A few years ago, during our road trip across the U.S., we stopped at the Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. The cave is currently the third longest in the world and is best explored with a guided tour. So we joined one. Following a park ranger through a maze of passages and tunnels, I tried not to think about metres of rock above my head. As our tour was nearing the end, we stopped on a large platform. Our guide explained that she was going to turn off the lights for a few minutes and encouraged us to listen to the sounds of the cave. Seemed like an easy enough challenge. Once the lights went off and we plunged into complete darkness, I could hear a distant drip of the water. There were other sounds close by: the shuffling of feet, the rustling of clothes, whispers and giggles. On our way back out of the cave, the ranger shared her observation: over the past few years those three minutes of quietness are getting louder. It’s as if people forgot how to be still.
There are many reasons why I enjoy getting outdoors. But it is the moments of utter stillness that I cherish the most. Those seconds right before a sunrise when I hold my breath waiting for the red orb inch its way into the sky. All those times we sit in our canoe watching a loon frolicking around or a beaver crossing our path, not daring to move for the fear of scaring them away. The moment when an incredible vista opens up in front of us, leaving no room for words only a feeling of collective awe. All those mornings I spend watching the campfire, a coffee mug in hand, mind wandering. Doing absolutely nothing.
What a radical concept and such a luxury in a world that is constantly on the move, panicking at the slightest sign of a void, frantically stuffing it with activity, even if it is just checking our Facebook updates. Somehow we got convinced that we need to fill every waking second with doing things and buying stuff. That we need to continuously demonstrate our growth with promotions, new degrees, bigger houses, newest phones. That to do otherwise would rob our lives of meaning. That not being constantly busy equals being lazy.
And as we continue to be reduced to human doings and human havings, spending time in nature helps me restore the being part of my humanity. It reminds me that I don’t have to always achieve new heights, both literally and figuratively, to prove my worth. The forest generously shares its gifts with everyone regardless of our accolades or titles. The trail doesn’t care how expensive my hiking shoes are as long as I tread lightly. Wildlife doesn’t ask about the size of my house or the brand of my car, only to be left in peace. Coming face to face with nature’s majestic powers is an exhilarating and humbling experience: on the grand canvas of the universe we are but one stroke, no more important than the other elements of this magnificent masterpiece.
So as I get caught up in the everyday whirlwind of things to do and places to go, I remind myself that there is always time to watch a leaf twirl in the wind. Even if it means missing the bus. I make myself pause, stay still and just be. I challenge you to do the same.