I had the privilege and pleasure to spend a couple of weeks in retreat in a nature preserve in southern Chile in December. I stayed in quite a nice house, but it was one separated by the forest from the few others in the preserve, which is in a region of volcanoes, mountains, forest, and lakes. Heat came from a wood-burning stove on the cold days, even though it was entering summer in the southern hemisphere.
I shared meals with friends and had a pleasant 20-minute walk through the forest for these events. I thought myself quite close to nature, which I admired, appreciated, and took pictures of. Time slowed down – or speeded up – depending on the experience of the moment as I began to settle into natural rhythms not dominated by my calendar and the clock. I found myself getting stronger on my walks and becoming friends with the trees, the insects, the birds, and the winds on the way.
Two days before I was to return, I was sitting in the morning watching the sun come up. Dew was sparkling on the grass, and a pair of oxen were driven past on their way to work. I had the fleeting thought that I’d be traveling home in two days, and unexpectedly – a wave of visceral sadness swept over me. It surprised me, and I realized that over my two weeks that I’d developed a connection with my surroundings deeper than I realized. It wasn’t a sad thought, but a full-body reaction without more thought.
Two days later I was at the airport in Santiago, Chile, waiting for my flight home. I was in a beautiful terminal with its glass, shiny metal, shops, restaurants, and cushioned seats. And I felt like I was in a desert. My body was yearning for the dirt trails and living energy of the trees and birds. I wanted to feel the wind.
My body was teaching me a lesson that was new for me, not in my thinking, but in my feeling. About the degree of connection with our surroundings, and the level of energy that healthy surroundings and nature gives to us. I have a greater appreciation for hikers, for the trees that surround my house and neighborhood, and for the blessing of being around full living life, and an appetite for a connection with it.
We Must Learn How to Reconnect
I’m a product of our urban and suburban culture, and we live in a culture that has focused for hundreds of years on the supremacy of the cognitive, the rational, and the logical. The tremendous impact of science and technology seemed to validate that it is our analytical abilities that will produce the best outcomes in life, and in the 1950’s even areas of the humanities were trying to become “scientific,” such as the study of language and psychology.
But since that time, we are learning that the rational, materialistic, scientific world, although powerful with our external physical environment, leaves something out – us. Scientific method tries to eliminate bias and subjectivity, and the personal experience or perspective has to be eliminated to reveal only what can be reliably replicated by others. This has been the standard for our “reality,” with subjective experience relegated to a subversive status that we must try to eradicate even in our personal lives.
And so our culture has learned to disconnect in order to be in “reality.” We have learned to privilege the rational and cognitive, leaving out the wisdom of our bodies and emotions. Perhaps this is true more in the sphere of organization and business than elsewhere, where this cultural bias leads us to try to make human groups and communities into predictable and controllable systems.
Ken Wilbur’s integral framework, Goleman’s introduction of emotional intelligence, and the rich culture that has arisen around somatics, alternative medicines and philosophies, coaching, and others fields are opening the possibility of re-imagining the experience of being human. Re-imagining and redesigning our very conceptions of groups, organizations, and teams.
My Chile experience is a deeper realization of what I have been exploring for years. It is connection and disconnection, with each other, with nature, and with ourselves, that is the foundation of our experience of life, our effectiveness in action, and the meaningfulness of our purposes. Organizations and our world will begin to unfold a different future when we each learn to notice and learn in each moment whether we have disconnected, and how to reconnect.
We must learn to feel it, not just think it.
Can you feel it?