Nature’s Uncanny Power

In the blazing sun, the hottest day of 2013 thus far, my kids and I strolled through flowering trees, wood-chip paths, fresh dirt and pine trees in the Ann Arbor Nichols Arboretum.

One step into nature, and it was like the world had corrected itself.

Before that, we walked through the Farmers Market. We ate our picnic lunch. The kids bickered at times and I navigated traffic.

But a minute into the nature preserve and all stress and distraction simply melted away. They stopped fighting. It was as if I had no recollection of due dates and deadlines, emails or urgent texts.

Yesterday and today are a little-known but powerful Jewish holiday called Shavuot. It’s the Festival of Weeks, exactly seven weeks after Passover, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It’s also the spring harvest holiday celebrating the first fruits. 

It’s when Jews read the Book of Ruth, and look at the story of Ruth as the first convert to Judaism as emblematic of all of us recommitting to our beliefs and our chosen paths.

A powerful holiday and one that most Jews don’t celebrate.

While the kids and I didn’t go to synagogue, we stayed up late the first night learning, which is a custom of this holiday. We ate cheesecake and blintzes, another custom. And yesterday and today, we are spending a good chunk of our time in nature. Another custom of this quiet spring holiday.

It was remarkable to me that, as the kids settled onto a bench near the end of our hike, I looked up at the cloudless sky and realized I had no thoughts, no worries and no concerns in my head. None.

At that moment, I was in harmony with the world around me and completely, blissfully, at peace.

I tried to explain to the kids how I believe this is the point of religion in general – true harmony with the world around you. A sense of community, connection, truth. But they were basking in nature’s beauty and they didn’t want an esoteric conversation.

We saw people kayaking on the Huron River. My daughter, who didn’t want to hike in the Arb, fell silent as we crunched along the trails. She was the first to leap onto a tree stump, the energy in her voice a ray of its own sunshine.

The point of all this – the reason we are here – don’t you wonder about it?

And yet, it is so simple. The built world distracts us, confuses us, throws false focuses in our paths.

Toward the end of the day, my children and I learned via Skype with a rabbi we’ve been studying with all year. Rabbi Evon is part of the Adventure Rabbi program, which focuses on helping families find alternative connections to tradition.

He talked about Torah vs. torah – what is the difference? The capital T is the official scrolls Jews read week in and week out throughout time. The stories, the lessons, the rules.

Torah with a lower case t is the act of learning, of communicating tradition, of living our heritage. The everyday conversations that define us, that redefine our long ancient path.

Being in nature, he says, is the point of it all – nature is always changing, it’s the soul of the world, the miracle right before our eyes. 

We walk this planet and drink in gulps of fresh air to in some way make an impact. And in the process, just being among the living breathing earth, the other creatures, the beauty of something so much bigger than us, it impacts us forever.

There are no coincidences. We are here for a reason. Each of us has a distinct point to make, a unique contribution.

Whining and worrying and yelling and dwelling in depressive states – it’s all worthless. Step into nature and do it daily. I know that if I do, all will be well and my path will be clear. So simple, and yet sometimes we can’t see the light, even when it’s right in front of us.

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