Connecting with Tropical Nature
by Joanna Gilligan

Spending time in the tropical rainforest of Cape Tribulation allowed me to rekindle my connection with nature. It touched me emotionally and spiritually and highlighted the need to build balance into my life.

The air was warm and full of moisture, much thicker than it had been next to the ocean. The light was dim as the sky could only be glimpsed through sporadic breaks in the canopy. The fertility of the rain forest was imposing, the vegetation diverse and the forest form messy and chaotic. In competition for a sunny position amid the canopy, the trees and other plants struggled upwards, against the entangling constraints of the vines and creepers.

It was difficult to spot the wildlife amongst the thick foliage. However, the bird life was evident from many birdcalls resonating through the forest. Similarly, the ground dwelling animals could be heard rustling through the leaves and debris on the forest floor. We were very lucky enough to come across a pair of orange-footed scrub fowl. It was exciting to watch these monogamous birds tending the same mound they return to each year to lay and incubate their eggs. An air of content surrounded the pair as they scratched dirt onto the mound, snacked on the worms and insects they unearthed, and gibbered to one another. We were also very lucky to spot a number of little turtles in the creek where we watched them swimming amongst the rocks and logs.

Soon after entering the rainforest, I felt a significant change in my mood. The warm still air, shafts of light, and protection of the canopy were soothing whilst the richness of the forest in colour and sound was exciting. A silent, but fierce, battle for water and nutrients among the vegetation was evident and I was impressed by the determination of a spindly vine that had obviously grown very tall, in an attempt to reach the canopy, before collapsing under its own weight. The huge fan shaped foliage of the ferns that catch and channel the rain water to the plants roots, were not only beautiful but also a testament to the perfection of nature’s design. The interconnectedness of the natural systems that sustain the rich life of the rainforest was inspiring. As I left the rainforest I felt uplifted and content.

Spending time in the rainforest also effected me spiritually. The humbling power of nature is liberating. Diluting the need and desire for control it frees the spirit to experience life in full. Reconnecting with nature encourages and facilitates a realignment of purpose and priorities. I found that the time in the rain forest reestablished my sense of place, giving me greater perspective and clarity.

In the days to follow I felt grounded and calm. Interestingly, time seemed to slow down and I found myself focusing on the aspects of my life of most importance such as family and friends. Furthermore, I found myself to be more in tune with my emotional needs and less concerned with the inconsequential or superficial demands of life.

However, as I have found to be the case in the past, the benefits of an experience such as spending time in the rainforest can be quickly lost upon return to the city. Without the processes to sustain the connection with nature, it can be difficult to maintain the perspective and calm once the demands of everyday life are returned to the equation.

The process of writing about the time I spent in the rain forest forced me to identify and consider the emotional and spiritual consequence of the experience. This, in turn, made me see, more clearly than before, that my everyday life lacks the processes required to nurture my spiritual self and my connection with nature. In addition, my appreciation for how little modern western culture does to support the regeneration of the human-nature connection has also grown.

It was clear that I needed to integrate new practices into my life that would allow me to maintain a balance between my outer and inner life. However, which practices I should adopt were not so clear. For hours I deliberated over this question. Then, in an uncanny coincidence, my eyes fell on a book that I had purchased months ago, but never opened; a book called, "Twenty Minute Retreats: Revive your spirits in just minutes a day," by Dr Rachel Harris.

Whilst the title sounded like something from a Women’s Day article, I started to read
and found it to be a valuable source simple retreat techniques, including practices from traditional tribal cultures that are closely linked to natural rhythms of the earth. So, with book in hand and the recognition that I needed some spiritual downtime, I got started.

On sunny days, I will take my rug and establish a sacred place in the park under one of the big old gum trees. However, for colder days, I have built my own little sacred place, in the corner of my study, which I will visit each day to replenish my soul and reconnect with nature.

Whilst, my goal is to spend 20 minutes each day in retreat, I am certain that building new practices into my daily routine will not be easy. Old patterns can be hard to break and I have no doubt that that it wont be long before I catch myself claiming, “I don’t have time.” So, if the sign, “my spiritual life is important to me,” plastered across the fridge fails, the back up plan is to sneak in a 5 minute retreat instead, rather than break the spiritual journey.

Finally, I would like to report that it has been 2 whole days now, and…so far so good!!!