Even though I am obsessed with yoga, I think it is only the second best thing we can do for health. The best thing we can do is to have an intimate connection with nature.
Last winter we moved to one of the great yoga hubs of the world, Santa Monica, California. I taught yoga, went to yoga classes every day with talented and famous yoga instructors, got used to paying $22 for superfood smoothies and practically took out a second mortgage at the Whole Foods salad bar. Every day was full of California sunshine and palm trees, but there was an emptiness inside me and a sense of restlessness that I could not quell. One chilly December evening, my wife, two-year-old son and I drove North on Highway 1. We found a long stretch of beach that was isolated with the exception of the distant silhouette of an older woman strolling in her leopard skin coat. A reminder of our proximity to Malibu. I had surfed on Venice Beach every day and played in the parks of Santa Monica with our son daily, but those beaches were filled with a stream of cruiser bike riders, joggers and roller coasters.
There was a quietness to us that night as we watched the hazy pink marine layer softly blend into the ocean's seemingly endless horizon. I stopped and breathed deeply, not because it says to breathe deeply in a yoga text, but to replace the emptiness I felt in my chest. My heart became more inflated and I could finally pinpoint the source of my unease. I had unplugged from these experiences, my life had become too much about my laptop, my iPhone and my never ending "to-do" lists. As I exhaled tightness out of my shoulders, and I breathed in that salty air, I found myself spontaneously uttering a thank you. "Thank you, Nature. Thank you for reminding me that I am not my problems, I am not the four walls I enclose myself in but I am this infinite vastness."
I am not sure what God really is but I know we feel something powerful in the presence of nature. What is it? It can only be experienced firsthand and cannot be explained using the rational mind. This is where we get the word "mystic." There is a feeling of something powerful inside us, but what is that something? It's a mystery.
These instances I call "Nature Appreciation Moments." No phones, no computers, just complete presence and awe. Whether we look at the massive oceans or the unfathomable reaches of space, we feel small in comparison. It is hard for our egos to believe life revolves around us. The yogis wanted us to lose the prison of the ego because it blinds us to a deeper consciousness in which life is a miracle. Nature Appreciation makes us feel intimately connected to all life and gives us the greatest key to happiness, gratitude.
Nature Appreciation is the root of the spiritual experience. Most temples, shrines and churches were built in places with incredible views and so many of our great religions were founded by people who sat for long times alone in nature. The Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree to help reach enlightenment and Jesus went to the desert.
If 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean desert or even a trip to Yosemite don't fit into your busy schedule, do the next best thing. Make time for a Nature Appreciation moment every day even if you don't leave the city. Put away your phone, step outside and find something beautiful; clouds, stars, a plant and if you are stuck, even the air you are breathing. Once you have found that object, commit to five minutes chilling and observing. My mantra is "Relax and breathe, observe and receive."
I am trying to teach my two and half year old son how to pray. I tell him it's like talking on the phone to his grandparents but through a "heart phone." Five minutes is equivalent to four sentences of an email so invest that time being "unplugged" in nature. You may just plug into something profound. Keep your bliss-factor high by having more time on the heart phone to counter the drain of the smart phone.
Frank Lloyd Wright said it best, "I believe in God, I just spell it nature."
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