by James Metcalfe July 4, 2018, 10:09 pm
With the emerging scorching weather that comes part and parcel with the summer, most people have this almost sudden urge to get out into the world and get that bit more close to nature. Knowing how to truly feel the marvelous effects of such an endeavor can prove to be difficult for some however, which is where these 10 expert-chosen tips come in to play…
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Take some time to walk instead of defaulting to driving everywhere. You might think there’s no point because you’ll just be on the sidewalk right next to the road; you might think it’s not even experiencing nature because you’re not at a proper park or hike, but try it! Even though you’re on the same path, you’ll notice so much more: you might stop to observe a butterfly, you might chuckle at a squirrel running by with stuffed cheeks, you might notice an interesting tree. The smallest things will delight you when you just make the time to be open to experiencing them.
Contributor: Kay Winters from pawsandpines.com
#2 Go Barefoot
While many of us may live in urban, built-up areas, it’s still important to get out into nature—without our shoes—even if it’s the nature strip outside our front door. We have become accustomed to wearing shoes in our every day, but this disconnects us from the earth. One of the most important habits we can adopt is putting our bare feet directly onto the earth. Science confirms that our disconnection with the earth may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and becoming unwell.
Contributor: Shannon Dunn from ecobeautyeditor.com
#3 Swap In Natural Alternatives
It doesn’t have to be an “everything at once” commitment to go eco / get closer to nature in your everyday life. Specific to personal care, it can simply be a case of replacing products that you use most often to more natural alternatives.
Many skincare, haircare and personal care products are full of chemicals that can be a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. The skin is the body’s largest organ. What we put on our skin, goes within—directly into our bloodstream. It’s also important to look for certified natural (NATRUE), organic (COSMOS), made with safe ingredients (MADESAFE) and cruelty-free (LEAPING BUNNY).
Contributor: Shannon Dunn from ecobeautyeditor.com
#4 Move Out There!
My tip to getting closer to nature is to move there. I used to love living downtown in the city, but started to miss grass and nature. I just wanted to stick my hands in the dirt, to garden, and be around animals. So, my partner and I found remote jobs and moved out to the country. I think that as remote jobs keep increasing we’re going to start seeing a migration from large cities to small towns.
Contributor: Laura Cabrera from girlvsgrid.com
#5 Make Use Of The Woods
Researchers in Japan are studying the positive benefits of spending time in the woods and have found that it lowers the levels of cortisol, the hormone that rises when we’re under stress and is the root of many serious illnesses. Spending time with trees also lowers blood pressure and pulse rate and triggers a dramatic increase in the activity of NK or “natural killer” cells, which are produced by the immune system to ward off infection and fight cancer.
From stopping to notice the trees and the clouds to putting bird boxes near your windows, spending more time with nature can boost your health and wellbeing
Even being outside for a short time can be beneficial. Photograph: d3sign/Getty Images
Even being outside for a short time can be beneficial. Photograph: d3sign/Getty Images
Last modified on Fri 9 Aug 2019 15.57 BST
Adapt your routine
Two hours a week spent in nature – even if split into short bursts – has been found to give health and wellbeing a significant boost, according to research by the University of Exeter Medical School. Dr Mathew White, who led the study, suggested that a sense of tranquility could be key. Starting your day with a coffee in the garden, or even near an open window, is a simple way to inspire calm. Going outside during your lunch break or spending a few minutes looking at the night sky before bed are other ideas.
Pay attention to what is around you
Leanne Manchester of the Wildlife Trusts encourages people to take a closer look at plants, trees and even weeds. “Stop to watch bees buzzing around flowers. There’s life everywhere, but it is so easy to miss it; instead, slow down, stop and notice it.” Claire Francis of the charity Sensory Trust says: “Getting outdoors and connecting with nature needn’t involve a five-mile hike.” Jo Phillips, a director of the Forest School Association, suggests looking for “five beautiful things” to engage your senses. “It could be a flower, the clouds, lichen on trees, or the natural light.”
Share in nature
Getting off the bus a stop early or going for a walk during breaks at work are simple ways to increase exposure to nature, says Manchester. If you’re walking with someone, Phillips suggests pointing out elements that have caught your eye, especially if you are with children. “Looking after the planet needs to become a priority, so we should do everything we can to ensure the parents of the future have memorable experiences in nature, so they can pass on that knowledge to their children.”
