Last weekend on retreat, being with nature reminded me of the strength and beauty that comes from being aware of my own identity and being true to that.
First, what do I mean by retreat? Retreat for me this year is taking a few days, each month, off-the-grid. Spending time with myself, my thoughts and being present. No responsibilities, no plans, no structure. A chance to disconnect on the outside to reconnect on the inside.
I took a close friend with me on retreat. We planned to be spontaneous. Yes, the irony is clear but the need to plan unplanned time has become a reality for both of our modern lifestyles. Having unstructured time, even for just a few days, is the complete opposite of my normal day-to-day lifestyle where everything is planned, purposeful or productive. It is for this exact reason that I find that going to the other extreme is useful (at least once in a while!).
We got into a car on Friday morning in Toronto, without any idea of where we were going, what we would do, where we would stay or what would happen. We drove south, without really discussing or deciding, perhaps unconsciously hoping for some warmer weather. While crossing the Canada-US border, we learned just how revolutionary it was what we were intending to do. “What do you mean you don’t know where you are going and where you are staying? You can see how this looks questionable, right?”, asked the border officers. We were called in for further questioning and could not help but laugh at ourselves after being fully honest with the officers.
We explored cities and towns we had never cared to pay attention, even though they were in our backyard. We quickly discovered that it did not matter where we went. Taking time to be with ourselves and our thoughts was such a rich and fulfilling experience that the outside environment or activities became less important. We were able to draw inspiration from many people, places and paths we observed, simply by being curious.
One such place was Niagara Falls. Specifically, the “American side” of the Falls. See, growing up in Canada, we had visited the Canadian side of the Falls countless times before but never had once been curious, until now, to see the other side of something we felt we knew well. While walking alongside the Falls, I found myself naturally comparing the American side to the Canadian side.
Then I closed my eyes. And fell into a sound meditation of sorts, experiencing the Falls with only my ears. Standing close to the Falls, all I heard was a loud thunder and roar. Strong and continuous, without end it seemed.
And then an insight rose. It did not matter which side of the Falls I was standing on. The Falls is concerned simply with being itself. So focused on being itself, it is unencumbered by anything else. It keeps doing its thing, loud and proud, irrespective of what I may am doing, where I may be standing and what I may be thinking. It is not bothered by any of it. It may be sunny or rainy. There may be many tourists or very few. It just continues to flow. It is also not trying to please anyone or change itself for anyone else. It changes at its leisure, in its own way.
At a deeper level, what made this a beautiful experience for me was observing the Falls being grounded in its own identity. And that is where the true beauty from nature lies. Whenever I am with nature, be it in the ocean or in the mountains, I am reminded of what it means to be true to myself.
When we know ourselves, and can be fearless in being true to who we are, all of our beauty shines through. That then inspires those around us to be true to themselves as well. And like that, we all walk around, grounded in our own identity, true to who we are, and appreciating the true beauty in others.