By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
We are drawn to things that resonate with us. Make sense to us. And that is why I think I was so drawn to Chinese medicine. Although my first experience with it was with acupuncture and herbs – so in the medical realm – from that very first experience, everything about it made sense to me. It was a way to explain the world, human beings and nature and their relationship to each other that made the chaos of my world, up until then – be gently placed into an order that was logical and ultimately, helped to explain everything. I am happy to say that it has continued to do so, and I expect it to continue, for as long as I live.
The ancient Chinese view of nature – the universe and the human being and their interconnectedness – is not unique. Many ancient cultures shared this reverence for the natural world and their societies and civilizations grew up around it. Most ancient cultures, in fact, lived in harmony with the natural world because their lives depended on it. Having an acute sensitivity to the changes in the seasons was imperative to growing successful crops and feeding your family and community. One had to be attuned to the weather in order to make changes that would allow a household to thrive. If one didn’t pay attention, the results could be disastrous. Being aware and attuned to the natural world was a matter of survival and thus an important skill that was instilled in every person.
The Modern World and the Price of Progress
Somewhere along the way, human progress turned away from a symbiotic relationship with nature and turned rather to a more domineering role – attempting to dominate and control nature. The industrial revolution was probably a large part of the beginning of this process, humans making goods without too much thought to the costs down the line, both to themselves and to the planet on which they lived. Our “modern” world is the result and although we have blossomed as innovators and creators, our connection to the natural world has largely been lost. Many people in the developing world are hungry for “progress” and want to share in the high living standards and consumerism that the first world has enjoyed for decades. The problem is that scientists have speculated that at the rate we are going and with the explosion in population all over the planet that our precious earth simply cannot support the first world lifestyles for all the people that will live on the earth in the next few decades. In our rush for progress, something important has been lost. We have forgotten our precious earth.
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Human beings are incredible innovators. They have the ability to create out of their fruitful imaginations and do things like allow people to fly, explore the deep seas and land on other planets. We are now able to traverse the surface of our planet in a matter of hours and can, in theory, grow enough food to feed the entire population of the earth. We have managed to eradicate some of the most debilitating diseases and through updated sanitation practices, much of the world is able to have clean water. Almost all people in the first world now carry tiny computers in their pockets so powerful that a machine a fraction as powerful used to take up an entire room. A huge percentage of the world is now connected virtually which brings with it the freedom of people who might otherwise have no access to things other than the basics of food and water, now have the knowledge of all of human history at their fingertips. With the internet, you are able to teach yourself literally anything you desire which opens up a world of possibilities to many people who, before the internet, were extremely isolated and whose options for a better life were very limited. We are a species capable of expressing ourselves through things like music, poetry, and art and have the ability to develop ourselves spiritually. We are multifaceted beings.
But like the tai-ji or Chinese yin and yang, balance is of the utmost importance. That balance that seems to be so elusive for so many of us. So how do we balance our insatiable desire for progress and technology with a deep reverence and connection to nature and our inner selves? The answer is – I don’t know. I have been trying all of my life. It is not easy, but, in my opinion, something worth working towards. Like any balance, there is always movement, it is dynamic. It is always moving and fluctuating. But something that I think has been lost to so many people, is the knowledge that there is a NEED for balance and that a life immersed in technology and the need for constant progress has its drawbacks, and that can be seen if we just look at the present state of our society. So much of the underdeveloped world looks to nations like the US, Canada, and Europe and desires the lifestyle that we all enjoy. But are we happier? We are very fortunate to have many of our basic needs taken care of, but we are not happier, nor do we live longer than generations before us. So, is it really progress? I suppose it depends on how you define it.
Reconnect with Nature
My recent relocation to Central America has been the culmination of my lifelong dream to reconnect with nature. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to live on a big piece of land, build my own house, grow my own food, live sustainably and off the grid. Living in this way goes against everything that the society in which I grew up has taught me. According to it, I should want more education, another degree so I can get a better job, make more money and have more things. This life has never made sense to me. It has never made me happy. Being happy is canoeing down a river, walking in a forest, swimming in an ocean. Those places, surrounded by the beauty of nature, are where I feel most myself.
