What does life without trees do to our essential nature?

I was at the gym the other day and had the beginnings of this series of thoughts;  (I intensely dislike “the gym” and have always thought the idea of fitness without purpose a kind of modern absurdity. It wasn't that long ago that LIFE was exercise enough. But like most, mine isn’t, and I crave the outlet of intense physical activity to keep me balanced).

The scope of the artificialness of our lives hit me all at once; I was engaging in engineered exercise on a man-made machine designed to approximate my natural gait and movements, under fluorescent lights, in a huge square cement building pumped with machine-cooled air, fake smells throughout to mask natural ones, and dispensers of destined-for-landfill germicide wipes for every surface. And sounds unlike anything that would occur in the natural world, or that my nervous system was created to be able to make sense of and assimilate, pumped into my ears through a plastic battery operated device …

We walk almost solely on uniformly hard surfaces. We live in homes (or boxes stacked on top of each other called apartments) and work in buildings of cement and synthetic materials, filled with no naturally occurring shapes or even colors, and most often, artificial light. The speed and quality of the movements around us, the things we touch, the shapes and horizons (or lack of) that our eyes rest upon, smells, textures, even our food and our patterns of sleep, bear no resemblance to that which our DNA is coded for.  

And then I read a short story about how birds that live in cities age faster and die earlier than birds in their natural habitat, because the city disrupts normal development. Even if there is more access to food, the stress of the city (noise, light, humans) make cells deteriorate more rapidly. And I thought, of course. True for them, true for us. Our animal nature cannot be sustained in a world of concrete, over crowding, and without the sounds of silence. This kind of stress and adaptation to un natural environments is contrary to our needs at a cellular level. 

In most of our daily lives, we encounter only that which is other than our bodies and nervous systems were designed to recognize and process. Just as so many of the highly processed and chemically engineered “foods” we now eat are unrecognizable by the body and are responded to as toxins, (and in turn create disease).

Studies have shown that spending just 1.5 hours walking in a forest decreases the brain activity responsible for psychological illness –this was true in every single person. And few days spent in nature increases levels of creative thinking by 50%

There are modern comforts I have great appreciation for; refrigeration is pretty wonderful, and though I have lived without running water, indoor plumbing, or electricity, I am fan of all three. I’m not suggesting that we stop showering, and return to rubbing sticks. But I have to wonder, as larger and larger populations live solely in an urban landscape, to what degree do we owe our individual and societal distortions to developmental deprivation at a cellular and spiritual level, of that which we need and are evolutionary designed to thrive on?

 

 

Depending on where we live, most of us go through our days, weeks -sometimes entire lives, never smelling the wonders of soil, or the air, pregnant with the smells of a recent thunderstorm, or have the experience bare feet on grass, or the magic of cool sand and blazing sunset, and a connection to earth elements and the natural rhythm of life. We never have the experience of our senses alight, and self as part of the whole.

What happens to a life without natural beauty?  What becomes of a lifetime without communion with a single tree?

We are not designed to live in such close proximity and such extreme conditions with so many others. It's contrary to our needs and essential nature at a cellular level. Are we developing similar manias, and compulsive-destructive behaviors that occur in non human animals kept in zoos and other confined states, removed from their habitats, denied their every natural inclination and impulse. No earth under foot, sun on skin, or freedom to roam. (It is literally, madness, called zoochosis -psychosis caused by confinement)  

I think a degree of the same holds true of our own psychological and physiological response to living void of all that our animal nature needs to thrive, and this causes the unbalance and dis-ease we currently see in individuals and society as a whole. And we are being medicated for depression and stress induced behaviors in skyrocketing numbers.

I remember being about 6 years old and seeing cement roads merged with cement sidewalks, merged with cement buildings, and only a few square feet here and there where a tree or bit of grass popped through, and telling my mother that I thought the earth must be suffocating. I remember feeling so much distress, thinking she would be unable to breathe, or grow life. 

I think the earth is indeed suffocating. And where she goes, so go we. We are in urgent need of re-wilding

So what is the answer?  I don’t know entirely, I’m still finding my way, but perhaps a new awareness of the needs of the human spirit must be incorporated into architecture and urban planning, and ultimately a rewriting of what we value and how we live as a society, but it starts with awareness. 

And then comes intention; to find our way back to ourselves, to our essential nature, and the recognition that we are OF, not separate from. And with that …perhaps comes love enough to live into saving that which we need to survive. And in the now, there ARE small steps we can take that don’t require cross country moves to the mountains, or huge sums of money. 

The ways to creatively connect to our essential nature are numerous, but here are a few things we can easily do to ground and awaken.

•  Get up early and watch the sunrise -even in the densest of concrete jungles you will find symphonies of birds celebrating the morning. Listen deeply. Join the celebration.

•  Forget what anyone thinks and hug a tree, the older the better. So much wisdom.

•  Find even a small corner of grass, take off your shoes, place your feet firmly on the earth, and just BE. Gift yourself with at least 15 minutes.

•  Go to a farmers market, buy some gloriously beautiful rainbow beets and purple potatoes, and lemon cucumbers. Sit down to a meal of whole, minimally seasoned, unadulterated, fresh vegitables. Savor the subtleties of flavor and texture, and the direct connection to the earth they came from. Finish your meal with farm fresh organic strawberries. Drink in the sweet aroma.

•  Surround yourself with living green things, (And eat as many as possible too!) Add plants to your home -If your intimidated by plant care get hearty varieties like cacti and succulents 

  Share your life with animals, any and all time spent with animals, of fur, feather or fin, domestic or wild, connects us to our own essential nature, and to subtle and profound ways of relating and appreciating, otherwise lost in our daily hustle.

•  Burn pure (not synthetic) essential oils -not sweet scents like patchouli or lavender, but smells of wildness like oakmoss, juniper, cedar, and melissa. I love rosemary too -and really love the smell of citronella, its very therapeutic, but reminds some of mosquito repellant :)

•  Find a recording of the subtle sounds of natural elements, and let that be your background –wonderful things can be found on Spotify or created on Pandora.

·  And of course, there is actually being in nature. No matter where we live, there is a park, or a refuge, or lake, stream, or ocean that can be reached. If planning an excursion feels daunting let someone else take care of the driving and details. Search Meet Up for outdoor adventures. Google local hiking or biking day trips to sign up for, they can range from gentle to strenuous, something for everyone. I just did a 10-mile hike, plus yoga, and vegan lunch, with a small group and a guide. It was sustenance for the spirit, and all I had to do was show up.

 

How do you re wild? Please feel free to comment!