As a kid I grew up in Nova Scotia and I was very lucky that my playground was the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up boating and fishing and even skating on the Ocean in the winter (yes, we had enough ice back then!) I loved nature, I loved being near the water and playing in the woods. I never wanted to be inside, and in fact my father would have to drag me in at supper time.
Being outside calmed me. It also taught me self-reliance and self-confidence. But then, something changed. I got older and nature began to lose its appeal. I no longer yearned to be outside with the trees or on a boat riding the waves, I wanted to be with my friends. I wanted to play hockey and go to parties and spend time in the city. When I was 18, I moved away to attend University. I went from living in a big country house on 3 acres of land with ocean frontage to living in a tiny apartment in downtown Montreal. The culture shock was palpable, but I loved the city life and all it had to offer. As an Army reservist at the time, I still got to spend a little bit of time in nature, but the time was not my own. There was always a schedule, an objective to be met. No time to look around and admire the space I was in. So, nature then began to morph from being a place of refuge, peace and tranquility to a place of work. It seemed I was losing the ability to “see the forest for the trees.”
This continued into adulthood and, as a member of the Regular Force Army, I spent a considerable amount of time in the woods. I also participated in a lot of outdoor activities on my own (mountain biking, climbing, camping etc) It is strange, now that I think about it, that I could always feel the draw to nature- it was always there right under the surface nagging at me, yet I associated the pull with the activities I was there to do. I no longer thought about being in nature just for the sake of it. Being in nature had become about achieving something or getting somewhere or “doing” some other thing. I always seemed to be in a rush to get somewhere and was always focused on the next thing. I was unable to appreciate what was right in front of me. In short, I no longer went to nature to “be” I went to nature to “do”.
Then, a major event in my professional life turned my world upside down, and everything changed. I felt lost and for the first time in two and a half decades I had no idea what my purpose was. I had no idea what I was supposed to do or why I was here. I was very lucky that my husband was there to support me. Being an outdoorsman himself, he suggested that we spend some more time in the woods, breathing in the fresh air and appreciating that which surrounded us. At first, I found this an annoyance as I was still hurting far too much to think of anything else. I found it very hard to be grateful as I was caught up in my own story and emotions. But little by little, as time went on, something changed. I began to “see” nature again. On our long walks in the woods, I started to feel a sense of calm and a deep sense that everything was going to be ok. He helped me relearn what I had forgotten- to pause, breathe and take interest in what I was seeing. He helped me to rediscover my wonder when watching a bird take off or when listening to the tree’s creek in the wind. He had helped me to remember a part of me which I had lost for many years.
Fast forward to present day, and I find myself in a much better mental space than I have been in years. I wake up grateful for the gifts in my life. I spend at a minimum 1-2 hours outside every day, usually more. The time I spend with my husband in nature is now a time of gratitude, calm and peace. I have rekindled my connection with mother nature and once again I have a child-like curiosity for the wilderness. There are no “objectives” anymore, the reward is being there. In spending as much time as I can out amongst the trees, I have begun to find direction amid the turmoil. I am not sure exactly what I will end up doing in my second career, and that is ok, but what I do know is that it will be outside. I have realized that I had lost touch with who I really am, but nature was there all along waiting patiently for me to remember, waiting to welcome me home.
When was the last time you got outside for the fun of it? When was the last time you sat in the sun, smiling in appreciation for all that is?
The Global Pandemic has brought with it incredible challenges, not the least of which are home confinement and the increasing sentiment of isolation. That doesn’t mean we can’t get outside and take a walk, ride a bike, snowshoe in the woods, or simply hug a tree! It means, that for a while, we can’t do these things with other people.
Getting outside to do some form of exercise is perhaps more important now than it has ever been. Though many people don’t have access to the wilderness in their backyard, even the sun shining on your face for a few minutes and a couple of deep breaths will go a long way to helping you feel better in these difficult times.
So, get out there, do what you can within the restrictions and encourage others to do so as well.
Written by Erica Oliver
Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.