Skip to main content
David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding

Take a Step Outside and Take a Step into Peace

This article was written by IPB 480 Student: Nathalie Trow-McDonald

Like most people, I have struggled in my life to find balance, to find peace. We live in a society that demands more and more “productivity” and expects us to be sitting inside looking at screens. I know I am not alone in feeling like I have too many obligations to juggle and not enough energy to get it all done. I often found myself feeling like I am running in a hamster wheel trying so hard to keep up and in the end, not feeling grounded or connected to anything at all.

Growing up in Louisiana, we spend most of our summers inside. Unless your neighbor had a pool or you’ve decided to go hunting or fishing, most people are hiding from the overbearing heat and humidity indoors with air conditioning. It was usually only around the fall season in my youth that I remember spending time outside reading a book occasionally or attending the local fairgrounds. As I became older and the demands of school and work grew, I found myself spending my entire day inside classrooms, libraries, and workplaces. With all these responsibilities, who has time to sit outside and read anymore? But with all these demands, I always felt off-kilter. Something was missing that kept me imbalanced.

It was not until I moved to the Virgin Islands that I started to spend extended periods of time in the outdoors. I somehow found myself enrolled in a snorkeling class, then a scuba diving course. My new friends would encourage me to go spearfishing, hiking, or spend hours on the beach with them to “work on our tans.” For some reason, it seemed like a lot more of life in the islands was done outside like shopping for local produce, hanging your clothing on the line, riding on ferries or safaris (open-air busses), grilling dinner, or even just sitting on the porch talking with friends late into the evening. With the iguanas everywhere, dependence on trade winds in your home for “natural AC,” consistency of the sounds of roosters and coqui frogs, and the ocean as your highway, nature also seemed so much closer to me than it ever had before. I realized over time that I loved it. When I returned home to Louisiana, it seemed strange to sit in my air-tight, climate-controlled home all day. My mom and neighbors gave me strange looks as I soon relocated my lounging position from the couch in the living room to a new hammock I put up in the yard. I would do other things people saw as strange like go for a walk, drive with the windows down, or walk around barefoot. While I loved being home and it still gives me a sense of reconnection to my roots, I was craving something more.

When I moved to Alaska, my connection to nature faced a new obstacle: below-freezing temperatures. It was expected that a newly-converted island girl would spend most of her time bundled up inside. While my body was initially opposed to the frigid air, my soul couldn’t be contained within the confines of central heating. I soon found myself walking within a few feet of snow and around lounging moose on my way to class, hiking almost every weekend, ice skating several times a week, going on long scenic drives, skiing, even camping while hunting the Northern Lights. All along the way, I developed a passion for photography because my surroundings filled me with a sense of awe that I never wanted to end. It was while stumbling across a waterfall in the midst of a sparkling white landscape, feeling the cool rush of air as I was spinning on ice skates, or gazing up at the top of a glacier while standing in the middle of a frozen lake that I realized, this is where I am most free while also, my most grounded. I was experiencing this sense of contentment that was penetrating my soul. When I immerse myself in nature, I am fully present and thus, the most in tune with my inner self. I feel my burdens become lighter and the world seems to be more in focus, more balanced. As I found myself having these experiences more regularly, I also found a greater sense of ease and calmness being perpetuated in my daily life. Suddenly, the hamster wheel did not seem to be spinning faster than I could run. My assignments and other obligations were still there, but they seemed to come at a slower and more manageable pace. Not only that, as I allowed myself the guilt-free leniency to take breaks and experience the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, I found I could even get on and off of the wheel on my own accord. I was no longer chained to my stresses and was gaining control over them. When the world was not whirling around me from my limited perspective of the wheel, I felt a new sensation creep into my life: balance. As I discovered the ability to step on and off the wheel, I felt grounded. I could feel this sense of peace slowly emanated into every aspect of my life. I realized I love nature and that is what has been missing... I need to maintain a connection to nature as a key component of my inner peace.

