Last December I spent ten days in the Yawanawán village of Mutúm deep in the Brazilian Amazon jungle in the state of Acre. It was in the midst of the rainy season, meaning that much of the ground was wet, muddy, or underwater. Within the first day there I put away my Chaco sandals and pretty quickly resolved to stay barefoot the entire time. Rather than avoiding puddles and mud, I found myself playfully stepping into them as a child might and laughing as mud oozed and squished between my toes. I didn’t care that my feet were dirty, and why should I?
The jungle floor was alive with a myriad of insects, especially leafcutter ants, termites, and spiders. The thought of walking barefoot with all those insects scurrying around my feet unnerved me at first. At night, with my headlamp shining down upon the path, the parades of bugs were particularly pronounced. Yet, my unease didn’t last long. I understood intuitively that I was part of the ecosystem rather than separate from or superior to it. Before long, I began to clearly see awe-inspiring detail in everything around me, and I even found myself crouching down to admire the insects with wonder, as though I were witnessing something of divine significance.
Being in this beautiful indigenous community provided me with an opportunity to connect with a simpler way of being where I could loosen my grip on the constructs of time and schedules and reacclimate to the natural rhythms of the world that we’ve become desensitized to. For days I walked amidst an incredibly biodiverse flora and fauna, was lulled to sleep by the songs of insects and animals, and with my feet bare and firmly upon the ground, I remembered my connection to something greater than myself.
As we came out of the jungle and made our way from the river to the dirt road, and as that dirt road transitioned into concrete, and as the buildings grew in size and the small town of Tarauacá transitioned to the small city of Rio Branco where noise and pollution engulfed us, a powerful realization struck me: the majority of us live in places that are covered in concrete or asphalt, where trees and other plants are relegated to specified areas, and where our senses are under constant assault. We then spend countless hours each day in cars, trains, buses, and buildings, all of which separate us further from nature and one another. It’s no wonder that so many people are tired, sick, and stressed, and that the world is in such deep need of healing.
We are technologically more connected than ever before, and yet we feel increasingly disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the natural world. We see symptoms of this disconnect all around us and in our daily lives in the form of widespread physical and mental illness, prejudice, divisiveness, violence, fear, anger, greed, materialism, and so on. We have allowed and perpetrated widespread harm for so long and to such an extent that we’ve either grown numb to it or we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s normal and inevitable, and that to believe that a more beautiful world could possibly exist is foolish and naive. Sadly, we largely avoid honest and deep introspection and discourse, perhaps because it’s too painful to acknowledge how far we’ve strayed or because to do so would pose an existential threat to the flawed reality that we’ve built our lives upon.
I share these thoughts not from a place of frustration, disappointment, or despair, but rather with a deep sense of empathy, hope, and awe. My intention is to plant a seed for reflection and consideration. I invite you to slow down, to breathe a little more deeply, to practice seeing the beauty that is always present in all things, and to remember that even the mundane can be spiritual if only we pause to open our hearts and our senses to take in the myriad details and find meaning in them. Allow the wonder that you are immersed in to permeate your soul, and within this curiosity-filled exploration, without judgment or expectation, be grateful for whatever emerges. In this space of openness, go beyond what you’ve been conditioned to see and believe, and imagine what a more beautiful world would look like. Then ask yourself, what can you shift within yourself to bring us closer to that more beautiful world?