Few men have captured the magnificence of nature through the written word like explorer and preservationist, John Muir. It was during his first trip to Alaska in 1879 that he stumbled upon Glacier Bay and was overwhelmed with a feeling of interconnectedness.
He wrote in his journal of experience:
“We feel the life and motion about us, and the universal beauty: the tides marching back and forth with weariless industry, laving the beautiful shores, and swaying the purple dulse of the broad meadows of the sea where the fishes are fed, the wild streams in song, spreading their branches over a thousand mountains; the vast forests feeding on the drenching sunbeams, every cell in a whirl of enjoyment; misty flocks of insects stirring all the air, the wild sheep and goats on the grassy ridges above the woods, bears in the berry-tangles, mink and beaver and otter far back on many a river and lake; Indians and adventurers pursuing their lonely ways; birds tending to their young— everywhere, everywhere, beauty and life, and glad, rejoicing action.”
In his amazing book, Ego Is The Enemy, author Ryan Holiday tells this story of Muir and relates it to a feeling the Stoics called sympatheia, defined as, “a connectedness with the cosmos.”
What John Muir felt, and many of us experience while gazing into a starry night sky, is the realization that we are connected to something larger than ourselves. And it is when we lack this connection that we become detached from the immensity and beauty of the world.
The need for sympatheia is the reason we feel an internal pull to retreat into the wilderness when we feel disconnected or blocked.
The perpetual hustle of everyday life can blind us to anything outside our own orbit. But going into nature and meditating on the feeling of sympatheia is a way to zoom out and remember that there’s always a larger picture to see.
“By widening our perspective,” Holiday writes, “more comes into view.”
Next time to you feel blocked, stressed, or the general malaise of life creep in, the cure might be as simple as going on a nature walk, staring at the moon, or putting your feet in the ocean.
Creativity equals connection with things bigger than ourselves.