Soul maintenance for passionate, busy people – a lesson from a two year old

Last week I was lucky enough to sit beside a remote, aquamarine lake in northern Ontario with my husband and two-year-old daughter. It was a bluebird sky day, hot sun and just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away. Heaven on a Canadian Shield white sand beach. My husband, Jason, is a float plane pilot in the great northern Ontario wilderness, so he has special access to some of the most beautiful remote lakes in our country. We had flown into White Otter Lake early in the morning, played in the water and built sand castles, checked out spider webs and water bugs, fished and had a lunch of fresh caught walleye (also called pickerel). In the heat of the day, Jason went to find my daughter, Kalico, a special place for her to take her afternoon nap. What he found for her was a hidden nest with thick green moss on the ground, shaded by tree leaves that gently trembled in the breeze. Her blankets were sun dappled and warm. As I lay down with her in this most perfect of nature napping places, I talked to her about the adventures we had had, the critters we had met and the fun we’d have later in the afternoon. I started to sing her a song to help her sleep, and she looked at me with her most serious face and said, ‘Stop mama – stop,’ and turned her back to me, half asleep, to check out the ants crawling through the moss. Cue moment of clarity music! I laid back and listened to the rustling leaves, the birds in the distance, the lazy hum of bugs in the woods, the lapping of the water on the shore. I heard a splash! which was surely Jason diving off the floats of his plane into the cool Ontario water. I realized that many of us work our buns off. Between family commitments and work commitments, 16 hours in a day are gone before we have taken any time to nurture ourselves – even for 15 minutes. When we do have the opportunity to turn it all off and spend soul time in the places we love best, we have trouble disengaging ourselves from that manic, busy world. Having my two year old tell me, basically, to shut up and enjoy the moment was the moment I finally went on vacation – my body, mind and spirit. People working in the non-profit sector (and others too I’m sure) tend to be totally passionate about and committed to their work. We’ll work endlessly and tirelessly to see a project done – even if that project happens to be 20 years to completion. So the key is to balance our passion for the work, our love for our families, all the stuff that needs to get done and the needs of our souls. Thanks to Kalico’s reminder to ‘stop’, I have a new attitude about nurturing my soul. Gardening, going on hikes, bikes and afternoon-long cross-country ski trips are all great therapy for a busy mind. They are ‘soul maintenance.’ Maintenance is good, but the most important thing we can do to keep our busy selves sane is to take some serious time away from our commitments to do what we love. Serious time might mean an intense two-day hike with friends or colleagues, or it might be a two-week paddle alone in the Yukon. Maybe it’s just letting nature sing her song to our children for awhile. However it gets done, those are the beautiful moments when, in the midst of that 16-hour busy day, we can look back and have a moment of mental respite remembering clean air, swimming in clear lakes, hiking to beautiful vantage points, lying on the ground watching clouds go by, smelling wood smoke from a fire on a beach or hearing the rustling of leaves in the woods. For those of us in the environmental conservation world, those times can also reconnect us to why we do what we do and help us to continue on ‘fighting the good fight.’ As I was contemplating this blog, I was inspired by a long ago memorized poem by William Wordsworth, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ If you have a moment in your busy day to read it, I hope it inspires you, too. Better yet, I hope all of us are able to slow down, clarify our priorities, and hear the song that heals the soul, the song of the wild.