Find green spaces online
With more than 62,000 urban green spaces in Great Britain, one should never be too far away. The Wildlife Trusts has a searchable online map of its nature reserves, almost all of which have free entry; it also provides a list of accessible nature reserves. Greenspace, a downloadable layer in Ordnance Survey maps, is said to be Britain’s most comprehensive catalogue of green spaces for leisure and recreation.
GETTING IN TOUCH with the natural world where I live, in the mountains of British Columbia, isn’t very difficult. I just need to step out of my house. But for most of my life, I’ve lived in big cities, where it can be more challenging. Sometimes all it takes, though, is a little shift in perspective. Whether you live in the concrete jungle or out in the sticks, these tips still apply.
1. Look up.
The bright lights of the city can make stargazing difficult, but on a clear night, you’ll always be able to at least make out some constellations like the Big Dipper (or the Southern Cross for those on the other side of the equator). Stars are a good reminder of our place within the universe, and contemplating how small we are in the grand scheme of things can be humbling and put things into perspective. Suddenly the trivial “problems” we have don’t seem so problematic.
If it’s cloudy, lie on your back and watch the clouds change form and drift in and out of your field of vision. Self-check: Despite all the latest technologies we have, we still cannot control the weather. (Note: I didn’t say we can’t affect the weather.)
2. Look down.
I once read that if all the insects on Earth suddenly disappeared, within 50 years all life would become extinct; and that if all humans suddenly disappeared, all life would flourish. This really drives home the importance of these little creatures crawling around on the ground and buzzing around our ears. Getting in touch with nature means appreciating living beings for what they are and for their role in Life. Have you ever sat and watched a colony of ants going about its business? Did you know that if an ant dies another ant will come pick up the dead body and carry it away?
A testament to the power of Nature is how plants, those seemingly fragile organisms, grow through little cracks in rock and concrete, breaking apart the stone as they grow. It’s a futile exercise to try to keep paving over the Earth; in the end, nature always wins out. Next time you’re out walking around, pay attention to what’s growing under your feet.
3. Do some yoga.
Reverse warrior on Kokanee Glacier, BC. Photo: Author
It’s easy to take our bodies for granted. In one of the first yoga classes I took, the teacher talked about how we tend to think of our bodies simply as vehicles for moving our heads around. It painted a funny, but true, picture. We are a part of nature, even though sometimes it seems like we try to put ourselves above it. Yoga is a practice in honoring not just our bodies, but all of the natural world.
4. Go ski touring or cross-country skiing.
For us in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is just around the corner. Instead of buying a lift pass at the local ski resort, try ski touring (hiking up in snowshoes or skins and skiing down) or cross-country skiing. These two winter activities force you to slow down and interact with the environment in a more intentional way. I can be oblivious to my surroundings when I’m riding up the chairlifts and shredding down the runs. My appreciation for where I am grows immensely when I use my own power to move around the terrain.
5. Have an “elements day.”
One of the very first dates my partner and I had was an “elements day”; we wanted to honor the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. So we devised some activities that incorporated these things, like rock balancing (earth), swimming in the lake (water), flying paper airplanes (air), and building a fire. Get creative with this; what activities can you come up with that include these elements?
6. Go out in the rain without an umbrella.
We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy shielding ourselves from nature. I remember a day many years ago when I got caught out in the city without an umbrella and it started to pour. I ran from awning to awning, dodging raindrops, trying to stay dry, until I came to a point where there was no more shelter. The rain wasn’t letting up and I just wanted to get home, which was still about 10 blocks away. I resigned myself to the fact I was about to get very wet and stepped out into it.
It ended up being one of the most liberating feelings I’ve had in my life. The practice of letting go and allowing nature to take its course without my intervention was metaphorical for me that day. It taught me a valuable life lesson about the illusion of control.
7. Turn off the television and go for a walk.
The average American spends over 34 hours per week watching TV and an additional 3-6 hours watching recorded programs. 1 Couple that with the results of a sociological study that indicate unhappy people watch more television. 2 If you’re sitting in front of a screen, it means you aren’t in touch with nature. Switch it off and go find some green space.
8. Immerse yourself with no chance of distractions.
Last June, I took a trip to Southeast Alaska with my partner. We were on a small adventure boat with 23 other passengers, cruising through the Inside Passage and stopping for hikes, kayaking, and watching glaciers calve and humpback whales feed. There was no cell phone coverage and there was no television on board.
