I was about 11-years-old when I saw my first one. I’d been told we lived too far south to ever see a real one and that the best I could hope for, unless I traveled much farther north, were the black and white pictures I’d seen of them. But I beat the odds.
That they existed at all seemed as much magical as mystical to me. I simply loved the idea of them.
The photographs I’d seen did little to prepare me for their sheer brilliance—these remarkable, undulating, massive curtains of light seen in the northern skies. As they unexpectedly appeared in the night sky that one summer night, we were all transfixed and rendered speechless—perhaps most of all me. Not so much because I didn’t think I’d ever see them short of traveling to Alaska, but more because their epic size and ethereal wonder fit perfectly into my personal experience with nature.
In the early 1600’s Galileo Galilei named them after the mythical Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for wind, Boreas. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are caused by a sophisticated chain reaction involving sunspots jettisoning electrons toward the earth and photons shifting their energy state. You know, the magic of nature.
Nature has always surprised and delighted me. Seeing the Aurora Borealis so unpredictably that summer night did that and more. If I hadn’t been with a group of people I would have done my best to float up and touch that dancing curtain of green and blue light filling the night sky.
And this is my point, to get close enough to nature that we can both literally and figuratively touch it.
To do this well, we’ll want to slow down, stop and move closer; touch, stroke and feel leaves, bark, stones, water and even bugs; breathe in the scents of nature and scoop up leaves and fistfuls of soil and inhale their pungentness. This is how we begin to become closer to nature; to truly connect with the physical aspects of nature. Otherwise we miss what is potent, thrilling and transformative about nature and consequently ourselves.
We can power hike, bike, ski, hang glide or rock climb in nature—nothing wrong with any of these—but none are the same as learning to listen and feel nature. That is something very different and is only possible when we slow down, a lot.
Try an experiment the next time you’re in nature, which can just mean being anywhere outside. Instead of letting your mind choose which direction to walk, stay in place for a time and see where you are drawn to go. Then follow that impulse and do your best to stay connected to it. Let it not only move you in a specific direction but allow it to guide your focus and see where you end up. Then investigate wherever you are. Slow down, don’t look for any answers or revelations, just be with nature, following its direction.
Every time I’ve done this something unexpected happens. Sometimes it’s a small and delicate something, other times it’s bigger, and occasionally it’s something spectacular. The proportion doesn’t really matter because it all comes from connecting to nature.
The more you practice this simple exercise the more organic it will become. Before long you will have a very real sense of what nature feels like as it reaches out to touch humanity. There is far more to nature than most of us know.
This exercise is about connecting and listening and far less about understanding exactly what is going on. In the beginning, you don’t want to understand anything since you don’t speak the language of nature. Give that time to evolve.
AND THERE’S MORE!
You can use this same technique to learn more about yourself. What could be better than one easy technique that has the potential to produce two remarkable results?
All you have to do is accept that you know less about yourself than you may have assumed—in the same way that you really don’t know all that much about nature—be still for a time and move in the direction you are inspired to move. Then engage with whatever you find yourself next to.
This may be physical movement, creative movement or an intellectual idea. Keep it open and above all don’t judge the experience or yourself. You might just find your version of the Aurora Borealis living inside of you, because, trust me, it’s there.