Home All Nature, Spirituality, and the Future

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

Natural Beauty473 words. Reading time can be less than 1 minute, but please read slowly…

I am just back from the most amazing trip of my life. I visited Maui, a breathtakingly beautiful island where I experienced multiple moments of awe, elevation, spirituality, and connection with all things larger than myself. I had the daily pleasure to savor wholesome, real food right off of a tree or out of the ocean. I had time for meaningful interactions with other people, and for being in the moment while doing so.

Avatar as a Proxy
I also recently had the pleasure to see the movie Avatar (Directed by James Cameron), which somehow stroke the same chord in me as Maui. For those who have never been to Maui and may not have an immediate opportunity to go, Avatar can serve as somewhat of a proxy.

Avatar is the story of Jake, a soldier who is sent to meet the Na’vi, the inhabitants of Pandora. Pandora is a beautiful land where nature and Eywa (their deity) guide the way of living. Jake’s mission is to convince the Na’vi to leave their territory so the military can mine precious metals from its ground.

But Jake is in for a surprise. Rather than advancing the military cause he was sent to serve, he finds himself increasingly appreciative of how the Na’vi think, relate, and live. He discovers the beauty of the connection between all living things. Pandora turns out to be a mind and heart opener. It helps Jake get in touch with his own humanity.

Making the Connection
DSCN4940What happens to Jake is quite similar to what happened to me in Maui. We both stepped outside our usual worlds. Guided by the rhythm of nature, we were in better touch with our best selves. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, Psychologists at the University of Michigan, explain that nature experiences can have profound effects on a person’s psychology. That’s certainly what happened to me. Stepping outside the demands of urbanization stimulated my strengths of open-mindedness, appreciation of beauty, and capacity to love.

At the end of my trip to Maui and at the end of Avatar, I cried. Cried for more connection with Mother Earth. Cried for future generations who, unless we start taking the environment more seriously, may not get the chance to experience the awe, elevation, and spirituality I found.

Today, I am more motivated than ever to be respectful of the environment through the dozens of everyday choices that we know about and should never fail to make. Go see Avatar if you haven’t already, and join me in this motion.

The human past used to be filled with connections to nature. I may be a bit of a dreamer, but I hope there is still time to make it the way of the future.

Author’s note: I would like to thank two real gentlemen who inspired me as I wrote this article.  Kind, generous and always-fun-to-be-around Jeremy McCarthy, MAPP suggested I write about my trip to Maui.  You can follow him on Twitter here: @jeremymcc.

Then equally generous motivational specialist Emmanuel Lopez, also known by his superhero name Motivatorman encouraged me to draw parallels between Maui and Avatar.  For more info on how Avatar can inspire you, please see his blog entry “Tip#314: Step Outside Your World For Awhile – Avatar“.



Both photos courtesy of the author.

Britton, K. (2007). Sustainability: From Denial and Depression to Hope and Personal Responsibility, Positive Psychology News Daily.

Carpenter, D. (2009). Green Psychology, Positive Psychology News Daily.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pollan, M. (2008). In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin.

World Watch Institute (2010). State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability. W. W. Norton.

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Jeremy McCarthy 24 January 2010 - 8:43 pm

MarieJosee, this is a beautiful account of the imnpact of your trip and a great connection to Avatar. As you know, I lived in Maui for several years and of course visited Pandora through the film. Your article brings me back to the “beginner’s mind” I had when I first experienced the beauty of Maui (first time to Hana, first maui sunset, first sunrise from top of Haleakala, first whale breach, etc. –all amazing “maui moments” as my friends and I would call them.) Hopefully your article helps to stimulate others to visit Hawaii, go see Avatar, and most importantly, cherish and respect our connection to Nature.

Ming 25 January 2010 - 6:52 am

Hi MarieJ
I can certainly relate to your sense of awe through being with nature, flowing with it’s rhythm. I’m happy for you. It is a healing connection for the urban weary souls. For the past six months, I have been visiting a place like Pandora, befriended and accepted by the equivalent of Na’vi who taught me much about respect for nature. I believe for people who are not in the position to visit Maui or live in the country, growing vegetable is a great way for urban dwellers to stay connected with nature and engage in self sustainable activities. Ming

Kathryn Britton 25 January 2010 - 3:25 pm


I like this discussion of “the dozens of everyday choices that we know about and should never fail to make.” We all have ways to reduce the daily uses of energy, water, and material goods that add up slowly into a large impact.