Kayaking in SE Alaska. Photo: Author
It’s a lot easier to tune into your natural surroundings when the temptation to check Facebook or watch the latest episode of your favorite show doesn’t exist.
9. Plant a garden.
I’ve now grown a garden for three years. In the beginning, there were so many common foods whose appearance as an actual plant in the ground was a mystery to me: broccoli, potatoes, kale. Tending to the plants and watching them grow on a regular basis brings a whole new level of appreciation for where our food comes from and puts us more in touch with the natural cycle of birth, life, and death. Plus, the food tastes infinitely better, if only because of the added pride of knowing you grew it yourself.
Don’t despair if you live in the city; there are still options available to you like community gardens. If you need some inspiration, watch this talk by guerrilla gardener Ron Finley.
10. Draw or paint a natural scene.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist by any stretch of the imagination, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to sell your work, or even show it to anyone else. What drawing and painting does is force you to look at every little detail. You’ll notice things you never would have by just “looking,” or even shooting photography. Don’t judge yourself on the output — the value is all in the process and the change of perspective.
Humans evolved to be embedded in the natural world, from earthing to sunning.
Posted June 30, 2020
What makes us human? We know that we are biosocially constructed creatures. That is, the way we are treated, especially in early life, co-constructs our biology, and that biology affects our sociality later (Narvaez, 2014). For example, if we are highly stressed as a fetus or baby, we may develop a stress-reactive brain (perceiving threats when there are none) and body (inflammation) leading to psychological and physical ill-health. Thus, our human caregivers have a great influence on how we become.
But humans did not evolve as isolates, among humans alone, apart from the earth. We need the sunshine (sunning) and the earth (earthing) to keep us healthy (and decrease inflammation from cortisol). We need potable water and clean air to live. We rely on plants and animals as food and sources for virtually all our needs. We would die without these gifts. And we are actual communities ourselves—90-99% of the genes we each carry are not human; they are the genes of the microorganisms that keep us alive (Dunn, 2011).
However, when we spend the majority of our time in human-built environments—physically in houses, buildings, cars, mass transport, mentally online, in social media, with information or entertainment—we can easily forget where our true source of life is: in the natural world.
In fact, children are born ready to discover the way the world is made (Cobb, 1977). This includes nature immersion: watching a seed grow, birds fly, animals play, and taking on the roles of animals and learning from them.
Paul Shepard, a pioneer in a transdisciplinary ecological science, suggested and showed how Nature makes us human. He noted:
“Most people most of the time in the history of civilization have lived under tyrants and demagogues, cued to despair and hopelessness. Today we are subject to progress, centralized power, entertainment, growth mania, and technophilia that produce their own variety of “quiet desperation.” This desperation arises not only from lack of attachment to place but also from lack of kinship with the larger community of all life on earth.” (Shepard, 1998, p. 14)
Humanity’s actions today are embedded in the sixth mass extinction, a massive die-off of vertebrate life on the earth caused primarily by human activities (Kolbert, 2014). Although ecologists have been warning for decades, if not centuries, about the demise of living beings on the earth, an intellectual acknowledgment seems not to reverse humanity’s actions.
In one of his last talks before his death in 1996, Shepard (1994) imagined a letter from the rest of Nature delivered to humans:
“We are marginalized, trivialized. We have sunk to being objects, commodities, possessions. We remain meat and hides, but only as a due and not as sacred gifts. They have forgotten how to learn the future from us, to follow our example, to heal themselves with our tissues and organs, forgotten that just watching our wild selves can be healing. Once we were the bridges, exemplars of change, mediators with the future and the unseen.
[Humanity’s] own numbers leave little room for us, and in this is their great misunderstanding. They are wrong about our departure, thinking it to be a part of their progress instead of their emptying. When we have gone, they will not know who they are.”
Several activists have advocated building nature connection (e.g., Young, 2019). What is needed is a sense of belonging to nature, feeling it as part of ourselves. What is the sense of kinship like?
