Lately I’ve had several experiences which have shown me the power of nature to recharge and shift my perspective. One striking example happened a few weeks ago when I chaperoned my 9-year-old daughter’s class (and all of the other 4th grade classes at her school – that’s a little over 100 kids folks!) on their trip to the Pt. Bonita YMCA Outdoor Education Center. This is a rite of passage for 4th graders in this area, that they go on a 2-night/3-day trip with their school, and a few parents get to go with them. My daughter really wanted me to go and I was feeling ambivalent – 3 days of work missed, 2 nights of crappy sleep, and 3 days of driving and chaperoning a bunch of great but exhausting 9 and 10 year olds! I guess I wasn’t ambivalent, I felt obligated to go and wasn’t looking forward to it!
Then on the way there, we got stuck in a one-way tunnel because of a car with a medical emergency ahead of us; had to find another way to the Center and got lost; and arrived about an hour late and stressed out. Not an auspicious start!
We met with our naturalist, Pelican Pete, who was the most Zen guy I’ve ever met. I told him about our stressful arrival and he said “Oh wow. Well, we’re just going to eat some lunch and head on down to the beach. You can lie on the sand and rest while I’m working with the kids.” Ahhhhh, perfect! We walked down to the beach using the path you see in the first picture, he had each child (there were 15 in my group, plus 2 more chaperones) walk down on their own with 30 seconds between them. The point was to listen to the sounds, watch for animals, and generally notice where we were. I went last and had a beautiful walk ALONE down to the beach. I had unexpected, and welcome, respite – I opened my eyes and heart and really took in the incredible beauty of the coast, the ocean, the gentle breeze. I felt my blood pressure begin to drop, that shaky out-of-sorts feeling begin to dissipate.
Sitting on the beach while the kids played wave tag and learned about animal habitats, I saw pelicans, whale spouts, and seal heads bobbing in the surf. Digging my toes into the sand, I called on the earth and the ocean to fill me, calm me, and give me the energy to be what I needed to be for the kids I was responsible for (many of whom were away from home without parents for the first time). Later that evening, our group went on a night hike and again I could hang back with the lagging kids and drink in the view – the cliffs, the ocean, the sunset.
Even at 5am when the girls in my dorm room couldn’t sleep and woke me up, and my eyes felt gritty, I was fortified by being able to shower, grab some tea and take a solo hike on the cliffs (the kids had to hang out in their rooms until 7am so I had some time). I stood in awe of the beauty of the place, and thought “how can I possibly complain when I am looking at this?!” It was during this time that I saw a bobcat, deer, and more whales. And that was it, perspective completely shifted from obligation to appreciation and gratitude.
I know, without a doubt, taking some time every day to breathe deeply, feel my feet on the earth, and really tune into the beauty of the natural world around me gave me the energy and open heart to really enjoy this time with my daughter’s classmates. I saw a few of my chaperone cohorts begin to be angry, snippy, and burned out by the last day and I wondered if they had taken any time to breathe and recharge in this incredible setting? (Don’t get me wrong, when we got back I told my husband “you’re it” took the whole weekend to rest and sleep). I was actually a bit teary when it was over, realizing how lucky I had been to experience this beauty and witness the kids’ own unfolding in this lovely and wild place.
The whole experience reminded me yet again of how important it is for me to take time in nature, how it refreshes me, calms me, gives me the energy to move forward. Gazing out into the ocean, walking among the trees in a forest, traipsing foothill paths – these are all ways to unwind and let go of the millions of swirling thoughts that occupy my mind. Then peace, connection to spirit, and stillness can enter. Ahhhhh!
This coming weekend, to kick off the beginning of summer vacation, we are going camping in the redwoods in Northern California (this picture is from last year). I am looking forward to more recharging! What will you do to recharge in nature?