That said, for someone who grew up in a big city, I was spoiled for things like international cuisine, arts, movies, public transit and efficiency. Those, along with many, MANY other things, are things I will have to give up to achieve my dream. I am hoping to find some kind of balance with that as well, being able to travel so that I can still eat Vietnamese food, see a movie, go to an art gallery and see my friends. It is all about balance. ;)
The First Step – The Right Now
Right now, we are renting a little house up in the mountains. It is very remote and the road that you drive on to get here is incredibly dangerous and people die on it all the time. It is not paved, there are no guardrails, and trees fall across it and it gets washed out regularly. 3 times in the first week we were here large trees had fallen across the road and we had to stop, take the machete out (everyone keeps one in their car for this reason, amongst others) and help to hack it up and drag it off to the side so cars could pass. You have to have 4 wheel drive or there is no way you could drive it. I don’t even think you could manage it with automatic transmission. My husband and I had never driven standard before so we bought a 5-speed car, then have been teaching ourselves to drive it, on this road, at the end of the rainy season. Talk about reconnecting with nature, and your very real feelings of mortality!
The food we are able to get is very limited. Vegetables are scarce, so our diet went from being basically anything we wanted anytime we wanted, to about 6 items, every day. We have no hot water, much of the house is open to the outside, scorpions are a problem and can kill you if you get stung, and there is no garbage pickup. We are supposed to have internet, but hadn’t for the first few weeks, although I am happy to say that we have intermittent internet now, for a few hours a day. Considering where we are and how remote it is, this is a small miracle.
Where we are is beautiful and wild. In front of our little house runs a beautiful river that is apparently full of fish and large river shrimp the size of your fist. Our baby son loves to walk down there in the afternoons and sits gleefully on the riverbank pulling rocks out of the water one by one and admiring their beauty. Toucans sit in the trees outside the kitchen door, and the sounds of beautiful, brightly coloured birds fills your ears instead of police sirens and your neighbours television set. There is green as far as the eye can see, and life literally explodes everywhere. If you walk, you are sure to come upon waterfalls that look like something out of National Geographic. It is a beautiful paradise.
But I am very aware that to some people, this place, especially where we are living and especially the WAY we are living, would be a nightmare. I think of some friends back home who would be horrified to live without hot water, even for just a day or two. Who could not be without a TV, or glued to their iPhones. Here you are forced to be with yourself. In the silence. Without distraction. And sometimes, it isn’t easy. Living this close to nature can be scary for some, and I understand that. The bugs (they are everywhere and sometimes as big as dinner plates), in the rainy season everything is sort of damp all the time, the simplicity of the facilities, the food and the “lack of things to do” would make some people crazy. I only expect a select few to visit ;)
Even though this move is the culmination of a lifelong dream, it is still a huge adjustment. In many ways, I have left almost everything behind. All my friends and that is hard. Your friends are so important, and in many ways, keep you going through life’s ups and downs. I will keep in touch when there is internet and hope that an adventurous few will come and visit. And yes, even though my goal was always to reconnect with nature, there are many, many things you give up to do so. I am a lover of food, so this one is particularly hard for me. The lack of variety here is difficult. I find now that my dreams are filled with buffets of Chinese food, Vietnamese Pho, and Ethiopian delights. I wake up hungry only to realize that I will have for breakfast what I have had every day since I got here. Eggs. Can’t even have toast, as our only cooking appliance is a small 3 burner gas hot plate hooked up to a canister of gas that sits on the floor. No toaster. No oven. I am working towards a toaster. We will get there eventually…
One of the wonderful things about being here is that it forces you to slow down. There is no doing things fast here. Everything takes time. Going to the store is half a day. Cooking the meals and cleaning up afterward is a full-time thing. Wrangling a baby on top of it and the whole day is gone. But it is good. These simple things are the way I want to be spending my days. Being here, life is a meditation. You can hear nature’s hum. You rise and sleep with the sun, and you are in rhythm with your surroundings. There are no distractions and so you must be with yourself. And the people around you. You must live in harmony with nature and with those around you, not fighting against anything, just letting go and being. And I have to say that so far, being is pretty awesome. :)
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**The lovely featured image from awakenedforestproject.org