“[It] requires a kind of vision across boundaries. The epidermis of the skin is ecologically like a pond surface or a forest soil, not a shell so much as delicate interpenetration. It reveals the self ennobled and extended…as part of the landscape and the ecosystem, because the beauty and complexity of nature are continuous with ourselves…we must affirm that the world is a being, a part of our own body.” (Shepard, 1969, p. 2-3)
There are ways to get back to this longstanding way of feeling with the rest of the natural world. As mentioned in a prior post, in an experiment published by my lab, we found that we could help people increase their sense of nature connection with daily practices of a few minutes over a three-week period.
You can increase your nature connection with daily practice.
Because of the experiment’s success, we have set up a similar opportunity for the public to do the same over a month’s time through Instagram, alone or with others. Five minutes a day. You can take a pretest and then a post-test to see if it helped you. It’s voluntary and anonymous. Check it out here.
Cobb, E. (1977). The ecology of imagination in childhood. New York: Columbia University Press.
Dunn, R. (2011). The wild life of our bodies: Predators, parasites, and partners that shape who we are today. New York: Harper.
Kolbert, E. (2014). The sixth extinction: An unnatural history. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
Narvaez, D. (2014). Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Shepard, P. (1994). The origin of the metaphor: The animal connection. Writings on the Imagination lecture series. New York: Museum of Natural History. Downloaded on June 27, 2020 from https://paulhoweshepard.wordpress.com/twotexts/
Shepard, P. (1996). The others: How animals made us human. Washington, DC: Shearwater Press.
Young, J. (2019). Connection modeling metrics for deep nature-connection, mentoring and culture repair. In D. Narvaez, Four Arrows, E. Halton, B. Collier, G. Enderle (Eds.) (2019). Indigenous Sustainable Wisdom: First Nation Know-how for Global Flourishing (pp. 219-243). New York: Peter Lang.
It improves your memory, helps you recuperate and even makes your sense of smell more acute. So turn off your computer and get outside
Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photograph: Graeme Robertson Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photograph: Graeme Robertson Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Last modified on Thu 27 Oct 2016 01.13 BST
The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need
We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Many people today support the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the internet. How much more should every person have a right to access the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity?
Sunset tree in the Australian outback. Photograph: Raymond Warren/Alamy Photograph: Raymond Warren / Alamy/Alamy
Humans are hard-wired to love – and need – exposure to the natural world
Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.
Rugged red cliffs at Trephina Gorge, Northern Territory, Australia. Photograph: David Foster/Alamy Photograph: David Foster / Alamy/Alamy
We suffer when we withdraw from nature
Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia. He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”
Sunrise over Lake Pinaroo in Sturt National Park, outback Australia. Photograph: Ashley Whitworth/Alamy Photograph: Ashley Whitworth / Alamy/Alamy
Nature brings our senses alive
Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these individuals tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.
Astronomers from around the world gather at Tennant Creek in Australia’s outback to view an annular solar eclipse on Friday Photograph: Reuters Photograph: Reuters
Individuals and businesses can become nature smart
Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20%. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
South West Wilderness Camp, Tasmania Photograph: Nic D’Alessandro/PR Photograph: Nic D’Alessandro/PR
Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalisations, less need for pain medications and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.
Great Barrier Reef Photograph: AIMS/AFP/Getty Images Photograph: AIMS/AFP/Getty Images
Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological wellbeing
Researchers in Sweden have found joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a built urban setting.
Uluru. Photograph: Corbis Photograph: Corbis
Nature builds community bonds
Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.
Byron Bay: an idyllic location for a books festival. Photograph: /flickr Photograph: flickr
Nature bonds families and friends
New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the UK, families are forming “green gyms” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.
Twelve Apostles at dusk, Port Campbell National Park, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Photograph: David Norton/Alamy Photograph: David Norton/Alamy
The future is at stake
The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.
Maslow gave eight steps for becoming a self-actualizer.
Posted February 18, 2018
Maslow had advice for those who wanted to become self-actualizers. Self-actualization refers to optimizing one’s potential. How does that happen? In his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, he gave eight suggestions.
1. Be here.
Experience your life “fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.” When you do this you are being wholly yourself and it is a moment of self-actualization.
Avoid self-consciousness. Avoid shyness and postures. Let down your defenses.
Throw yourself into the moment, into experiencing it with all your senses.
It helps to be in nature or to have a friend with whom you can be emotionally expressive—through silliness, music making or other forms of play.
