Retreating into Nature with Aisha Chapra Sanders
In 2008 I experienced a deep and unforgettable heartbreak. I sat across the coffee table from my ex-husband, we had been married for little over a year, and he said, “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t want to be married anymore.”
The shock waves of those words echo until this day. Though many years have passed this painful experience is the beginning of my love affair with life.
For months after that conversation we struggled to work things out but the situation just seemed to get worse and we decided to separate. During our separation I found myself in a beautiful rainforest in Puerto Rico with my old friends. We all had a week off from work/family and I was in deep sadness. I had survived another winter in Canada, but this was the hardest one. The grief, the unexplainable loss of control, the dramatic and intense change in my life, would follow me like a thick heavy cloud of rain.
But in that rainforest, there was a moment of magic. I realized I had forgotten how to smile, and I had not seen a lush green forest for decades. It inspired me to write a poem, “how the rainforest saved me”. When in fact, it was God who saved me by giving me the experience of oneness in the exact moment that I needed it.
As my life changed and I returned back to live with my family in Karachi to my support system, I made a commitment to return to nature as soon as I could. I had already started practicing yoga in Toronto and continued in Karachi to practice every day with my aunt Shakila. I deactivated on Facebook, I stopped responding to emails, and I went into a deep retreat within myself. I decided it was time for me to make my first solo-trip somewhere and googled yoga retreats in Sri Lanka. Right away I was led to a yoga retreat called Ulpotha Village.
I didn’t pay much attention to what the website said because I realized two weeks in advance that this retreat was without electricity and internet. It was in a jungle, and we were supposed to live in mud huts, with open walls and just a mosquito net between me and the unknown wild!
Somehow, instead of a normal response of fear for an urban woman like me, I was excited and thrilled to be pushed way out of my comfort zone. And the jungle called me while the memory of feeling inner peace in the rainforest motivated me. In November 2009 I arrived to the incredible potential of healing that nature that yoga had to offer.
I spent two weeks in Ulpotha and it changed my life. Everything I had been resisting for exactly one year suddenly all made sense. I spent half my savings going to Ulpotha for the next 3 years to reconnect to that sense of absolute oneness and peace with nature and myself. My yoga practice deepened, and I was inspired to make the effort to find a teachers training program. Along with the commitment to becoming a yoga instructor I also became intimately connected to the presence of God in the beautiful sensations of nature. There was the cool lake in the soft rain, the sound of the wind, trees and birds all day interspersed with silence, and the taste of fresh clean food.
When I returned to Karachi I made a little shelf in my humble garden at home to store my yoga mat, a candle burner, a block, strap, and a cushion. There began my slow and uneven journey into a daily practice of being outside even in the intensity of the fastest growing city in the world. I could have never imagined or understood the power and grace in the kingdom of nature until I surrendered to the potential of the present moment to heal the scars of my past.
Intention: To create a connection with the natural world as an access point to the present moment,
Practice: Set aside a short period of time (even 5 minutes a day is enough) at the start of your day to sit in a comfortable position and bring attention to your breath. Pick a time of the day that is quiet in and outside your home. Ideally sit in comfortable place outdoors. If you do not have a place to sit outdoors then you can sit indoors in front of a window or near plants. Make this your regular spot for reflection and silence. Have all the things you need nearby (A comfortable mat and cushion to sit on, or a chair).
First bring your attention to your breathing and pick a place in your body that is easy for you to feel your inhale and exhale. As you close your eyes focus your attention on the different sounds you hear.
Spend a few minutes watching the different thoughts that come and go, and gently keep returning to your breath and the different sounds you hear. If you feel inclined after a few minutes get up and walk outdoors on a natural surface without your shoes on and notice the texture of the ground.