Three weeks ago, my family was nearing two months of sheltering-in-place in our Baja home. We had been adhering to strict physical distancing guidelines. The kids hadn’t played with another child, and we weren’t socializing with friends in person.
What had initially been a unique and precious incubation started to feel suffocating and lonely, even amidst our comfortable surroundings and Zoom connections. The social media that had initially felt like a haven of connection started to feel toxic again. At first, I thought I’d use the time to get curious about my increasing discomfort.
Then, Dave, who is a physician, suggested that our best bet at travel over the next few months would be the coming weeks. After some back-and-forth about whether it was safer for the grandparents to come to us or for us to go to them, we started planning a trip north to retreat into nature and connect with family.
Our first stop was a five-day journey down the Rogue River in Oregon for our first family rafting trip. As the frenzy of transition getting onto the river subsided and we fell into the cradle of nature the morning of day two, my whole body exhaled. No technology. Instead, the rush of the river, sun on our faces, crisp air and unity in our rhythms. I felt instantly relieved, held, more myself again.
Two weeks later, I am nourished by time shared with extended family, and in the moment, by the melody of birds and the sun that has risen above Zion Canyon’s soaring red rocks to warm the right side of my face, neck and chest as I write at a picnic bench.
One part of our handling of the last couple months that I’ve least understood has been the restrictions on access to nature. When we cut ourselves off from the natural world, as well as physical closeness, and plug into our devices, we are ripe for dis-ease.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One thing I know for sure is that mental health is more about connection – to our bodies, nature, our Creator, our sense of purpose and each other – than our society seems recognize.
Our initial response to COVID seemed easy. We lock down together. But over the last month, I’ve witnessed a splintering of opinions of who should do what, when, and how. As we start to open up again, each person, family and group’s core values and needs will drive them to choose different approaches and actions. We can see the various choices through a lens of compassion or judgement.
We are in a unique current of presence together now. None of us knows what next week, month or year will look like. My family is making decisions looking just around the bend. We may have a loose vision to the future, and we are nimble, ready to stay the course or pivot like we haven’t before. Perhaps this is closer to the dance of nature.
There is so much unknown right now, but I do know that mental health can be restored with our bare feet on the earth, in breathing clean air, moving in water, and basking in sunlight. Mental health is restored through hugs and physical touch. Mental health coexists with wellbeing in our bodies and communities.
And one final thought to leave you with today. Dr. Zach Bush said in a recent interview that if you are ever stuck trying to generate or feel love, seek beauty instead. Because beauty draws forth the feeling of love in us.