2. All day long, pay attention to how you choose.
Like wisdom traditions emphasize, each moment in your life is one of choice—will you be open or defensive? Maslow says that a dozen times a day you face the choice of moving toward self-actualization and growth or toward defense, safety, and staying afraid. The examples he uses are moral ones (honesty or dishonesty, steal or not steal) but choices involve everything you do—e.g., trying new foods/music/activities or how you approach others you meet.
3. You are a self. Know your self.
Let your true self emerge. Shut out the noise of the world that tells you how you should think, feel, behave. Instead, pay attention to your own body’s signals: “Does this taste good on your tongue?” Do you like the flavor? Did you feel good or bad during the movie? Does your spirit like this activity? Does it feel good and right? Honor your own body and spirit’s reactions instead of suppressing or silencing them.
Listen to the inner voices that press you toward growth and connection.
4. “When in doubt, be honest rather than not.”
Avoid playing games with others emotionally. Avoid posing to be accepted. Look inside for the real you. Take responsibility for your own feelings and reactions. Accept them. “Each time one takes responsibility, this is an actualizing of the self.”
5. Dare to follow your unique path.
By listening to your inner self, by being honest about your own feelings and reactions, you inch closer toward better life choices. Each of the little choices will lead you to perceive what is truly better for you on your life path—what your mission and destiny are.
Most people do not listen to themselves and are not honest, making them unable to self-actualize. “Making an honest statement involves daring to be different, unpopular, nonconformist…If clients, young or old, cannot be taught about being prepared to be unpopular, counselors might just as well give up right now.”
6. “Self-actualization is not only an end state but also the process of actualizing one’s potentialities.”
Self-actualization is demanding as it takes practice to become good at something. One must prepare, with all the prior steps, to reach the point of one’s full potential. One wants to aim to be first-rate at one’s life goal, whatever one’s inner self desires. One must work hard.
7. Set up the conditions for peak experiences.
Find the places where you are “surprised by joy” (as C.S. Lewis wrote) and increase your exposure to those situations. Break up illusions and false notions—“learning what one is not good at, learning what one’s potentialities are not,” Maslow explains, help you discover yourself and find the realms where you peak experiences may be found.
8. Be ready to address your psychopathologies.
“Finding out who one is, what he is, what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what is good for him and what bad, where he is going and what his mission is—opening oneself up to himself—means the exposure of psychopathology.” One must find and dismantle the defenses set up against knowing oneself. One must face the unpleasantness so that one can heal and not be governed by defensive systems.
As an addendum, Maslow discusses the importance of resacralizing what has been desacralized. Resacralizing means shifting perspective to perceive the sacred, eternal, poetic, symbolic in the people and entities around us—taking the perspective of eternity (Spinoza’s idea). In this way we will keep sex, interpersonal relationships and our own selves sacred. This a right-hemisphere directed form of attention that is receptive, holistic and nonjudgmental, unlike the left-hemisphere form of attention, which is categorizing, narrowly focused and judgmental (the form that we practice endlessly in most schooling). For more see Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary.
Maslow concludes his advice by saying that “self-actualization is a matter of degree, of little accessions accumulated one by one.” Self-actualizers, little by little, find out who they are and follow it not only in terms of spiritual direction and life path but what their unique biological nature is like (e.g., if beer keeps me up all night, I stop drinking it; if certain materials make me itch, I avoid them)—as noted in #3, this might be an easier place to start.
2 How to Get on the Path to Self Actualization
3 The ‘On-Demand’ Life and the Basic Needs of Babies
4 Does Positive Psychology Promote Self-Actualizaton?
Maslow, A. H. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking.
Malcolm Burgess describes a simple life in the woods, one with few material possessions or creature comforts. But it is a life which is relatively stress-free and with a close connection to Nature. Tempted? Please read on.
Imagine living in the middle of a 400 acre ancient oak wood. As I write this in May, I’m listening to singing wood warblers, redstarts and recently fledged tawny owls. The wood is teeming with life and bursting with spring growth. Following the path through the wood you come to an open barn, the working area of the wood. The path continues past. You notice nothing else. If you had looked harder or visited on bath night you may have noticed a rust and green painted 6.7 metre (22ft) showroom caravan. This caravan has been my home for one and a half years and is tucked away for a reason.
