Photo by Barron Roth on Unsplash
By Morella Devost
It sounded like a freight train rolling above my head. I never heard anything like it before. The roar of the windstorm swaying the forest trees surrounding my tent made me feel minuscule and out of place. As I longed for my bed, I was saddened to be one of the many humans whose lifestyle is so completely divorced from nature that we don’t even know how to live in it.
That stormy night was the third in my five-day, five-night vision quest. I was alone, fasting, meditating, and simply sitting and being with the forest. It was a spiritual quest that culminated an eighteen-year journey. I’d always known I’d sit in the woods alone one day, and dreamt of the idea of being one with nature. But instead, I felt sorely an outsider; like I truly didn’t belong there.
That was one of the biggest, hardest insights of my vision quest: how deeply lost from our natural state of being we’ve become as a human race.
“How did I ever become so disconnected from nature?” I wondered.
I was born foreign to it, to begin with. I was a city girl through and through. Born in Caracas, I lived in a high-rise until the ripe old age of twenty-seven. From there, I left Venezuela to go to grad school at Columbia, which meant I traded my relatively tiny city of three million to live in Manhattan. For the next six years, I lived the life of restaurants, apartments, and theaters, surrounded by the environment of sidewalks, subways, and enormous buildings.
The hardness of the New York life wore down on me. One night, leaving work after a long day at my fancy corporate job, I told my coworker, “See you tomorrow! I’m gonna go tuck myself away in my box!” She laughed. I didn’t. The voice that told me I could no longer feel fully alive living a life that unfolded entirely within concrete landscapes was getting louder and louder.
At thirty-three, I had had enough of city living. When I told my friends I was leaving New York to move to Burlington, Vermont, they were aghast! “Who would ever want to leave NYC?” “How are you going to meet men?” (We were all single.) My response: “I don’t need that many men, I only need one.” And then: “I can no longer live in a place where I can’t watch a sunset or walk barefoot. I need to be close to nature.” “What about Central Park?”, they’d say. No offense to the creative eye and the foresight of Frederick Law Olmstead (who designed the park in the 1850’s)—but Central Park has always felt like a glorified (though unquestionably beautiful) giant sandbox to me. The park is most certainly not nature, just as a sandbox is not a beach.
My whole life, I’ve been moving closer and closer to nature—not just in my surroundings, but also in how I care for myself. Over the years, I’ve realized that the more we disconnect from nature, the less we know what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, or what we need in order to restore balance to the body.
We are the only species on the planet that needs to be told what to eat in order to not kill itself! Have you ever realized that we are so profoundly disconnected we don’t even know what to eat? We don’t know how to co-exist with the rest of our ecosystems. We seem to be on a quest to destroy them, and ourselves in the process.
I believe we’re living the ultimate consequences of the dark ages that rolled into the Industrial Revolution without much depth or wisdom. The short stints through the “Renaissance” and “Enlightenment” periods did little to balance the darkness. The ignorance of humanity turned into power-hungry and consumption-driven knowledge. In our industrialization, we left behind the last traces that connected us to nature through farming, herbalism, and foraging.
But not all cultures detached from our natural lifestyles as completely as we seem to have done in the West. In China and India, their millenary wisdom and healing philosophies have always been rooted in a deep communion with nature. Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda observe and understand the rhythms of nature, the qualities in different foods and herbs, and how they correlate with human health. In fact, healing in both traditions is all about restoring balance and harmony within the body and with the environment. Both espouse that what you eat and how you move in the heat of summer must be completely different than what you eat and what you do during the lows of winter.
In Japan, recent studies on the practice of forest-bathing are showing the significant health benefits derived from the simple practice of walking through the woods. It helps with all sorts of things—lowering blood pressure, reducing allergies, improving sleep and digestion, and so on.
Oddly, the city girl in me has always dreamt of living at the foot of a mountain. As I write this, I still live in Burlington but have decided to move. A big part of me longs to trade the urban sounds and sights for those of nature. And there’s another part of me that wonders if I’ll find rural life completely isolating and freak out at the absence of conveniences and entertainment.
Given our modern life, it’s unrealistic, impractical, and unsustainable for everyone to forgo city life for rural living. But there must be a way to create better balance. How can we keep the best of urban life while returning to a more natural and integrated way of living?
Whether it is through relearning the art of eating with the seasons, or rooftop gardening, or weekly forest bathing, we need to reconnect with nature. We must find our place again in the balance of our ecosystems, rather than being their biggest destabilizer. It is imperative, both for our personal health and planetary health, that we see ourselves again as intrinsically a part of nature…a return to a more natural lifestyle, naturally.
Morella Devost facilitates profound transformation for people who want to thrive in health and life. She has master’s degrees in Counseling from Columbia University, and is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP facilitator, and Holistic Health Coach. She is also the host of the Thrive With Morella show.