As I sat down to write this article, I looked up for a moment to appreciate the tranquil view of Lake Ontario that I can see from my favourite writing spot. I stopped typing for a moment to watch a huge flock of black Cormorants glide single file just below the line that marks the intersection of water and sky. I continued to watch as the birds flew by in the hundreds.
The Cormorants’ parade continued for over half an hour. I’m guessing that my house must be between these birds’ favourite feeding grounds and their overnight nesting area.
As I observed the birds, the coach in me pondered why it is that I love birds/water/sky so much. The first answer that came to mind – and I usually find that the best answers are the ones that come to me immediately, before the active part of my brain tries to “figure it out” and pull me away from a deeper truth – was how peaceful, present and calm I usually feel when I watch birds flying over the lake.
The home I’ve been temporarily renting in the middle of Toronto has been such a gift to the artist in me who loves birds, water and sky above all else. And to the worrier in me who can sometimes forget everything I’ve learned over the past few years about staying in the “now”, as Eckhart Tolle would say. Worry is impossible in moments when we are truly present. After all, worry requires negative thinking about something that might or might not happen in the future, and not realizing that we’re absolutely fine right now.
The coach in me also wanted to know what it is about the water, sky and birds that makes the feelings of presence and calm so easy for me to obtain when I’m around them. As a coach, I know that the answer to any question about what I am feeling lies in identifying the thoughts I’m thinking about my experience that create that feeling. And when the feeling I’m exploring is positive, I find it useful to notice not only what I AM thinking about, but also what I am NOT thinking about.
When I explored what I’d been thinking about as I gazed at the lake, I remembered my thoughts being focussed on noticing the small and large movements of the water. I was mesmerized by the living canvas of fluctuating light and colour. I wasn’t planning my day, anticipating problems, or trying to find solutions. I was just watching and taking in what I saw. I felt interested, present and untroubled.
I remembered also thinking about the dramatic variability of the sky. I remembered thinking that on some days, the sky is almost invisible; its clear, pale blue difficult to distinguish from the blue, still waters below. On other days, the sky is vibrant and colourful – pink, orange, red, purple, turquoise, yellow or a stormy black/grey – and impossible not to notice. I felt appreciative, calm and inspired.
The Cormorants were a bonus, an extra sight that attracted my attention and caused me to look up and see the sky and the water. They gave me a point of focus. I thought about how the Cormorants don’t always fly past my house as they were doing that moment. I thought about how sometimes hundreds of them stop on the water in front of my house. They gather in large groups and just float on the surface for awhile. After they’re rested, they take to the sky one at a time to circle and hunt for fish. They swoop down like fighter pilots going for a strike. They disappear for what seems like an impossibly long time as they dive several metres under the water to capture their prey.
This time, the Cormorants remained in flight and I imagined their sense of freedom as they flew. I had the thought that I, too, am free; I’m free to stay present; I’m free to make my own choices. I felt free and limitless.
I noticed that I was completely absorbed. I was saturated with the present moment. My previous concerns seemed irrelevant in the face of the vast sky, the constantly changing water and the freedom of the Cormorants. I felt untroubled.
Although most of my clients and friends are not artists, almost all of them tell me that they can relate to this feeling of peace and calm that comes from being in or close to nature.
For me, it is the visual aspects of nature that most attract my thoughts, shift me from my problems and refocus me on whatever is immediately before me. If you’ve ever stopped and captured a photo of a sunset, you’ll understand what I mean.
For other people, it is another aspect of nature that captures their attention. It is the feeling of the earth under their feet as they walk on a trail, the smell that greets them after a fresh, spring rain, the variety of bird songs they can hear in the middle of the city when they wake up in the morning, or just the absence of distractions as they take a walk, leave their cell phones behind and allow themselves to notice their surroundings.
If you find yourself feeling weighted down, irritated, anxious or depleted, I suggest you try creating some time for yourself to spend being fully present in nature. You don’t need to make this exercise complicated or challenging. You can simply step into your backyard or walk over to a neighborhood park. You can explore the natural environment you find there by paying attention to several of your senses. Kick off your shoes and socks and feel the soft grass under your feet. Pick up a leaf or petal and examine it closely, noticing its tiny and perfect details. Close your eyes and ask your brain to notice every sound, not just the easy-to-notice sounds in the foreground, but the almost silent rustle of the wind or the distant hum of traffic or voices. Notice the fragrance of the flowers or the earth. Literally, stop and smell the roses!
For me, these moments of deep presence in nature provide so much more than momentary relief from any problems of the day. I experience a hangover – in a good way. Even a short period outside often helps me to show up for my next task more present and focussed. Solutions appear more readily. I’m more creative. I’m better able to hear and understand what other people are saying. I’m more efficient. As my former (very long ago!) economist self would have observed, the benefit: cost ratio of a few moments in nature is very high!
If you’d like to explore how to create the life you want, I’m onboarding clients in September, October and November for my 12 week and 20 week Love Your Life Again one-on-one coaching programs. During our time together, I’ll teach you the tools you need to know to overcome obstacles, handle challenges, connect with your dreams and your heart and create your best life, whatever that might mean for you. If you’re interested in learning more about either program, sign up for one of my free personal strategy sessions. We’ll discuss your issues, see if one of my programs responds to your needs and determine whether we’re a good fit for each other. To schedule a free personal strategy session, just click on https://gracedcanvascalendar.as.me/schedule.php to directly access my scheduling page OR simply click on one of the scheduling links that appear on various pages of this website.
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G.R.A.C.E. is within easy driving distance of Toronto (3 hours), Montreal (4 hours), Ottawa (3 hours), Kingston (1 ¼ hours), Buffalo (4 hours), Albany (4 ½ hours), Rochester (4 ½ hours), New York City (8 hours) and several smaller centres. I’ll be hosting a variety of events at G.R.A.C.E. that will be well worth your trip to the County, including Love Your Life Again group coaching retreats (3 and 4 days over extended weekends for 6-8 people), Creative Soul Coaching Intensives (one day or overnight for individuals), Soul Painting Coaching Intensives (half day for individuals) and art shows (my paintings, paintings done by other artists and selected paintings of the late George E. Russell). I’ll also be working with other instructors to offer writing workshops, yoga and meditation retreats, and a variety of other offerings.