Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to notice what you are noticing and to ask why you’re noticing it. [Sometimes you notice things that call to your heart and your heart responds by dancing. The best move then is to go do more of that dance….]
Have you noticed the latest trend (especially after the pandemic lockdown) toward hugging trees, galaxy-gazing, mooning over wilderness landscapes and generally dissing our man-made constructs and urban follies?
Going-Outside-with-the-capital-O has become the new default mode of operation. (Mostly ‘cause it’s pretty boring being stuck inside-with-no-capital-I, even with all the latest gadgets and doo-dads.)
It’s been a-building for some time now.
Just in the last few months (after years of mainstream focusing on techno-induced euphoria and dystopic musing) it seems that our Inner Hippy Dippy Nature-Lover is standing up to roar.
The Great Pinball Game of Life is flashing “TILT” and alarums and sirens and whistles and bleeps are sounding. We’ve been called to pay attention yet again to this world we are making together.
Something is emphatically Not Right. F’r sure, we’ve pushed that techy, global, materialistic and massively busy meta-game around so hard that it went off-kilter. Game Over. Start again.
The solution is “obvious,” uh-huh, uh-huh. We’ve got to get back and “re-connect” to Nature, it says here…as if we were ever really out of it.
THE HUMAN-NATURE CONNECTION
The human love of life and living things has been a topic of much discussion and dissection by assorted philosophers and wise guys down through the ages.
We humans are drawn to life. We have an instinctual “biophilia” — what American psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964 called a “passionate love of life and living things.” Fromm thought it was a natural and intuitive instinct imprinted on our DNA.
Biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson grabbed the word and used it as the name for a hypothesis he made up and explored in a book of the same name. He said the human condition it described is our “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.”
Wilson’s seminal book, BIOPHILIA, which was first published in 1984, is part philosophical treatise and part memoir with sparkling bits of field observations. At one point he says:
“To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents.”
According to Wilson, our love for nature could help us define our own selves and help us choose the way we walk in the world.
The book sparked a lot of questioning among the guys and gals in the lab coats. As is their wont, they asked all kinds of questions and did all kinds of studies that measured the effects being in nature has on human beings.
Over the years, the information the researchers accumulated has led to all kinds of explorations into nature-based approaches to healing and for living as well.
Meanwhile the poets and storytellers kept on waxing lyrical while musicians and artists of all sorts put together celebrations of the beauty in nature.
Thinkers and makers of all sorts kept expanding their thoughts and using the nature-based techniques the researchers uncovered to improve their creative and problem-solving capabilities.
Athletes expanded their abilities and learned new ways to develop themselves into even better performers as well.
Architects and landscape designers incorporated the findings into their designs for living and working spaces that were conducive to better living.
Broken and sick people were helped along in their healing processes by the new ecotherapy practices (also known as “nature therapy” or “green therapy”) that developed out of the growing body of research that highlighted the positive benefits of connecting with nature.
One interesting form of ecotherapy is the Japanese Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Beginning in the early 1980s Japan’s Forest Agency established what they called “recreation forests” within the national forests across Japan.
Around that time the idea of forest bathing was fostered and promoted. A number of studies that were made of the people who were doing the practice confirmed that it had a positive impact on these people’s lives, reducing stress, boosting moods and helping to build their immune systems as well.
This YouTube video, “I Tried Therapy in the Forest. Yes, You Read that Right” was published in 2019 by Thrive Global.
It features Thrive Global reporter Alexandra Hayes who spent time with the Urban Edge Forest Therapy group in New York City’s Central Park to learn how the practice works and feels.
There are many videos and posts and books and such that can help you if you want to pursue exploring the human-nature connection.
One of the most comprehensive (and reasonably short) how-to’s for connecting with nature that I’ve seen is in a post by Brian Mertins, who calls himself a “nature mentor.” Brian is a dedicated nature-lover who’s put together books and courses about getting back to the wonder of it all.
Click on the button below to be taken to the exercises and life hacks that he’s collected and developed to help people reconnect with the natural world.
BUT, WHAT IF YOU DON’T LIKE NATURE?
I stumbled across a very interesting video, “The World’s Most Relaxing Film,” published in 2015 by Destination Sjælland 2. When I saw it, the seven-minute video had over 2 million views and garnered over 1,500 comments.
As promised, watching the film apparently did help you relax physically. It was recorded on the West Coast of Zealand (Sjællabds Vestkyst) in Denmark and the editing was guided by experts from the fields of stress, mindfulness, and nature and music therapy. Unfortunately it has since been taken down.
The most amazing thing about the video was its length. Some of the other guided meditation and nature videos can go on for a long time. (Ummm…seven hours?)
What intrigued me about the Zealand video, however, were the unexpected-to-me comments from people who felt isolated, alone and sorrowful after watching the film. That is not a reaction I myself would normally have to Nature eye and ear candy.
And then I remembered a city-raised cousin of a friend who came to visit our decidedly back-of-beyond island for a summer vacation. I had not thought about Georgie in years.
Poor Georgie. He grew up in some faraway and gone city place in the American mid-west and the world we inhabited on the tiny island of Molokai was an extremely foreign place.
We kids ran around barefoot through the banana groves chasing the chickens for fun. We made stick bows and arrows and tried to “hunt” them down. (It never worked, but just the thought of it was very cool.)
We flew newspaper and stick kites in the blustery wind and had kite “battles” that could end in wrestling matches and crying protests when some adult stepped into the fray.
