A deep, spiritual experience of nature can make us imagine that we are something other than human — that we are Divine. However, most of us don’t spend all of our time in nature soaking up this sacredness. After walking in the woods for a morning, we probably find ourselves back on our phones or laptops, sitting in coffee shops, or at an office meeting. You know, being people of the 21st century.
After being in the woods or near a body of water for a few hours, I feel whole and filled with goodness and love. I momentarily forget that I am a woman, daughter, sister, New Englander, or millennial, and that’s one of the greatest gifts that nature can offer — an experience of myself as more than my identity.
An expansiveness like that can be richly fulfilling, although disorienting. When I first began taking daily walks in the woods by my house, I would feel light and boundaryless. I spent time with trees, examining the jagged mosaic of bark or observing the patterns of intersecting branches. I wrapped my arms around trunks, embracing the fat, the skinny, the crooked, bent, and conjoined, and laid on the forest floor and gazed at the sky through the canopy of leaves.
I would lose myself in infinite, non-linear time, in a space where trees and plants possess an impersonal sense of belonging that transcends society or approval. However, when I came back to my societal person, I would struggle with my perception of limitation, expectation, assumption, and stereotype. In comparison to a beautiful, robust oak tree, I saw myself as small and powerless, and wanting to be more than a set of concepts.
Being bi-racial, I always struggled with not having a clear sense of self. I believed that I walked in two or more worlds, belonging in many different communities, and also never truly belonging in any. As for my gender, I do not always identify as a woman; I can be non-binary, pangender, trans man, or gender fluid, and it has taken me a long time to stop restricting myself, accept that I can be more than one thing, and see that as beautiful.
I struggled with mental illness as well, having owned unclear and multiple diagnoses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Every psychiatrist that I saw claimed something different about my behavior, patterns, and what they meant. Having a certain “personality disorderliness,” in addition to not having clear definition of my race and gender, caused great identity confusion for most of my teen years and twenties.
I used to perceive myself as an outsider almost everywhere I went. But in the Connecticut woods — with red oaks and black birches, with dirt, oxygen, and sky — I learned to let go of my fears of “not knowing who or what I am” and allowed myself to deeply connect with my whole being. I stopped thinking about my limitations; and after a while, I stopped seeing my identity as a limitation altogether. Rather, I saw my identity — blurry, multiple, and overlapping — as a complex, human vessel to express my individuality and my belonging with others.
I enter deep into the world of nature and wholeness, and back into the world of our fragmented and struggling selves. And it has made me see myself differently. I’m thirty years old now, and although I am wise, I still want to feel like a child — or something in between young and old, or something else entirely.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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