April 19, 2020
Society is based on a hierarchy in which individuals are generally made to feel greater or lesser than others based on political power, wealth, education, religious order, fame, or race.
As we are finding out, worldwide, an unseen organism can level out the playing field. It strikes equally without consideration of status. Religious leaders, royalty, heads of state, the wealthy and entertainment icons are no less vulnerable than those who have put them on a pedestal.
Isolation is giving us the opportunity to bring things back into focus. We are recognizing the crucial role being played by those of many different backgrounds who serve us during this crisis. The common threat quickly reveals those who try to profit from the fear of others and those who do whatever they can to alleviate a bad situation. Above all, we are reminded that there really is fundamentally no difference between us other than how we perceive ourselves and others.
As an analogy, we may see ourselves as an insignificant little ripple on the ocean, a gentle wave, a white cap or a tsunami that overpowers the others. All of these waves are fleeting, but fundamentally they are just different surface expressions of the one ocean. Once we look deep within ourselves, we discover the oneness that unites us.
Nature has a way of stripping us of illusions. When a group of people from different backgrounds and of different social status come together in the outdoors, they may come in their grubbies or designer clothes, but in short order all of the exterior appearances mean nothing. Physical obstacles or other challenges quickly put an end to any delusions.
The beauty of spending time in the outdoors is the absence of social expectations and the freedom to just be. It’s not that we can’t do this in a social setting, it’s just that we’re more likely to focus our attention on how we present ourselves to others.
When I was a child, school was torture for me. I, like so many children, didn’t fit in. In my case, as a child of a German immigrant family in the 1950’s, so soon after World War II, we were still considered the enemy by many people in the community. As a child, my favourite places to hang out were natural areas on the farm where I could just be.
Every one of us came into this world with no expectations, inhibitions or emotional baggage. Then, gradually we were molded by family, religion, community and/or the media into someone we aren’t meant to be. The biases of society were instilled in us and we slowly assumed the collective baggage of those around us. Typically, this all happens inside walls of homes, schools, religious organizations, and other institutions. When we break through these walls into Nature, we begin to see who we really are.
As an outdoor educator, I often saw students who were generally withdrawn and didn’t do well in a classroom situation suddenly open up in the outdoors and present insights that astounded their classmates and teachers. Nature encourages freedom of expression.
We create prisons for ourselves with walls defined by our perceptions of self and the world outside our box. As long as we stay hunkered down in this metaphorical box, we will never discover our true self. Nature has the capacity to free us if we let go of our fears and fully embrace the natural world. This is not so easy when society constantly reminds us of the “dangers” outside.
We are Nature’s children. When we separate ourselves from the nurture of Nature, we do so at our peril. Nature will always present challenges, but we need to remind ourselves that we are an integral part of Nature and simply an expression of the one universe we share with all life. In this universe there is no one greater or lesser. We are all equal participants in the unfolding drama of life. When we step outside our self-constructed box we allow ourselves the freedom to just be. Rather than identify ourselves by family name, nationality, religion, politics, race, gender, or sexual orientation we can simply identify ourselves as “I am”.
There will always be people in authority over us, but it is important to see them for who they really are, no greater than us and that their position should be one that is assumed with humility and respect. Hierarchy in our society is something we allow to happen for whatever reason, but Nature is the most effective leveler. The closer we are tuned into Nature, the more likely we will be able to weather whatever comes our way with a healthy respect for her awesome power.