The wood is managed as a nature reserve, and I have unofficial permission from the landowner to live there. The agreement is that if anybody complains of my presence I will have to move. There should be no visible evidence of the caravan being lived in, and therefore it is very low impact. I’m situated less than 20 metres from a public footpath, but one and a half years on I’m still waiting for a complaint. I would like to show people my home as a working example of what can be simply and cheaply achieved with relatively little effort. This article is my way of doing this.
Whilst it often appears that living sustainably is a ‘good life’ dream, my philosophy is one of peace of mind. If there is a sustainable option I feel guilty if I don’t take it. And although I enjoy living in solitude, I accept it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Perceived problems of living in such a location were easily overcome. One concern was the 10 minute walk, uphill, to the caravan. This has not been a problem. It is a pleasure to listen to and observe the deer and birds every morning before work, putting me in a good frame of mind. On my way home it forces me to relax and forget any negativities I may have encountered during the day. The walk is my meditation. I only use a vehicle for items too heavy to carry. I have a small motorbike for local journeys, and a van for long and laden journeys. It is important not to drive them to my home, and was initially difficult persuading my friends to do likewise.
An iron bath was purchased from a local recycling yard. Making use of piles of bricks, I made a simple foundation for the bath with enough room for a small fire in the middle. With a little practice, a bathful of water takes two hours to heat up, not much longer than an immersion.
A surprisingly small amount of wood is needed. I’m fortunate enough to have water of drinking quality flowing past, and this is my supply for drinking as well as for the bath. With a little practice the embers can be regularly quelled with cups of water, creating a very invigorating sauna effect. Wooden planks stop the bottom of the bath getting too hot. To avoid drawing attention an evening bath is advisable.
The stream is also my summer fridge. A simple wire cage holds everything in plastic containers while the flowing water removes the heat. An oil drum dug into the ground is my long drop compost loo. When friends comment on how smelly my loo must be, I tell them with pleasure that they are sitting almost next to it. A sprinkling of wood ash prevents any smell.
To maintain my sanity during the long, dark, winter nights, a music system was essential. This was solved with the purchase of a reclaimed solar panel costing £60, a 12-volt leisure battery and a stereo that will run on 12 volts. This set up provides me with CD, tape and radio all year, and electric lights in the summer. In the winter I use gas lights, and use gas for cooking. An extra solar panel will provide more lighting for next winter.
Heating in the winter is no problem. I have no shortage of wood to fuel a converted milk churn which has become a very effective wood burner. The smaller the space the easier it is to heat. It was an extravagance to have the windows open while it was snowing. The top of the burner is a hot plate, and when in use always has a kettle on for the next cuppa.
Finding sustainable employment is a difficult task, especially one that pays a wage. Due to my very small living costs I don’t require anything like the national ‘average’ wage. My main skill is working as a field biologist within wildlife conservation. I work for one day a week in the wood, which is my rent. To earn a wage I work at a large commercial organic farm for four days a week. Both of these jobs are outdoors and provide me with a wide variety of tasks which keep me motivated. A big bonus from the farm is that I can take home vegetables which saves me worrying about growing food at home. All I grow is sorrel and mint, in car tyres due to having very thin, acidic soil around the caravan. I can forage bilberries, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, ceps and chicken fungus from the wood when in season. A group of us from the local LETScheme formed a co-operative buyers group which enables me to buy other organic foodstuffs at a cheap price. A shelf full of big jars of dried fruit, grains and pulses is an essential part of a homely dwelling. Our local LETS is becoming more popular, and enables me to get my laundry done for 2 ‘pots’ a time.
Despite an apparent lack of home comforts I believe that new technology should play an integral part in sustainable living. Renewable energy technology and new methods of communication can be very useful. A phone is essential for my lifestyle, and therefore I have a mobile. This saves me a half-hour round trip to the nearest public telephone, and can be recharged by the solar panel via a 6-volt cigarette lighter. I would certainly make use of a laptop computer if I had one. For the time being the LETScheme enables me computer access. I could power a 12-volt TV, but having now gone two years without one, I wouldn’t be able to find the time now – honest! It really is amazing how much more you can achieve without a TV.
My time living here has been remarkably trouble free. There are of course always improvements that can be made, particularly for the winter when the lack of daylight affects the amount of time available for outside chores. For example, an extra solar panel would provide power for 20 watt spotlight lighting. Collecting water from the barn roof could be simply accomplished and would save me time and energy. And although I’m happy with the toilet, it could be made more pleasant for guests and could be redesigned to allow more air in to make it rot quicker. A chimney could be incorporated into the bath design to guarantee a good flow of air to make lighting it easier.
