I am sitting by an open window on a sunny afternoon in early April. There is a huge beech tree in view, and I can see that the leaf buds on it are starting to swell. There’s a great tit singing nearby, and the ever-present herring gulls are perched on several rooftops.
My job often brings me into contact with people who don’t seem to have much of a connection to nature. On outings I often find that many individuals overlook much of what there is to see. Indeed, they only seem to see the most basic components. However, if I point out just one or two interesting things their experience can be transformed. Drawing attention to an animal track or an edible wild plant for instance can make all the difference. What this does is it enriches their experience and connects them with their surroundings.
I want to say here that I believe that we are part of nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be disconnected from the rest of it. I haven’t always felt a deep connection to nature myself. I remember being largely uninterested in nature as a child. My connection developed simply by spending time in nature. My personal experiences of the natural world as a teenager awoke in me a desire to know more about it, and so I decided to study it.
Nature is exceptional and extraordinary, but it doesn’t have to be beyond our everyday experience. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by nature every day. Looking back to my childhood, I can see that I was disconnected from nature because I was completely immersed in the human-made world.
The human-centred world of today offers constant stimulation at a fast-pace that is not in tune with nature’s rhythm. In this technological age many find themselves incredibly busy, rushing around from one thing to the next. This way of living has become normal, but scientific research suggests that it can contribute to a catalogue of mental health disorders. In my opinion, re-establishing a connection to nature has never been more important.
Nature is good for our health, wellbeing and happiness. Research shows that it even promotes prosocial behaviour. Most of us will readily accept these statements as fact, but perhaps fewer will understand why nature is good for us.
In his work Biophilia the American biologist Edward O Wilson suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. He proposes that this tendency of humans to focus on and to feel a connection to nature and other lifeforms has, in part, a genetic basis. The fact is we evolved as an intrinsic part of nature as hunter-gatherers. We lived like this for 50,000 generations. Since the advent of agriculture and what we call civilisation there have been 500 generations. Essentially, we are still hard-wired for living alongside the rest of nature.
Such an evolutionary explanation provides a compelling argument for the need of a connection to nature. Research shows that being in a natural environment has a calming effect and activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is associated with feeling contented. Whereas the urban environment stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with drive and threat.
If allowed to, nature will help to quieten your mind and relax your body. You may well feel a connection to the life around you.
I invite you to connect with nature today. All it takes is a little bit of time and willingness to engage with life outside of yourself. Below are a few simple ideas to help you get connected. If possible, get outside and visit a place where nature flourishes.
- Take note of at least 10 natural things you notice on your walk (or chair if practicing from home). This can be anything from noticing a birdsong to the way light is reflected off water. This exercise helps to increase observational awareness and can lead to a greater appreciation of nature.
- Visit a woodland (or sit beneath a tree near home). The concept of forest bathing originated in Japan, where it is called shinrin-yoku, and it is a cornerstone of modern Japanese healthcare. In its most basic form, forest bathing simply involves immersing yourself in a forest setting. It draws on the therapeutic powers of nature and helps to connect people with the natural environment. Research shows that forest bathing helps reduce stress and encourages a sense of wellbeing.
- Buy yourself a hand-lens (x10 magnification) and look at a wildflower through it. It’s another world.
- Use as many of your senses as possible. The world is a richer place when we use all our senses. The scent of a rose, the feeling of grass underfoot, the sound of running water, the taste of a freshly picked fruit, the sight of the milky way. Connect with nature through your senses. It will nourish you in a way nothing else can.
‘And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.’
by William Wordsworth.
Written by Noah Hall. Noah is the Land Manager at Bosence Community Farm, a clinical detoxification and rehabilitation centre for people living with addiction.