|Our church used this photograph of me in their announcement of my talk. This picture was taken by Donna Briedé during our hike in Maine earlier this spring.|
|On a recent morning on my way to work I drove by this lovely scene in Yorktown. It is emblematic of the juxtaposition of the natural world and the man-made world to me.|
"When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most impenetrable and to the citizen , most dismal, swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place, a sanctum sanctorum."
In the first paragraph of Moby Dick Herman Melville writes:
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
Reading this paragraph you see that the only way he can keep out of trouble or from killing himself (pistol and ball) is by taking himself to a ship and going out to sea!
So whether it is the green nature of Thoreau or the blue nature of Melville it does not matter nature helps with sanity.
This principle was known for a long time by man-kind, but first articulated by Richard Louv in 2005 in his book "Last Child in the Woods" as Nature Deficit Disorder. The author related it mostly to children, but later on and in subsequent books also relates it back to teens and adults. The premise of the theory (book) is that we are spending less and less time in nature as civilization has progressed. This has led to some of the ailments in society that we are currently experiencing according to Louv, or maybe we could cure some of the problems by bringing people into nature or nature to the people.
Naturally, the world is much more complex than Louv describes it in his books and I try to make it out to be, here in this blog. But every little bit helps, at least on a personal level. For example, Louv describes how he saw an almost 180 degree change in a gang leader from west LA when he took him for regular hikes in the nature of southern California. Studies abound on hospital patients that heal faster when their window looks out over a natural scene as opposed over a city/non-natural scene. Office buildings now have atriums with plants. People with nature scene wallpaper and screen savers on their computers appear more productive at work than those who do not. So maybe there is something to that movement that tries to fill those empty inner-city lots with pocket parks and vegetable (victory) gardens.
In his book "Blue Mind" Wallace Nichols writes about how science now shows that being near, in, on or under water can make us happier, healthier, more connected and better at what you do. I wrote a previous post about it called "Sailing meditates me" (Yes you can click on the text and it will send you there). Blue Mind is a fascinating book that takes you on a trip in neuroscience, ptsd, health, you name it, it is a fun and informative book to read.
But all shameless self promotion aside (and I do not consider myself a great writer or thinker), nature really does meditate me; in fact being in any type nature meditates me, like for so many others. Some do it in groups or alone like walking meditation (click <here> for a great description of a walking meditation), or you can practice nature meditation <click here>. Interestingly nature meditation can be done sitting or walking and I think it is nature meditation that I do when I walk in the woods or even when I sail. My mind is usually empty or when I think of what is troubling me, I can easily divert it and go back to being in the moment and experiencing what is around me. I have even read of guided nature meditation groups, but somehow I am not a group kinda guy.
So lets stop being afraid of nature and embrace it. If we cannot get out in nature lets bring it to us. Lets push for the greening of our inner-cities, it will not stop the crime, but what do we have to loose? As Louv puts it in a summary of his book "The term Nature Deficit Disorder refers to behavioral problem that has been seen in children and adults that can be almost directly related to the lack of exposure to nature. A lot of these problems can be reversed by taking persons with these issues out into nature." Maybe by bringing nature back to the people we can reverse some of the problems as well.