Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sustainability Starts in the Heart: A Conversation with Life Coach Nancy Jack

by Paul E McGinniss
Life Coach Nancy Jack, sailing through New York Harbor, July, 2013

In July, I had the pleasure of traveling into NYC with my friend and neighbor, Life Coach Nancy Jack, to host a SPARK with Integrative medicine pioneer, Michael Finkelstein, M.D. Michael is the author of "77 Questions for Skillful Living: A New Path to Extraordinary Health."  I highly recommend this book which teaches the skills to enable us to lead a more mindful, happy and healthy life.   

As Nancy and I drove into NYC, we discussed Dr Finkelstein's book, and, in particular, how there is a connection between our inner health and well being and the health and well being of the world at large. Inspired by Michael Finkelstein and his book of insightful questions, we began our journey by me asking Nancy a question: "Do you think we have been cut off from nature?" 

Dr. Michael Finkelstein (left) with Margaret Lydecker, Founder of Green Drinks NYC, at a recent SPARK event in NYC.

Nancy's immediate and enthusiastic response was: "Yes!  Of course I do!   Even if you go out into the country or woods or parks, do you ever see children learning about and experiencing nature?  Learning about the trees...the wildlife...the dirt...the insects?  No!  You rarely see any interaction of young people with nature unless they live on a farm or live with a family that pays a special interest to experiencing nature.  Most children are on cell phones or watching TV or doing something on their iphones or androids."

I concurred: "We do all seem distracted so much now and not really paying attention to what surrounds us."

Nancy continued her thought: "We are so distracted. And there are so many distractions that are not healthy for us.  It's not that all distractions are bad.  But many are not true to our nature.  Having a cell phone and being online all day is easy and can be productive as far as a technology is concerned, but it is not who we are.  Technology is not our spirit."

So, besides being distracted - what  is our obsession with technology doing to our spirit?, I asked. 

Are we communing with nature or just commenting and capturing it? 

To bring insight into our discussion about being disconnected from the nature that surrounds us, Nancy urged that I read "Healing Spaces - The Science and Place of Well Being" by Dr Esther Sternberg MD. She said the book reveals the importance of how we need to be connected to nature and how this connection can help heal us. 

Nancy elaborated: "Dr Sternberg's ideas and background of research show spaces can provide healing.   For example, when people are in hospital rooms there is evidence they heal faster when they have a view of nature, like trees.  So views of trees, water, mountains and natural wonder connect our spirit to nature which is very healing.  This idea goes back thousands of years to native cultures which have always known the healing power of nature, including native plants and substances found naturally in the environment.  Native cultures like the American Indians and the Aborigines in Australia knew the healing power of nature and took what they learned and incorporated it into their lives. Nature was part of their inner and outer landscapes, something they were born with. Nature was as native to their cell tissues as the heart is to the human body and was an integral part of their lives, not just something they observed occasionally from the outside."

The Earth is a Pharmacy of Healing as the Native American Indians knew from their intimate connection with the nature that surrounded them.

After I thought about how much our modern culture has disassociated ourselves from the natural rhythms of the environment, I brought the conversation back to technology, which I firmly believe has brought us many benefits: "So, the bottom line is, technology can be enormously helpful and it serves a real purpose. But you are saying technology is not who we are and has come to dominate nature?"

Nancy continued her thoughts: "I do not think technology dominates nature. I think technology dominates humanity to the point humanity does not appreciate or commune with nature like we did before technology. We are living, breathing creatures like trees, animals, the earth.  We are not cell phones. We are not computers.Technology isn't breathing. We invented technology and now technology has taken power. Instead of us ruling technology, technology rules us."


As we drove down the West Side Highway into New York, Manhattan loomed before us in all its hectic, techno-modern splendor. We spoke about the importance of technology in solving pressing needs like cleaning up pollution and creating more renewable energy.  In this context I asked Nancy: "How do we solve the worlds most pressing environmental problems?  How do we truly make the world more sustainable?"

Nancy: "Sustainability Starts in the Heart: It comes from your heart out of respect for where you live. We don't just live in a house. We don't just live on a piece of ground. We live on a beautiful planet. It breathes. If we continue to treat it as we have done in the past we will suffocate it. I think we forget the earth is alive. And just as nature nurtures us, we have to nurture nature."

Nancy Jack, Paul E McGinniss, Barbara Kurz and Clayton Dewar (left to right) on the roof deck of Element Times Square West in NYC after the SPARK with Dr Michael Finkelstein. Photo by Margaret Lydecker.
After the amazing SPARK with Dr Finkelstein, Nancy and I and a group of friends headed to Element Times Square West where we were staying the night.  We enjoyed a wonderful time on the 40th floor roof top deck.  

The next morning I read an article on Big Think by Tara Rockefeller called "In a World of Ideas, Place Matters." The poetic article was about Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the Maine Coast, about 100 square miles, where the first U.S. National Park east of the Mississippi was created.  The park is now called Acadia National Park and was the first National Park created with the donation of private land. 

View from Above Bubble Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Tara's words reminded me of the conversations I had the day before with Nancy.  These thoughts about the importance of place and connecting to our surroundings, they echoed in my ears as I drove back upstate to the bucolic Hudson Valley where I live.  I was feeling an even greater appreciation and understanding for those with the vision in this region to conserve many hundreds of thousands of natural acreage for future generations to connect to and benefit from.

Tara Rockefeller could be speaking for all of us:

"Even in this time of advancing technology and expanding cyberspace, where we are makes a difference. We don’t think or exist in empty space; we need nourishment from the earth, literally, to live and create. Breaking away from day-to-day routines and interacting in places that bring people together and that feed our minds helps us understand our relationship with our environment, our “human ecology”, and leads us on a more sustainable path. And somehow, when we’re connected to a place, the ideas we generate have more sticking power."

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2013

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