Category Archives: nature

What I Learned Watching Ants

Today, during my fitness session the coaching assistant said to me, “You’re really stressed. Your body is tensing in random places, while you’re trying to isolate other areas. I think you need to figure out how to get everything to just… be.” Followed repeatedly by: “Relax, relax, relax,” as she jiggled my thigh muscles.

She isn’t wrong. There are, of course, many reasons why this is true, not the least of which is the significant gait change I had over the last 3-4 years from a hiking injury (more on that another time, but did you know how INCREDIBLY impactful something as small as a gait change can be on the rest of your body? I do now! But I digress…)

Where was I? Oh yes, she isn’t wrong. I carry stress throughout my physical body, and my major muscles (quads, especially) work to compensate for everybody else. They’re the superheroes of my muscular system, always stepping in to save the day – which also means that they rarely allow any other muscle groups to get in on the action anymore. At least not properly. Compensating muscles are the worst enablers of the human body. 

So, here I am with significantly weak muscle systems and overly built-up other muscles, and working to bridge the gap in between. As it turns out, it’s not easy. Just trying to get my foot muscles to do basic moves on their own proved to be an exercise in simultaneous multiple-firing synapses in my brain, causing chaos and confusion. It was weird!

I have to give it time. And, perhaps more importantly, I have to give my system some downtime. I’m not the best at that. I use Yoga Nidra meditations – especially at night – when I need some external help. They work well, but it’s not the same as figuring out how to allow my body to take space and time to rebalance on its own. Admittedly, I’ve figured it out for my spirit and my brain (for the most part), but the physical stumps me. I’ve always just “pushed through” when I needed to, and laid back when I didn’t. Not very balanced. Also leads to a lot of injury. Unfortunately.

Then today, when I got home from my appointment, the skies had cleared, there was a gentle breeze, and the temps had dropped to just around 70º – in other words, it was perfect. My kind of weather. So, I took my water, went outside with the dogs, and sat in the lounge chair for a bit. As I was sitting there, I noticed the ants on the patio going about their business. One, in particular was carrying something two times bigger than itself, and I watched as it maneuvered around obstacles and climbed over others. It was impressive.

My body started to relax and quiet. I began to notice other things, like the iridescence of a fly that came to land nearby.

Then I saw the other ants moving around the patio floor, and they were all different sizes. I learned about ants in school and knew that they each had different roles in the colony, and that their size would relate to that, but it was different to see it in action. Eventually, I decided to just lie down and watch the ants. For about half an hour. Thirty minutes of doing nothing but watching ants go about their day.

Perhaps some would see this as wasteful, or lazy, but it was one of the more self-healing things I have done in a while. My heart rate slowed, my breathing grew deeper, and the best part: my muscles relaxed. All of them. I didn’t have to do anything, or think about anything to get them to relax, they simply did. It’s their natural state. 

Now, as I’m typing this only thirty minutes later, I can feel the sense of calm that I acquired outside wash over me. It’s quite profound, actually. It’s a physical peace that is starting to come close to the inner peace I have already cultivated.

Nature is one of the greatest gifts we have. I’ve taught almost all my clients to use nature to restore their inner nature, and it works. Today, I got to listen to my own advice and use it to restore my outward – or physical – nature, and it’s wonderful. 

I’ll definitely be watching ants again. Along with the birds, bees, butterflies, and any other small creatures that allow me to witness their comings and goings. Of course, the ants are wonderful because they’re so small and you can get lost in their world in only a few inches of space. I think that helps, actually.

The symbolism of the ants and their hierarchy isn’t lost on me either. Each member has their job to do, and if just one ant starts taking over someone else’s job, the system will fall apart. My compensating muscles need to re-learn their roles (and stick to them, like these industrious ants tending to the colony’s front door), while my weaker muscles need to remember how great they are at what they do. All in good time…

Ants moving grass

Invite it in, and watch what happens…

When I hung up the new bird feeder outside the kitchen window, this is exactly what I hoped for.

Look at this handsome specimen! Alas, I think the below zero temps have frozen the seed block, but at least he knows where it is now, when the sun warms things up.

I find inspiration in nature, in everything all around me … and sometimes I invite it closer, like with the bird feeder. Sometimes (most of the time, perhaps), the Field of Dreams adage is the one to live by: “If you build it, they will come.”

Make it, build it, create it … it’s all an invitation, isn’t it? Invite it in. Extend the hand, and watch out your proverbial kitchen window, as everything arrives.

A Desert Sojourn

Last week I donned my old retailing hat and went to Vegas to help my friend set up trade show booths for his clients. Before I helped people change their lives, I used to be a Buyer and Fashion Stylist. While I’ve left the retail job behind, twice a year I get to be a stylist again by helping my friend. It’s nice to use a different skill set now and then. Refreshing, even.

What’s more refreshing, however, is taking a break from our daily lives in order to do/see/experience something totally new and extraordinary. On this recent trip, we had just such an opportunity.

We found ourselves with a day off in the midst of the chaos, and so we went out of the city and explored the high desert and mountains surrounding the electrified valley. The juxtaposition was somewhat difficult to comprehend. In hindsight, however, I see it as much more symbolic of our lives than not.

On the one hand, we all seem to live busy outward lives, filled with work, family, friends, technology, physical exertion, and mental exhaustion/ (I know I do.) On the other hand, and in almost the same space, we seek out opportunities for calm, ease, and grace, such as walks in nature, meditation, a massage, long talks with old friends, and breathing. (I definitely do.)

This juxtaposition of inner peace and external stress has become almost common in our culture. It’s a balance that is not always easily maintained, however, because there are no firm lines. Whereas, in the desert, the lines are very clear. You know exactly when you are leaving the external chaos behind and entering the calm of nature, and vice versa.

But, because the line is so firmly drawn, it made it even harder for me to transition between the two last week. Going from a heartbreakingly beautiful landscape devoid of noise or human presence directly into the lines at an In-N-Out Burger was overwhelming, at best. As you can imagine, I didn’t last long, and we moved outside to eat, which was somewhat quieter and easier.

So, I guess the bottom line is this: We all live busy externally-focused lives in one way or another, and we all have an internal longing for or knowing of peace and calm. How we transition between the two is where we find opportunities for change, growth, and understanding. And ultimately, it’s where we will find the answers in how to merge the two into one presence, that softens the inherent juxtaposition.

All this from a trip to the desert followed by a burger. 😉

And now…here are some of my favorite pics from our excursion. Truly, if you ever go to Vegas, it’s worth it to spend a little time outside the city limits. You may feel lost in the vast expanse, but I think you’ll find more than you could ever imagine.