The Gratitude Challenge’s eigth topic is “Nature”.
There are probably not many people who say, “I don’t like nature”. In German, the word for “of course” is “natürlich”, which literally could be translated as “naturally”. I grew up in the German countryside and very much enjoy long walks and hikes. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo wrote in her diary how she perceives the different colours. For “green” she wrote:
[Hoja] verde: hojas, tristeza, ciencia. Alemania entera es de este color.Nadal, P. (2010, April 20). Los colores de Frida Khalo. EL PAÍS. https://elpais.com/elpais/2010/04/20/paco_nadal/1271718000_127171.html
Leaf green, for Friday Kahlo, reminds her of leaves, sadness, science and whole Germany is of this colour. Every time I return to Germany it strikes me just how green it is in many places. Already driving on the highway soothes the eye with greenery all around, my hometown is surrounded by forest and rolling hills.
Nature describes something “true”, something “as it should be”.
And yet, after several multi-day excursions to the jungles of this world I came to the conclusion that while nature is a great thing to be surrounded with, there is a limit to just how many insects I can tolerate in close proximity, especially around the place where I’m sleeping.
Sometimes I therefore feel a bit hypocritical to say, “I love nature”, because apparently I like such nature which is tamed enough to not disturb my personal space and comfort. Gradually, it seems, we are turning into aliens on our own planet: Alienated from nature. In fact, already having the word “nature” shows the binarity between “the cultured human” and the rest, i.e. “nature”.
This alienation not only takes place in the relationship between humans and the other living organisms of the planet, but also inside each of us. “To be inherent in someone” in German would be “in jemandes Natur liegen”, roughly “to be in someone’s nature”. In German (maybe in English too?) we talk about “someone’s nature” when we talk about their personality. People have their own “nature”.
When I went to Longshan Temple in Taipei to get a local name written in Chinese characters, the fortune teller told me that I “lack water” and that therefore a last name like 林 (lín, meaning forest) could be a good way to find balance, as trees attract and live with water. I eventually opted against it because my friends told me that it was a way too common last name – and who wants to be just one of many after all. But it is true that out of the four elements, I would consider earth to be “my” element. I feel grounded when I’m in the mountains, in the woods, while running or when sitting on the ground after it was warmed by the sun.
Water on the other hand is something intimidating to me. During two years in Mexico, half a year in Spain, half a year in Thailand, not a single time did I go into the ocean. I like to be close to the sea, but I do not feel the urge to submerge. After a not even all too dramatic childhood experience I do not like the idea that I cannot see what is below me when I’m in the water. To face this fear, I spent the last few months at the Taiwanese east coast to learn how to surf.
It was indeed a lot of fun, even though being totally alone at a deserted beach while the waves are rough still scares me. At the same time, I definitely feel more comfortable and “at home” in the water now. I learnt more about the water current and many times I felt and became able to estimate and anticipate the massive power of the waves. I also realized that there is no need to – and also no point in – fighting the waves. As a surfer the waves are your friend. Following them along, giving up the need for full control and letting them take you to where they go, becoming part of the element, part of nature. I do not want to sound overly esoteric or philosophical, but I do think that one reason why many people are so attracted to surfing is because they feel reunited with nature again and they are forced to fully focus on the power of nature. It makes them feel “right”.
I ended up not surfing as often as I had thought, mostly because I met great people with whom I could make a lot of music. Nevertheless it was a very special experience that I would like to repeat now and then. I’m grateful to live in circumstances which allow me to freely choose if I want to be in nature or in the city – the latter not necessarily to be seen as the opposite of nature. I’m grateful for each opportunity that allows me to experience nature and to find out more about my very own, individual “nature”.