In my last post on Winter Dormancy for Humans, I ended with an easy way to connect with your winter biology by asking “How do I feel right now?”. I followed that with a suggestion to wait a few moments before trying to formulate an answer.
Clever readers probably noticed the contradiction. I mean what’s the good in asking about “right now” if you’re going to wait a few moments to figure out the answer?
The truth is your answer starts forming as soon as you think about the question. It takes as little as 1/20th of a second for your body to register the question and at least 3 times that amount of time to react. Deeper processing, though, takes a lot longer.
Getting Closer to Now
For me, if I ask that question — How do I feel right now? — my first thought starts in roughly a second. Within 5 seconds, a flood of thoughts start rolling in. Most of the early stuff is extremely superficial.
I might notice my congested nose. Then I realize my chest feels congested too. After that I notice my stomach feels icky. Then I remember the homemade leftover pan pizza I ate for lunch. I think about how delicious it was, but also that eating too much bready stuff triggers my allergies and asthma.
About this time, I realize I am no longer answering the question “How do I feel right now?” Instead, I’m mentally berating myself for overindulging in known dietary irritants. Then I feel bad for getting off track….
After that it takes me several times to refocus on the question “how do I feel right now” before I get closer to an actual answer happening “right now”.
No Such Thing As “Now”
The fact is, there’s no way to perceive “right now”. By the time you pinpoint it, the now has passed. This exercise, though, isn’t really about chasing down right now. It’s about getting through the loud, superficial, and temporary complaints to feel something more stable and enduring.
Personally I know that I’m getting closer to the real “right now” when I begin to feel heaviness in my chest, then my belly, my bottom, leading down my legs and into my feet.
In those moments when I can get past my transient physical complaints and internal dialogue, I begin to feel gravity. It doesn’t sit on top of my like a blanket, it fills me and embraces me like heavy air. If I raise my arm, while in this state, I can feel that I am pushing through something palpable.
Gravity is a constant force acting on us at all times. Yet, because so much else weighs on us at any given moment, except when we slow down, we’re rarely aware of it.
If I linger, I begin to experience blood flowing and the fluid activity of life forms flitting about inside me. I sense the earth spinning through space at a thousand miles an hour.
Then, as I return to normal speed, I feel a slightly dizzy and nauseous like stepping on dry land after scuba diving or getting off of a trampoline. That sensation passes almost instantly, but the residue of having done something freeing remains long after.
Return to Nature
When I emerge, I am immunized against some of my previous personal distractions. I’m still congested, but it matters less. My internal dialogue continues, though it seems less directly applicable to me. I have tapped into to something that isn’t bothered by these things. I have felt the comforting embrace of natural equilibrium.
Some people never make it past being distracted by their persistent health conditions. The longer they ask this question — How do I feel right now? — the longer their list of ailments and complaints grows. They hold so tightly to their pain they never notice all the non-painful activities going on in and around their bodies as well.
I have no doubt their pain is real and their complaints legitimate. Yet it makes me sad to think they can’t quiet their thoughts about them long enough to feel the constant, immutable aspects of our nature.
The more I learn about natural systems – space, our atmosphere, plants, animals, soil, humans, our microbiomes — the more obvious it seems that everything is made of microcosms within microcosms. Like nested Russian Matryoshka dolls, we are held in the heart of mother nature and she lives in ours.
Sometimes, though, we get caught up in the mistaken belief that we are so uniquely afflicted, gifted, or responsible for others that we forget our nature. That’s why if you can escape your sense of self long enough to feel the earth spin and the gravity that keeps you grounded, or experience seasonal changes in winter when some natural systems slow down, you can remember.
What the Science Says
Scientifically speaking, seasons happen because the earth rotates on a tipped access, in an elliptical manner, around the sun. If you imagine the earth as a meatball on a slanted skewer, rotating around an open flame in a trajectory similar to earth’s, it’s easy to understand how parts of the meatball will be colder and darker at some times and hotter and lighter at others. If you get the right angle, the meatball doesn’t cook. It warms just enough to support the growth and development of all sorts of life forms.
Also, scientifically speaking, we can’t normally feel the earth traveling through space or the force of gravity because those forces are constant. But that’s not entirely true. The earth spins at different speeds at different latitudes and at different times of year and that speed changes over a cyclical period of about 5 years.
Personally, I believe humans can experience constancy and minor change — no matter how subtle. The reason we don’t isn’t because they are constant. It’s because we don’t pay enough attention to have sufficient perspective.
If you ride in a car at a constant rate of 65 miles per hour for hours, you can still experience the speed of the car by looking out the window and watching the landscape change. Likewise, paying attention to your own natural responses over time, tuning into the seasonal changes that happen to and around you, and studying natural systems around you in greater detail make it possible to recognize the more constant natural forces at work in nature.
The Cost of Ignorance
Do you remember the joke about the guy waiting for God to rescue him in a flood? He ultimately dies because he didn’t listen to the policeman who came first to make sure he knew about the evacuation order, or the rescue worker who arrived with a boat to float him out, or the helicopter that arrived to air lift him to safety.
So, when the man meets God, and asks “Why didn’t you save me?” God replies “I tried to. I sent a policeman with a warning, then a rescue boat, and even a helicopter.”
We’ve all heard that one a million times. But every time I hear it, all I can think is…
Most of our modern existence is moderated by artificial experiences. We work in buildings and live in homes built precisely to insulate us from weather. We spend enormous amounts of time using devices that tap into only a few of our senses – namely sight and sound.
Some may argue that our sense of touch is also used, such as me clicking on this keyboard right now or the gamer holding the remote and controlling their on-screen avatar. But that pales in comparison to developing the sensory capacity to feel the subliminally perceptible natural system fluctuations happening all the time.
Don’t wait for some perfect messenger or circumstance to reconnect with nature. Start where you are with your own nature. Then find ways to make nature a larger part of your daily experience.
The Pain of Knowing Nature
When you truly experience nature, you also see that like the ailments that make it difficult for us to escape our thoughts, the broader natural world is suffering countless health problems too. These afflictions are as real as our own. They are also often caused by our collective human actions in much the same way that dietary choices can impact personal health.
When you awaken your awareness of nature, you will feel nature’s diseases and wounds, and your role in them, just as you do your own. To some, this may seem like a reason to tune nature out even further. Sadly, though, like the man in the flood, lack of acknowledgement for our role in the natural dilemmas won’t protect us from the harm and hardships happening now and to come.
Opening our eyes and hearts to understand what is happening around can better guide our decisions going forward. Then, rather than facing the future with fear, we can gain the peace that comes from knowing there is wonder even where there is pain.