When I moved to Hawai’i, I was taught that we have a spiritual connection to the ‘aina (land) and to the kai (water). The sense of calm that I feel when I am thigh-deep in the mud of a lo’i (taro patch) or 90 feet underwater with my scuba tank is not arbitrary. It is a state of being referred to as ma’alahi, a pervasive persuasion toward calm, peace, and serenity. There has been scientific research that says that being outside releases endorphins, but Hawaiians have known about this pono (a feeling of contentment that stems from righteousness and balance) for thousands of years. Over the past year and a half that I have been allowed to ground myself in the islands of Hawai’i, I have been blessed to become kama’aina. Today, this word is used mostly to mean “local” or natively born in Hawai’i, but the meaning runs deeper than local discounts. It truly means “child of the land” and implies a sense of responsibility to the place you choose to live. As kama’aina, you are of that place and charged with caring for it. This is integral to the Hawaiian way of life. The Hawai’i State Motto, as written above the entrance to the McKay Building, reads: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka 'Aina i ka Pono (“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”). It was as I spent time with the kupuna (elders) on the Big Island of Hawai’i that I became consciously aware of the spiritual connection that one has with the ‘aina. Often portrayed in Hawaiian chants and hula, I could feel that as we showed our aloha ‘aina, or love of the whole of the environment (land, ocean, atmosphere), that Mother Earth shared her aloha (unconditional love, outpouring and receiving of the spirit) with us. She allows her aloha to fill in the aspects of our life where we feel something is missing and it can make us whole.

Rebecca Oxford teaches in her book, “The Language of Peace,” that “multidimensional peace is a highly active, dynamic set of processes that includes the development of peace or harmony within various dimensions of life” and these include: inner, interpersonal, intergroup, international, intercultural, and ecological peace. The premise is that the foundation of having peace in one-dimensional lies upon the individual seeking (not perfecting) personal balance across all six dimensions (Oxford, “The Language of Peace,” 12-14).

Reading her book was the first time I heard the term “ecological peace.” Her teachings made sense. When I found ecological peace, I found inner peace and it emanated into my interpersonal relationships, my intergroup relations at work and school, my intercultural relations with the natives around me, and even my appreciation for my nation as I began to associate the beauty of the landscapes and wildlife as being part of my American pride. The premise is that if we ignore one dimension of peace, it makes it near impossible to achieve the other dimensions. Learning of these principles in Hawai’i, I looked up from my book and realized that the Hawaiians demonstrate achieving balance within the six dimensions of peace by living with aloha and pono.

In his book, “The Pono Principle,” Robert de Vinck explains that like any Hawaiian word, pono has a multiplicity of meanings, but that pono is found in everything you do, the very way you live your life. In his book, de Vinck interviewed a Hawaiian cultural icon, Kimokeo Kapahulehua. Kapahulehua said, “I don’t think you can see pono, I think you have to live pono. I think it is something we all have, and we all inherit… So, how are we pono? And how are we applying it to the heaven, the ocean, and the land? That’s what you call living pono. Why should we be educated to keep the air clean, the ocean clean, and the land clean? That should be pono. I find pono is a living part of my life.” It is the philosophy of malama honua - take care of the land, and the land will take care of you (de Vinck, “Pono Principle,” 81). A way of being exemplified to me best by the natives of the Republic of Palau who showed me that ecological peace is achieved for them culturally by never littering, eating traditional foods they grew themselves, and never taking more than you need from nature while preserving the rest. For Hawaiians, Paluans, and many other cultures, they tend to live on “island time,” a way of life that is calm, balanced, and not hurried. They are not running in a chaotic wheel of stress because they have pono.

This article focuses on my own personal experiences and the cultures that have influenced me. Having attended BYU-Hawaii, it seems that the Hawaiian principles fit seamlessly into the Peacebuilding program and flowed well into my narrative. Something else I love about Hawaii is the social acceptance of people’s need to be outdoors. The writing and editing of this peace happened entirely outdoors and I hope you could feel that connection through these words. As you read, I hope you felt a spark of your own aloha ‘aina within and it brought a sense of calm and security. I hope you listened within more than to my experiences. Your soul is your own and thus, your connection to the environment is your own. You may not have access to frozen ponds to skate on, taro patches to cultivate, or palm trees to nap under, but you do not have to travel like I did to realize the impact of ecological peace in your own life. Wherever this article finds you, you are already in your own corner of the Earth and it is awaiting you. If you feel that your life is lacking balance and peace, then I suggest to try incorporating some outdoor time. It can be as simple as taking a walk outdoors and soaking in the sounds of the birds chirping once a day and seeing how it makes you feel. Maybe it can be found in the sense of altruism when you recycle. Be creative and look around you. Maybe you already have a hobby, family tradition, cultural or faith practice that you can employ that connects you to the environment. The journey will be yours, but you deserve for the wheel to slow down, to become grounded with your roots in this Earth, and for every aspect of your life to have balance, peace, pono. Claim what may be missing in your life. Mother Nature will accept you with open arms. Take a step outside and take a step into peace.

Help Natalie with her IPB 480 project by taking her Survey!!!