Is it possible to enjoy a nature-forward experience in the middle of New York City?
The answer to this question is a full-throttle yes. But before visiting the Big Apple last weekend, my response would’ve been more theoretical.
Primarily because, in my twenty years of work and pleasure travel to NYC, I’ve always felt an electric shock upon arriving. Just like grabbing onto an electric fence encasing livestock on a farm, I often felt like I was in a pen surrounded by a pulsing forcefield.
Don’t get me wrong, the sights, sounds, and smells of New York can be invigorating. There is so much to see and do. But like the electric shock of the fence, it often left me completely drained by the end of the journey — especially work trips.
For this reason, I’ve built frameworks designed to help you find a way to become still in nature. Articles like “How to elevate your nature connection” and “How to plan a nature-forward trip to Leavenworth” are a guide to integrating these fundamentals into any nature interaction.
As a reminder, these steps are
- Have intention
- Reach out to the land
- Remove distractions
- Slow down, and then go slower
- Pay attention
- Reflect afterward
These principles are tested and continue to help me immensely in my healing and well-being. And while immersion into green and blue spaces opens up the soul, there is a more powerful reason to believe in this connection.
When I incorporate these steps into my experience, the world’s noise gets quiet, and I begin to hear myself in ways that clarify my life — the present moment is unencumbered.
Until last weekend, I stood behind my six steps… with a few caveats. But I’d not cracked the code for a busy concrete jungle like New York City. I got close on a visit last October, but it still was too easy to lift off the ground into the chaos of options and frenetic energy.
This President’s Day weekend visit to New York felt different. I made a more conscious effort to set an intention for the trip before I left Seattle. My hope for the weekend was to stay centered on what makes me happy on a visit rather than let the FOMO (fear of missing out) angel on my shoulder get the best of me.
First thing when I climbed up the subway exit to a busy Hunter’s Point street in Queens, I made a point to say hello to the land, with the same simple rituals I do at the entrance to any rural State Park in Oregon or Washington. Admittedly, it wasn’t entirely comfortable, in the middle of honking horns and the smells of fresh pizza, but muscle memory is helpful.
This gesture is essential in a place where grounding — especially as a newcomer to a busy destination — can feel challenging.
Grounding is necessary because our culture pushes too much input on us today. As a result, our souls are prone to lifting off the ground like a balloon to places where fear-based feelings like anxiety and FOMO can sweep in.
Do you know of a place where there are a lot of inputs, like in NYC? Grounding ties me back to earth, specifically the land beneath my feet.
Armed with solid intentions (I repeated to myself when I arrived) and mindful grounding in my new location, I was ready to tackle a weekend full of laughs, great food, and reconnection with family and friends.
Despite a full schedule, I made it a point to be still in nature for at least 20-30 minutes daily. I used the beautiful Gantry Plaza State Park at Hunter’s Point (photo above) as my venue, but there are many possible locations — Central Park, The High Line, and Bryant Park (where I used to eat lunch on work trips).
I noticed the more grounded I felt, the more I was present with New York. Being present allowed me to leverage my energy into the most critical connections. I had deeper conversations with my family. I didn’t feel rushed. I didn’t feel my typical anxiety and FOMO. The honking horns didn’t bother me. I’d never experienced a more chill Gotham!
As I stared blankly ahead of me on most of the six-hour flight (I did watch “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which is excellent), I reflected on how much my relationship with NYC pivoted for the better this weekend.
This is what I mean by a nature-forward trip. It isn’t about the quantity as much as the quality of your connection to the natural world. And it is just as much about finding time to listen to your “nature,” which requires stillness. If it works in New York City, it can work anywhere.
Nature forward is a regular practice. If the six principles seem too much, take the first step by expressing a specific intention for your next journey. Even if it’s to go to the store for groceries. As you practice vocalizing the purpose of your activities, you’ll enjoy the benefits of grounding.
Then add the next step, and keep going. You’ll be on the way to an awareness that will change every aspect of your life.
All the best! Matthew
PS — I can help you learn how to elevate your nature connection through my guided walks — in Seattle and Portland, by appointment — or even assist in planning a nature-forward trip. Let me know how I can help.
Do you want to take your relationship with nature to the next level?
Let me show you how paying attention to nature opens the door to see yourself — and the world — differently. Transformation is closer than you think.
I offer Mystic Nature Experiences, 90-minute in-person guided journeys in select parks and gardens in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.