A few weekends ago I did some volunteer work at Inwood Hill in upper Manhattan. Most people do not know this (including people that live in NYC), but Inwood is a thriving 500 acre forest in the heart of the big city, and it’s a really special place to spend some time.
The mission during this particular jaunt at Inwood was to manually remove invasive plants (weeds) from the ground and allow amiable plant life to grow and flourish. For five hours, about 20 of us were on our hands and knees pulling dandelion and periwinkle from its roots. Although the experience will certainly help the forest grow a more diverse and sustainable plant-life, I could not help but think of the overall life lessons one can learn while weeding, gardening and working hands-on with the earth.
I began to notice how things in nature happen without emotion. I started flipping over big rocks to see what was underneath (like many of us did when we were little kids). Under one rock I noticed a small spider the size of my thumbnail scatter to retrieve a tiny white sphere that was obviously her egg. I watched for a long time as she immediately adjusted to her situation and sat on the egg in the more open (and dangerous) space.
Being a spider, there was no anger or sadness involved with the sudden change of events; it did not look around idly and wonder “why did this happen to me” and sulk at the negative consequences I had caused. No, the spider moved swiftly and acted, without emotion, to deal with the situation.
Similarly, trees that twist and bend in what seem like unnatural directions to make way for other trees do not complain about the fact that they are “made” to do so. There is no feeling of being taken advantage; they simply grow differently and allow other life to flourish.
I think a big part of the beauty that people feel from nature is the ultimate peace and acceptance that emanates from it. Everything in nature just happens, and it does so without complaint, remorse, or worry and is perfect the way it is all the time.
And I started to wonder if we emotion-filled humans
might learn something by paying closer attention to the lessons nature teaches?
Although human emotions are a wonderful blessing, and certainly differentiate us from almost everything else on the planet, they can also cause tremendous pain and sorrow and be a detriment to living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Somehow, people have been entrained to accept the axiom that “suffering” is just a part of being alive; and the truth is it does not have to be this way.
We only need to become aware of the myriad examples nature provides us, and by cultivating the ability to view our emotions from the 10,000 foot level (or by “putting them aside” when possible) we can free ourselves from potential pain and suffering.
Contemplate your life, and start to question if there are times when it would be better to act like the spider I describe above. My action of moving that rock turned her whole world upside down, but by acting without emotion she gave herself the best chance to achieve her goal and hatch a healthy offspring. She moved quickly and with purpose and it was actually a beautiful thing to watch.
Take a moment and think about your job, relationships, finances and goals and start to see how each part of your life brings about a bevy of emotions. Ask yourself: do these emotions serve me well or are they a detriment?
Then take a hike, go in your backyard, or volunteer outdoors and become aware of the emotionless state of occurrences that go on. Try and bring this mindset back to the areas in your life that cause the most stress, anxiety and pain. Use your imagination and visualize yourself going through the routines of your life without the influence of negative feelings.
The ability to put your emotions on a shelf is not easy, and you have to purposefully practice this action and flex the muscle of your intention to do so. However, by simply becoming aware of the limitless examples of non-emotional activity nature provides us, we can change our perspective and get back to using our emotions as the wonderful guide they were originally intended.
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