Earlier this year, I went deep into the jungles of Peru. I was on an excursion with some dear friends, some of them from this country. It was my first time being in the jungle, since I left the jungle of a desert island I lived on when I was four years old.
I was born in Vietnam but I didn't know the jungles there, nor the rice paddies. I came from a military family that lived along the central coastline. We lived in a little villa. Nothing like the jungle and palm-fronds hut I was to live in a few years later, on a little desert island in Indonesia. It was a part of my refugee journey to America.
A part of me has always known that this Indonesian island jungle had left an indelible mark upon my being. But I couldn't name it. It was too long ago. Too much had been buried under the stresses of war and refugee integration. I suffered for a long time from PTSD without knowing it, something that at once buries some memory as it re-runs others. Plus, my island-jungle experience was so outside the norm for both Vietnamese and American cultures that I had no place to come to understand it.
All I had was a felt quality. I always found myself deeply in love with nature. Nowhere else holds greater peace for me.
It is a wonder how early experiences mark you, carve themselves into your being, from a time that was practically preverbal, or at least of simple language, and so all you have to go on is felt experience.
Life up to the age of five is intensely formative for brain development and patterning of behaviors, of shaping the psyche. And yet, because they happen so early on, much of our patterning is unconscious. We are not easily aware of the original drivers of our lives. I believe that so much of present struggles and challenges can be traced by to earlier origins. Also, the seeds of Self, of essence, can also be found in these early years. The question is, what lies dormant and what was allowed to germinate?
The Peruvian jungle reawakened a deep memory within me. In its embrace, I was able to name the felt experience with my adult mind. The jungle pulsates with life. With death. With the quickened pace of the cycles of life. There is a richness, a lushness, an intensity of Alive. Despite its intensity of life, there is a great sweetness, a gentleness about the jungle. A clear depiction of life relying on life – the great interconnectedness of beings within a shared ecosystem. Surrounded by so much untouched nature, you can come to know the harmony that exists within life. Not with words. But from a deep feeling state. An interrelatedness that reminds us, we are a part of this, if we choose to be. A very deep sense of belonging.
I came to understand that my nearly year-long experience in the jungle as a child was not a savage thrust into the wild, but a great respite from the traumas of war and post-war, and perhaps, a respite from everything that is not in harmony with nature. The jungle touched the innocence of the child within me, as all of nature can do for us.
To be marked by nature. It is something I wish for all of us.
I don't believe you need to go live in the wild to be touched by this harmony. In most parts of the world, it is all around you. Even when I lived in Manhattan, I could retreat to the parks or just remember to look up at the trees and the birds on the sidewalks.
The embrace of nature brings us back into harmony with ourselves and with the world. It reminds us we are connected, and that we belong to one another.