The soundtrack for this post will be as follows:
Cults – Go Outside (available here),
The Beatles – Mother Nature’s Son (listen here),
Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers (listen here).
That’s right, today we’re talking about NATURE and the important role it should play in our lives!
I can’t remember where exactly I read it, probably a random article posted on Facebook, but the Coles Notes version was that when human beings developed consciousness we began to disconnect from nature. Without being an evolutionary expert, this intuitively makes sense to me. We went from a world in which nature was literally everything we knew, to now being able to hold conscious thought and being able to ‘escape’ within (paradoxical?). What I’m not saying is that consciousness is bad or that we should revert to a primitive way of life (sort of like this?), but it’s interesting that consciousness has brought on a few negatives along with obvious prosperity. One such negative is that we have such a thing as Nature Deficit Disorder that is rapidly gaining traction within our society. The good news is the solution is easy! Get your butt outside and find some nature.
Before I continue, I should mention that I am overtly aware of the irony in writing a blog post, to be shared with the online community, about the virtues of going outside! While writing this, I am inside our cozy caravan separated from nature. To my defence, just outside our windows lies this view…
I find being in my own thoughts all day exhausting, if not sometimes depressing, and one of the best means of clearing the slate is to get outside. There are other ways to get out of your head, such as exercise, a sip of booze, surfing the web, etc. but for me nothing works quite as well as a walk through the forest.
Do you get enough nature? It seems crazy to me to think that needs to be asked. We evolved outdoors amongst nature, nowadays we read about nature on our backlit screens. Maybe it’s our innate need for comfort and security that finds us constantly indoors, away from prey and other hazards. With the advancement of technology, there is literally no need to go outside. In Edmonton during winter, I have heard of folks jumping in vehicles in their attached garages, driving to an indoor heated parking lot attached to their place of work, proceeding to lunch via the enclosed Pedway and never having to step outside. Is it any wonder we have Seasonal Affected Disorder and Nature Deficit Disorder?
I should say that I’m not a big fan of labelling every small mental or physical ailment as a ‘disorder’, but I suppose they are effective in raising awareness. The author and journalist who brought Nature Deficit Disorder to light is Richard Louv. My attention was brought to Richard last spring when Lana went to a presentation he put on at the University of Alberta. I agree with Richard in that people are not spending enough time in nature.
“The future will belong to the nature-smart … those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” -Richard Louv
Beyond the immediate reward of clearing your mind, nature also helps feel connected with the world, for as John Muir once said “when one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I personally feel we should take advantage of anything that helps cultivate a sense of unity. To quote Canadian rock icon Neil Young: “I’m into believing in a higher source of creation, realizing we are all just part of nature.” Young’s word are especially relevant with the recent onslaught of negative news: Paris attacks, Syrian refugee crisis, Donald Trump’s rhetoric about ‘building a wall’ to block Mexican immigrants and dealing with Muslims by closing mosques and creating a registry. We need more unity and less division. Another quote I care for is by Allan Watts who said “I’ll tell you what Hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quite you’ll come to understand that you are connected with everything.”
Have you tried forest-bathing, better known as Shinrin Yoku? Simply put, it is the Japanese practice of pondering while slowly walking through a natural area. The benefits are many, but I gather that essentially you are triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, which returns the body to homeostasis following a fight or flight response. In laymen’s terms, by focusing on the senses (smell, touch, taste, sight, sound) you are able to calm yourself. Another benefit, that is really cool, comes from breathing compounds released by the plants themselves! Antimicrobial volatile organic compounds (VOC) are released by plants to prevent from rotting and insects, but when inhaled by humans increase natural killer (NK) cells, which can help fight cancer! Cool, right? Go nature.
Lana and I have been enjoying our time on Hornby since wrapping up our apprenticeship at the end of October, particularly taking time out of nearly each day to go for a walk in the woods. Granted, we are chatting most of the time so maybe not doing true “shinrin”, but we do take our time to point out cool mushrooms growing or listen for a sweet bird call.
Nature is calling. Get outside and explore what there is to offer. You won’t be disappointed. Thanks to recent scientific discoveries, and historical understanding, of the importance of nature you can take your evening walk knowing that you are benefiting in more ways that one!