We caught 7-11 crabs off the pier at Kaunakakai and clambered through the mangrove roots along the shoreline dive-bombing each other in the water where those crabs with the big, toe-snipping claws lived.
We made “mud-boots” that covered our bare legs almost halfway up to our knees by walking through the thick mud along the shoreline of one of our favorite walking beaches and we got sand and yucky-tasting salt water all over our skin and in our eyes and ears and mouths as well as our shorts as we tumbled through the waves of our favorite swimming beaches.
Nights were dark and very quiet except for the chorus of bufo toads, crickets and katydids as well as the occasional impromptu neighborhood dog howls.
No airplanes coming in for a landing. No police and emergency vehicle sirens in the night. No mechanized, mechanical sounds filling in the spaces between breaths.
We could see the canopy of stars at night when, to Georgie’s dismay, we slept outside in the back yard on tatami mats with our pillows and blankets piled all around us.
The rain forests were full of thorns and stickers and bugs and things and lots of mud and guck and the city-slicker could not believe the voracious mosquitoes and other miniscule critters that swarmed all over him every time he stuck his nose out of the door.
We kept telling him there were no bears or mountain lions or snakes. There were very few little critters that wandered around being cute and fuzzy, we said. We also told him stories about wild pigs and mean feral cattle and ghosts walking.
There were no fancy shops in our town and few of the modern amenities that he had always taken for granted. Heck, we didn’t even have tall buildings. Our one traffic light made an appearance in Kaunakakai town way after Georgie went home.
Poor Georgie. We did tease him a lot. We marveled at his discomfort and we were not kind. We were a rambunctious, contentious bunch and we poked fun at him a lot.
He never did come back.
RIDDLE: WHAT DO YOU CALL SOMEBODY WHO HATES NATURE?
Not everybody LIKES Nature, you know. Not everyone is comfortable in it. For them, it’s all an alien space with which they prefer NOT to interact. They do not really want to “re-connect.”
Houseplants wilt in their presence. Mean cats fawn all over them, shedding long hairs all over their snazzy clothes. They go into conniptions around dogs and can’t stand birds or icky butterflies. Wildlife sends them over the edge and, frankly, they prefer their own species.
Not only that, wild water makes them nauseous and still water bores them to bits. All waterfalls pretty much look like water falling down and, for them, it’s all just kind of meh.
Mountains and valleys have zero appeal. So do deserts or jungles, and forget about the ocean.
They like being surrounded by their fellow humans. Crowds are a part of their natural habitat. They do not want to learn how to move through the woods or endure and thrive in the desert or tool around the deep blue sea.
They’ve already spent a lifetime developing street smarts and being Dr. Doolittle or an intrepid plant whisperer or an exotic water-being or sand creature is not a part of their programming.
And then I started noticing that most of the ones who are into Nature were kind of looking down their noses at the ones who were frank enough to admit that they were not comfortable with all that specious communing with trees and wild things.
Talk about a Code Switch dilemma! There it is again: If you aren’t like us, then there is something WRONG with you!
To those ones who are trying to proselytize and advocate for the joys and pleasures of savoring nature, my congratulations. You are lucky to be able to embrace the world in that way.
But, don’t get too snooty, guys. There are pleasures and joys in a metropolis as well, you know, and sometimes we need a little bit of that kind of wild as well.
Did you know that Michelangelo himself once said, “I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all.”
Historian Lewis Mumford once rhapsodized, “The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind.”
And those, too, are also truths.
I am becoming more and more convinced that all of humankind lives along a spectrum on a continuum of related characteristics and traits.
- This one is more introverted than that other one who is more extroverted.
- This one is more mechanically inclined than that other one who is a klutzy “broke-chanic.”
- This one is more tree-hugger than that other one who loves taxis.
And so on…all the way down the line.
It really is just a matter of choice (and maybe upbringing as well).
Here’s a poem:
THE LAND OF MY BELONGING
And here I sit,
In the land of my belonging.
I can see the beauty that surrounds me:
In the green forest mountains
Wreathed with a lei of clouds,
Touched by the golden sun,
Adorned by rainbows;
In the deep rolling sea that sends playful waves
That kiss and tease the golden sands of my heart;
In Hina’s bright sanctuary floating in the velvet sky
As the stars winkle and shine through unimaginable depths
To shower their blessings on me
Are my beloved shackles.
I can taste the joyousness in
The cool wet of the mountain streams
That hide the battling ‘opae;
In the eternal salt of the sea
That surrounds this blessed land.
I can smell the flowers
Hiding in the green along the river banks
And the tang of limu
Wafting on the salty breezes.
I can feel the tingle of
Morning mists playing on my skin.
The heat of the sun beats out
Its own cadence through my blood,
And the gentle breezes caress me.
I can hear the birdsong and the life
That echoes through the valleys
And the pounding of the waves
Against the hard, black rocky shores
Growling deep and deeper.
I am bound to this place, you know,
By ties that will not loose me,
And I sink into contentment
In the soft embrace of the stillness
And the peacefulness of home.
But, my heart longs for you, my wanderer,
And hungers for your touch.
And I wonder at the visions in your eyes
That takes you out into the world
And keeps you moving in ever-widening circles.
Always you are called to the new, the different.
The world beckons and you must answer.
Your heart is pulled by other currents
Of wind and wave and ether
That lead to strange and distant shores.
May the sun shine on your road, dear one.
And may your heart lead you home….
[For those who don’t know: lei is a garland; Hina’s sanctuary is the moon; ‘opae are freshwater shrimps; limu is seaweed.]
By Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “You Say That I Like What You Say” by Thomas Hawk via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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