In our busy and demanding lives it can be easy to forget how fundamental nature is to our well being, how deeply intertwined we are with the natural world and how our domesticated existence effects our mental state.
I don’t know about you but some days the to-do list can feel like one of those ancient scrolls that seems to roll on forever. The relentless nature of our lives can oftentimes feel pretty overwhelming as the once 9-5 creeps it’s way into our evenings and weekends with the prevalence of a technology that makes us permanently available. Then, even in our down time, exhausted, we reach for our technology to provide mindless relief.
Yet something about it always feels unfulfilling, it provides us little hits of dopamine and our body reacts to the rush of endogenous happy hormone but our nervous system is still wired, leaving us on edge, tired and disengaged.
Our illnesses are often ones of inactivity, we have no connection to the natural world and when we see it in it’s raw state we are often shocked by it. Most of us are completely unable to fend for ourselves in our natural environment and yet we have evolved over millions of years to exist in these habitats, our bodies long to be in the lush forests, bracing rivers and open grasslands.
Often when I have felt overwhelmed by the pressures of daily existence I have stepped outside into the woods and breathed what feels like my first full breath of the day. Watching the birds I’m reminded of the pleasure of existence, not grandiose, goal orientated striving but pure presence. As the deer emerge in the distance with the unnecessarily beautiful spring of their dance across the fields, something stirs in me, it all seems as it should be when here.
There are countless fascinating studies that document the incredible impact of nature on our nervous system and immune response, from phytoncide pheromones emitted from trees to our body’s antioxidative response to cold-water swimming, but even without considering the science we can feel the shift in ourselves. Our breath slows, our mind calms and sometimes we are able to forget the worries of the world.
In our modern philosophies of productivity and growth nature has been something to be overcome, to shield ourselves from the harshness of. Yet comfort brings it’s own set of problems, the worried mind of civilisation. I’m not arguing for a ‘return to the way things used to be’ but I do think in a modern context we need to consider what has been lost with rapid industrialisation. I like Terrence McKenna’s vision of a world that celebrated technology and scientific progress but deeply embedded it in a culture that was aware of it’s symbiotic relationship with nature and valued the systems of organisation that have shaped the human experience, ones that revolve around: community, creativity, ritual and autonomy. Only with this shift in consciousness can we truly come to appreciate that our disconnection from nature is in fact a disconnection from ourselves.