Want to grow your inner leader? Nature is your guide!


“We need more focus on nature  and food awareness in the curriculum. What do you think about more focus on medicine from the land?” I was on the phone with Angie Di Iorio Blake, our Director for the Sarana Young Adult Program, and Andrew Blake, our main facilitator for Mindfulness and Compassion teachings in the program.

“What does nature awareness have to do with inner leadership skills?” We pondered.

Over the development of YAP, we’ve had many phone calls circling around what inner leadership means, and how it ties into being with nature. If we are working to develop inner leadership skills in the program, why would we search outside of ourselves?

Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhist monk and global teacher, introduced the term ‘interbeing’ into modern vocabulary to express the codependency of existence in each arising moment; that is to say everything is connected through a complex web. I am supported by the sun, the earth beneath my feet, the smiles from my loved ones. The laptop I am using to write this is created from mined mineral, water, and other materials touched by many hands and intentions.

When we take the leap to look outside of ourselves, when we can soften our hearts and fine tune our ears to the subtle conversations between all things, we discover nature as us and us as nature. The matrix of mycelium beneath the forest floor supports communication between all that grows there and is a living metaphor for the codependency between all life. 

As I write this I am drinking coffee. With each sip I take in millions of raindrops from all over the world used to grow the beans, filter them, and brew. How does recognizing this grow my inner leader?

When I remember that I am connected to everything I no longer make decisions out of fear or love just for my own self. I begin to make decisions with a bigger picture in mind. The earth carries my footsteps, supporting my choices to lead with confidence from within. Truly leading from within is to embrace all that surrounds me, and to trust my place within it all grows my capacity for leading a life of confidence, compassion and joy. In turn, this caring for others and that which supports me, is reflected back as caring for self. When I spend more time paying attention to the world that supports me I’ve noticed that I take more time to know and prepare the ingredients that nourish me. This increases my strength and resilience. 

John Heider, translating the thoughts of Lao Tzu in The Tao of Leadership, says that ‘true self interest teaches selflessness’. This quote merges effortlessly into Thich Nhat Hahn’s concept of Interbeing. What do I mean about true self interest?

A Living Example:

Next time you are out for a walk find some evergreens. Spend some time standing or sitting near these trees and breathe. Become as self-invested and interested in your breath as you can. Follow it in and out. Ask your thoughts to just wait until you return from this exploration. Breathe for the sheer sake of being able to. Keep following your breath and look at the tree. The tree is breathing too. The reason you are breathing is because of this tree and millions of others like it, exchanging their symphonious breath with yours.

I believe strongly that nature awareness is vital in leading a life of authentic confidence, courage and wisdom. Simply by taking responsibility to engage with your environment develops inner leadership. Taking initiative and responsibility to be curious of your place within all things will not only fuel purpose in your life, but will support your forward momentum. Taking the time to learn about medicinal functions of plants, the way a forest works, what the clouds say about oncoming weather, and so on, is to take responsibility to learn about your very self. We inter-are with these clouds, plants and forest floors. We are no less or no more.

Mary Oliver speaks to this in her poem Wild Geese:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The Sarana Young Adult Program takes place off-grid for 5 nights of unplugged camping. We walk the trails, learn about our greater family through nature awareness explorations taste edible and medicinal plants, dig our hands in the dirt and care for plants in the permaculture inspired Mandala Garden. We do all of this to grow the roots of inner leadership and along the way we discover our own unique place in the family of things.

Please share this with any young adult you know who may benefit from the experience of our Young Adult Program. August 10 – 15, 2018!

Maxine Iharosy is a Yoga Teacher and Facilitator, and founder of Inner Wilderness Yoga, where she occasionally posts blogs and articles. She is also coordinator and on faculty for the Sarana Young Adult Program.