By Asalah Youssef
Mixed in between conversations, I often hear people using metaphors about nature as a comparison to life experiences, and I’m always very fond of it. Hearing these references has made it clear to me that innately we all know how interconnected we are with the natural world, but truly embracing, understanding and reflecting that in our lives is a different story. What if we were more aware of our interrelatedness with earth...would we be more mindful of the way we treated her? Okay, cozy up in your favourite nook, take a couple of nourishing breaths and let's dive into what I mean when I say you are a mirror of nature.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, we grow to admire the seasons for what they are, the changes that occur, and the unique beauty they bring. Each year we witness change in our natural landscapes; the shift from hues of greens on summer leaves to bright orange and red in the fall, to the bareness of branches in the winter, to once again the spring blossoms....all of these natural occurrences are in symbiotic relationship with one another in order for the ecosystem to thrive. Although I do have to admit, some may be more photo worthy than others, they are all necessary for this place to go round. Like Earth, we humans experience seasonal change. Seasons teach us a lot; but perhaps one of the most beautiful teachings is one of impermanence. We too experience darker, heavier months, ones where we shed what no longer serves us, ones where we grow and evolve... just as these changes are a part of the natural experiences of a tree, this is a natural part of the human experience. So here I sit, on a warm, summer afternoon by my sweet little veggie garden inviting you to offer yourself some grace during difficult life changes by knowing that seasons and storms are a part of nature.
Some days when I’m out for an evening walk, being reminded of my similarity to the natural world can be as simple yet as profound as noticing how elements in nature look the same as my own physical home (my body). Trunks and branches like lungs, rivers like veins and streams like blood vessels, grass and hair, or the rings on the trunk of a tree and our fingerprints. Our bodies are diverse and complex ecosystems and are constantly working miracles (like Earth), so why don’t we treat them like that? Why don’t we admire our body in the same way that we do our favourite forest or beach... So really, like we are in awe of the leaves changing colour, let’s be in awe of the changes of our beautiful minds and bodies... practice joy and gratitude for all that we can do with this vessel of ours.
As I navigate relationships, I often think about the way trees teach us how to better coexist with each other. As Robin Wall Kimmerer so beautifully explains, "The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together." We should aspire to live in a collective as trees do, because the forest has got living communally down to a T. Like us, no tree is the same, yet each one has a vital role to play in the ecosystem. Like human communities and collectives, diversity in ecosystems is essential and helps it to be resilient and thrive. When a tree is sick, the others around send nutrients through their roots. The health of the community depends on the health of all individuals. Like trees, in times of need we can lean on others for strength, resilience and stability. We can’t forget about the interdependent relationship we have with trees. If you ever need a reminder of the connections we have with these big barky beings, simply be aware of your breath. The simplicity of the inhale and exhale connects us directly with them. We breathe in the oxygen they provide, and release carbon dioxide, which they then take in, and the cycle continues. Our bodies are constantly working in harmony with Earth even when it’s hard to see it. Got a few moments on your hands... search up lungs and trees on Google. It’s mesmerizing and moving to see how similar our lungs are to the form of a tree.
When I’m in a rut, feeling isolated, or simply in need of a good ol’ reminder to help humble myself back to my connection with nature, I repeat these affirmations to myself. Place any that align with you in your back pocket or create some of your own personal ones and repeat them to yourself when you may need.
Like nature, I experience seasons. This too shall pass.
Like a mountain, I will stay grounded despite storms.
Like a tree, I will lean on my community when I need it most.
The best way to truly see these connections, is to go outside and look. Practice mindful exploration, sit and bathe in the forest sunshine, close your eyes and listen to how your breath syncs with the waves, or simply feel the slight breeze kiss your face as you step outside your home... These moments are the ones where we reconnect and discover how much we really are like nature (heck, we are nature!)
I’ll leave you with this quote, "Our fundamental self is not something just inside the skin, it’s everything around us with which we connect. When you look out of your eyes at nature happening out there you’re looking at you. That’s the real you."
― Alan Wilson Watts
I gratefully acknowledge that I live, create and explore on the ancestral, unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem First Nation which lies within the shared territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Musqueam, Squamish and Sto:lo Nations. The people of these nations are the original caretakers and have stewarded these lands since time immemorial and continue to today.
WRITTEN BY ASALAH YOUSSEF