Updated: Aug 16, 2021
How often are you left awestruck by nature?
Typically, diplomacy and the work of a diplomat are done indoors (although some of my most treasured memories of my posting in southern Vietnam were times spent meeting with local officials while sitting under enormous trees…).
While the cities and countries may change, offices and office spaces are generally the same. Conference rooms are the same. Hotel rooms are the same. Cars and planes are the same. Emails and cables are read and responded to while inside. Phone calls are taken inside.
It can feel like it needs special effort to get outside and see where we’re living beyond looking through a window.
What’s the problem?
The problem is simple: being inside and focusing on the work we’re doing and the work we need to do leads us towards insular thinking. We disconnect from the world around us because we rarely spend time outside.
It’s ironic that we diplomats and those who live the diplomatic life are often an intrepid bunch. For me, getting out to experience the world – not just see the world – is an undisputed highlight and a key reason for doing what I did. But the reality is that I was often so busy being inside my own office and my own head doing the impossible amount of work that needed to be done that I neglected what was happening in the world around me.
This may not seem like a big deal, but consider this.
In Chapter 11 of his excellent book ‘Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope’, Johann Hari outlines the effects that disconnecting from the natural world has on us humans (including diplomats). He cites studies from prisons in the United States conducted in the 1970s showing that not seeing and being connected to the natural world causes increases rates of physical and mental illness.
It’s tempting to recite long passages of Hari’s writing here, but I’ll simply recommend the entire book to you.
What has stayed with me is Hari’s writing of his discussions with Dr. Isabel Behncke while hiking near Banff. Behncke is an evolutionary biologist and has studied the effects of captivity on bonobos and has lived through bouts of depression herself.
As Hari writes of his discussion with Behncke: ‘Faced with a natural landscape, you have a sense that you and your concerns are very small, and the world is very big – and that sensation can shrink the ego down to a manageable size.’
In moments, the meetings, the cables, the emails, the staffing issues, the petty office politics no longer matter for a few moments. The short reset then puts it all back into proper perspective.
What are we to do?
When was the last time you were awed by nature? When was the last time you felt connected to something larger than yourself?
When was the last time you were outside and admired a view? The view doesn’t have to have been one that you travelled across the world to see, it could simply be where you are in the world. It doesn’t have to be a famous view that you see on social media, on Pinterest or in travel brochures, either. It needs to be something that makes you stop and marvel.
When was the last time you stopped to admire a flower? A leaf? A building whose architecture stirred you? When was the last time you stopped to admire a sunset or a sunrise? When was the last time you looked up into the night sky?
When was the last time you listened to – no, felt – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at a loud volume?
If your answer makes you reflect or feel uncomfortable, then I suggest that you do something very soon to admire the world around you and feel a part of something far bigger than yourself.
The challenge here is clear: if you can get outside for a walk, get out and notice where you are. Admire it. Be in it. Connect with the world that is outside of your head. If you can’t get outside for a walk where you are in the world, then take time to admire the sunset from your window or study the details of a leaf of a potted plant.
Recalling that Jase Te Patu said in my chat with him on episode 19 of The Lonely Diplomat podcast that this moment of mindfulness will do wonders to reset you and reconnect you to the wider world beyond our own egos.
I’d love to hear what you experienced!
Want to know more?
Read: Mindfulness and You
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Important notice: All views expressed above do not reflect any official position. The words published above are intended to support, challenge and inspire diplomats and those living the diplomatic life as they reconnect with themselves and the world around them. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional.