Nature should be a big part of our lives. It should determine the clothes we wear, the time of day we sleep, and the foods we eat; but even these fundamental ties to nature are easily severed if we live in temperature-controlled brick boxes, where lack of daylight is no obstacle to activity, and ships and planes ensure we have every fruit and vegetable available year-round.
Balance and good health are the direct result of a life that it is in sync with the rhythms of nature. We are, after all, made up of the same five elements that comprise everything surrounding us: earth, water, fire, space, and air; and we thrive when our own inner elements are in harmony with the external elements. When modern life dilutes our intrinsic bonds to nature, we feel imbalanced and disconnected.
I’ll use myself as an example of someone potentially very disconnected from nature, and I think my city life is the norm rather than the exception.
I live on the 8th floor of a colossal glass and concrete apartment building. When I’m at home, there is a hundred foot divide between myself and the ground, literally separating me from the earth below. Outside of this building, there is a cement barrier between my feet and the earth everywhere I walk. Added to that is the additional barrier of rubber shoe soles I put between the cement and my feet. To get to work I drive in a man-made metal cube that isolates me from the external atmosphere. And like most Americans I eat with a fork or spoon, separating my hands from the nature that nourishes me.
I know that this lifestyle is unnatural and far removed from nature. But as much as a I yearn to drop off the grid and live a hippy life on a farm or in a teepee where I am ever connected to the stars and soil, I recognize that I was born into modern society. This is where I’m meant to fulfill my life’s purpose. And the same goes for anyone else born into a similar situation. We have the extra challenge of maintaining harmony with nature despite modern life.
When I’m confined to the urban jungle for too long I start to feel a little off, but am always revived by a walk in the woods or a dip in the ocean. It’s the nature I’m missing.
In order to keep this feeling from coming up too often, I try to get small dosages of nature wherever I can. This means both living a life of nature awareness– being mindful of the cycles of the moon and subtle changes in the seasons, for example; and regularly taking a few minutes to connect to the earth when a full-blown camping trip or hike isn’t feasible.
Here are five of my favorite ways to quickly reconnect with nature, even amidst the big city jungle:
1. Walk barefoot.
Kick off your shoes and spend even just a few minutes walking in the grass. This brings a literal, tangible connection to the earth. As Carl Jung noted on a visit to India in 1938, “when you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”
2. Touch the ground.
Press your palms and fingers against the earth. Each of our fingers represents one of the five elements. By connecting them with the earth, we re-establish the connection of our internal elements to the external.
3. Hug a tree.
Call me a hippy, but I’m a proud tree hugger. There is something so incredibly calming about hugging a tree. Wrapping your arms around their still, serene, and rooted energy brings the same feeling within.
4. Eat with your hands.
There’s a reason pizza tastes better when you eat it with your hands versus fork and knife. Our hands serve as our first connection to our food. As each finger is an extension of one of the five elements, the elements of our body recognize the elements of our food even before they reach our mouth, and serve as the first step in digestion. Eating with your hands allows a deeper connection to the nature of your food. Though not really socially acceptable in the Western world, it can be done at home anytime.
5. Bask in the sunlight.
Dermatologists recommend we put every barrier possible in between ourselves and the sun’s ‘harmful’ rays. This can not be altogether discredited, but a few minutes of sunlight each day is a healing practice. We each have our own inner sun– the agni or fire that directs all forms of transformation in the body– and it burns brightest when the sun is at its peak height. We are deeply connected to the sun’s energy. Soaking in its warmth and vibrancy enlivens our own inner sun.
(This article was also published on elephant journal.)