Thursday, September 5, 2019

Why Nature

I was around a bend and a few paces ahead of our 5-year-old when I heard her exclaim "I hear joyfulness ahead!"

Evidently, she'd heard my gasp of delight at the vista that had just unfolded before us. After a 2-mile hike up the mountain, I was, indeed, feeling joyful at the sight of the ocean of blue mountains rolling majestically to the horizon.
I've been thinking about our daughter's comment ever since then. It was a simple observation, but a profound one.

At a very basic level, I think we all know that nature is good for us. Fresh air, physical activity, sunshine. Healthy stuff.

But, lately, I've become more mindfully appreciative of the benefits of being outdoors, benefits that transcend the obvious.

I recently stumbled on a new (to me) podcast from Outside magazine. And, very specifically, a couple of episodes that simultaneously validate some of my instincts and transform my thinking on just how important time in the wilderness is to our overall wellbeing.

I highly recommend a quick listen to both What Awe in Nature Does For Us and The Radically Simple Digital Diet We All Need. (And then put your phone down and heed the podcasts' wisdom!)

The take-home messages of these podcasts boil down to this:

First, we get the greatest benefits from nature when we experience awe. And -- surprise! -- awe very often happens in the quiet, reflective moments. That is to say, not during the thrilling, rolling whitewater portions of a rafting trip, but in the calm between the churn.

And, second, the buzzing in your head that comes of being willfully and artificially tethered to your smart phone is real. And it’s not good for you. But relearning to use the phone as the simple, helpful tool it was first intended to be, and going outside (without your phone in your hand . . .or on your mind) can help restore your natural state of mental health.

Our minds are not built to constantly process feedback and social stimulation and we suffer when we get trapped in that loop. The synapses in our brains are meant to flow like streams, not relentlessly fire in a million directions. We need to restructure our relationship with technology. We need to hear birdsong and wind-tousled leaves.

When I think our family needs a reset, we plan a trip, even just for an afternoon, into the woods. Nothing to distract us, other than each other and whatever interesting things we find on the trail. And I swear we come out happier and healthier, individually and as a family unit. And the cool thing is (and science backs this up), the positive effect lasts well after we've returned to the demands (both real and manufactured) of daily living.

Our youngest kid probably won't remember all of the hikes we've taken or the breathtaking views we've seen, but I'm thrilled she already recognizes -- and I pray she will remember -- that there is, indeed, joyfulness to be found in nature.

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