaced real, healthy, fresh food with toxic chemicals that pretend to be food. We have altered the human diet in the name of monetary profit, efficiency and progress. We fight or flee from man-made stressors and triggers such as traffic and deadlines. We have become sedentary, obese, anxious, depressed, and chronically ill.We have become addicted to our self-image that we have lost our sense of belonging to the larger human family.
“For the first time in history, more people today die from eating too much than from eating too little…. In the early twenty-first century, the average human is far more likely to die from bingeing at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack.” —Yuval Noah Harari
This is why going back to nature is so important for me as a fitness coach. I always had a longing to retreat back to nature every once in a while especially when my schedule and work begin piling up to a point wherein I am beginning to lose my sense of stability and serenity. As an introvert by nature, I unconsciously crave for solitude, depth, and a space for recharge and reflection. For me, the best way to attain all these and more is by taking a nature trip!
In the presence of nature, life suddenly becomes simple yet beautiful. I veer away from the erratic force of modern life and flow into nature’s pace – that which is naturally soothing and healing for my body and mind. My breathing automatically deepens as more oxygen is present in the air. My soul finds rest as I surrender to the infinite vastness of the universe. My spirit finds peace and strength as it is breathed into.
As a fitness coach, I always preach that recovery from exercise is way more important than the exercise itself and this cannot be more true. Exercising is just another stressor, just like when our ancestors encountered a ferocious saber-toothed tiger or when our colleague fails to meet a deadline or a sales quota. It’s our recovery from these stressors that make us stronger and better equipped to survive natural selection and to thrive as a species. One secret to a thriving life is when we actually get better at keeping in touch with how we recover—may it be nature trips, meditation, or an occasional day off. All of these require a sense of surrender and detachment, and a pursuit of deep simplicity.
“The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment.” — Thich Nhat Hanh