We can reduce the number of automobile trips, the amount of garbage we produce, the travel expense for the food that reaches our tables. We can reuse food scraps as compost, and so on. Thanks for writing about the way the trip to Maui re-energized your conservationist impulses.


Marie-Josee Salvas Shaar 25 January 2010 - 8:38 pm

Jeremy – yes, you are right – “Amazing Maui Moments” is a great way to put it – and thank you for wishing that it stimulates others to follow the motion.

Ming, planting a garden is the very first thing I decided to do when comes the season, and I am looking forward to it. Thank you for reinforcing the idea, and for confirming its value!

Kathryn – thank you for chipping in! One initiative at a time, we make things better. I have always paid attention to the environment, printing on the back of fax confirmations that my fiancé brings home from his office, recycling everything I can, carrying my own glass water bottle to avoid having to buy new ones, etc. But this trip to Maui inspired me to take a closer look at my lifestyle and see what more I can do. So far, I bought a kindle and discontinued my weekend newspaper subscription. I changed my face and body wash for organic products with minimal packaging, and am slowly lowering the temperature of my showers – which also means shorter showers! – to preserve water and energy (and it’s better for me anyway). I decided against joining a new gym that is brand new and very attractive, but a bit further from my house than my current gym. I am looking into a new line of home cleaning and laundry products that are friendlier to the environment than what is typically on store shelves. So I’m looking at all kinds of new little ways that add up and make a large difference. If anyone else has other initiatives they’d like to mention, please go ahead!


Louis Alloro 26 January 2010 - 1:31 pm

I agree with all of the above, MJ. Marvelous. Now want to visit Maui and Pandora. Stay tuned for my article Friday entitled, “Why I Want to Travel to Pandora, or The Positive Psychology of Avatar”!

Great to dance with you last weekend!

Allyson Frick 26 September 2010 - 9:10 pm


I enjoyed reading about your experience in Maui! I have had similar experiences on various travels but I especially remember one. It was an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. We hiked about a mile and after being surrounded by forest for so long, I came to a cliff that looked out over the valley for hundreds of miles. It was magnificient.

I am writing because I am a student in a positive psychology course at NC State University. We were instructed to read an article of interest (I am very interested in nature!) and ask the author a question. My question to you is do you think that these types of spiritual, connected experiences require a natural setting? Or could nature be the initiating force that spawns these feelings in the first place? In my opinion, I feel that they do because for us to truly appreciate the world around us, we must see it for all that it is in its natural state. Being in a big city (I grew up in a small town) has taken a toll on me, because it is hard to find a purely natural setting around here.

I’d be very interested to hear back from you! Thanks for sharing!

Allyson Frick

Marie-Josee Shaar 27 September 2010 - 8:45 pm

Hi Allyson!

I’m not sure I can answer your question from a purely scientific point of view (any colleague who can, please jump in!), but here’s what I have to contribute:

I know some research shows that physical activity is even more beneficial when done outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that indoors fitness is worthless. Similarly, I believe that nature can facilitate spirituality and connectedness because it is awe-inspiring, but at the same time I don’t think it’s necessary. You can experience a great sense of spirituality at your local yoga studio, while meditating in your bedroom, while listening to beautiful live music or at your favorite religious site (church, temple, mosque, etc), for example. Now can nature give rise or amplify these feelings? Absolutely! We humans were designed to live in and interact with nature (if we weren’t, the weather would have no impact on us, and a sunbath wouldn’t help us produce vitamin D!), so connecting with it certainly makes us feel more alive and harmonious!

Those are my humble thoughts! Hope that helps you pursue your own reflection!

Very best,

Allyson Frick 28 September 2010 - 10:19 pm


Thanks for the response. I feel the same as you do on this topic. For me personally, I haven’t experienced any sort of “connected” feeling unless I was in a natural environment but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future!

I think it IS nature’s way of telling us that we are still connected to mother Earth, despite the technological advances of our society today. I appreciate your input on the topic, and think you are wise to take steps to protect our environment.

Best wishes,


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com