Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Almost Like Being Outdoors

When I was teaching in a huge high school in a suburb of Denver, I had students who had NEVER been to the mountains we could admire in the distance through the school windows. They weren’t disadvantaged according to most measures, but they had never been surrounded by nature. Students from the school districts that did offer outdoor education classes in the mountains confessed they were afraid of the dark, having never experienced it before. They had never seen the glory of the cosmos that can be visible at night. They had never seen wild animals that weren’t behind barriers. No wonder tourists can be naïve enough to imagine wild bison or elk or moose can be petted because they’re dumb animals. We live in a fantasy that this world is our plaything, separate and inferior to us. But we aren’t separate. And, in many ways, we aren’t superior.

If you seek credible evidence that you really do need to spend time in nature, you can find it nearly anywhere you look—in articles, podcasts, and documentaries about brain enhancement, mitigation of ADHD or depression, weight loss programs, centering, spirituality, stress reduction, immune function, and general health and healing. Our bodies and minds evolved in the outdoors. We’re only beginning to learn what that connection means. We don’t belong sitting still in windowless rooms. The book THE EXTENDED MIND reported evidence that our natural environment can replenish the mental resources we require to cope with the demands of our highly abstract and complex lives. In other words, we need nature not less but more than ever these days. We realize natural therapies such as a proximity to flowing water or sunshine for physical and emotional issues. Enjoying our connection with the outdoors makes us more curious, accepting, nonjudgmental, and responsive. We can’t be surprised that the millions of people who never wander happily in nature may tend toward materialistic, selfish, short-sightedness.

Seeing the “big picture” of life and having an expansive view of time and the future are abilities we can develop more easily when we experience an overview beyond our living rooms. Those who travel in space and look back are treated to awe that redesigns their concepts of human life. Research finds we can enhance our ability to solve even complex technical problems with clear thinking as our brains are trained by the repetitive patterns or fractals common in the natural world. “Look deep into nature,” wrote Albert Einstein, “and then you will understand everything better.”

Nature sounds like an economical miracle drug, but remember the empty store shelves during COVID? The shelves of nature, too, are emptying. Our outdoors seems to have fewer and fewer pristine options for our renewal. Droughts and wildfires and flash floods and careless clear cutting and open pit mining and all manner of pollution and degradation do worse than change the climate. They diminish possibilities. We pretend CGI can replace the natural world, but we can’t drink digital water. Natural processes and compounds we never knew were protecting us don’t transfer to CGI. When we think of the immense benefits we accrue from spending time in natural surroundings, we must remember that clean nature can self-renew quickly without our interventions only by destroying us—not a popular option with people who are able to see the big picture of the future and want a place in it.

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