There is no doubt that this is a very low impact development and I’ve proved that by not being obtrusive to anybody. By living this low cost lifestyle I’ve also managed to save a few thousand pounds with the intention of buying a small plot of land because there is no way that I would get planning permission to live in this particular spot.
I have the skills required to live off the land, woodland or agricultural, in a way recognised by our economic system. But after looking into purchasing land I have come to the conclusion that, for myself, it is not viable at present. I don’t want to spend years fighting for planning permission, nor do I have the finance to fund it. The money saved is now ethically invested should the situation change and I’m now concentrating on what I do best; working as an ornithological field worker. When my time is up in the wood I shall continue a similar lifestyle somewhere else. It is easier than trying to go through the proper channels and means that I have more time, energy and resources to do what I do best.
Earth, rivers, mountains and trees! Silent canyons, babbling creeks and growing green gardens! If you spend time in nature, you’ve probably noticed that you feel happier out there than in here.
But why? One of the better known theories, the “biophilia hypothesis,” suggests that we love nature because we evolved in it. We need it for our psychological well-being because it’s in our DNA. This theory rings true to me. But it’s so broad, it also leaves me grasping for more. What is it about nature and our relationship to it, that brings us so much joy?
I’ve been asking this question for some years now. I’ve studied Ecopsychology, wilderness therapy and nature-based therapy. In my private psychotherapy practice, I work with clients in nature and bear witness to their experiences. And personally, I spend as much time as I can in nature. Putting all of this together, I’ve developed my own ideas about why nature makes us feel good and helps us heal. Here are the top ten:
10. Nature teaches you that there is nothing wrong with you.
- When you’re in nature, you don’t have to look in mirrors. Instead, you’re either focused on the setting around you, or on what you are doing, like climbing, setting up a tent, or gardening. Studies show that people’s body image improves when we spend time in nature, and I think this is part of the reason why.
- When you’re alone in nature, or with a loving friend or group of people, you get sweet relief from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and all the other ways we oppress, stigmatize and belittle one another.
- On the contrary, nature displays incredible diversity in all her glory. There are fat trees and skinny ones, short ones and tall ones. Within a single clump of yellow flowers, you might see a pink one and realize that it’s a mutation. In nature, we don’t say ‘How wrong! That flower is different; that tree is fat!’ Instead, we say, ‘How beautiful!’ This impacts us below the level of thought.
9. Time slows down.
Urgency, deadlines and “clock time,” as measured by hours, minutes and seconds, melt away. Clocks teach us to abandon the natural rhythms of our bodies and the Earth and conform to a schedule rooted in our economic system. That creates a lot of stress.
On the flip side, nature models a healthier pace of life. Trees and plants grow s – l – o – w – l – y. Deer graze calmly. Rabbits and squirrels scamper about, but that is their natural pace. Everyone is moving according to their natural rhythm, and you begin to do the same.
8. Nature models “just enough” sustainability.
Our culture teaches us that we never have enough. We strive to make more money, buy more things, eat more delicious food. Mainstream culture also encourages us not to think about how this over-consumption affects others, such as the sweatshop laborers who make our clothes, or the people and animals who depend on a climate in balance.
In contrast, eco systems embody harmony and balance. Trees grow to a height that reflects the nutrients and water immediately available. Squirrels store the right amount of food to get them through the winter. (Imagine how absurd it would be if squirrels expected their collection of nuts to grow exponentially without any effort on their part—as we do with our investments!) Quietly witnessing this balance and harmony is like salve in the wound of overconsumption.
7. You surrender comfort and control.
Our culture propagates the harmful myth that we should strive to be as comfortable as possible, to make life as pleasurable possible, and to resist hardship as much as possible. No myth has made us unhappier as a people. We simply can’t be pleasured or comfortable all the time. We can’t control everything. Trying to achieve permanent comfort and control leads to a dull, meaningless life that kills the soul.
Nature calls you back to reality. You can’t stop it from raining. You can’t delay the setting sun. You can’t set the temperature to a comfortable 70 degrees. If you’re climbing a mountain, your muscles are going to burn.But with this surrender comes such relief! You awake from a dream and realize how little control you really have. You remember that hardship and lack of control are part of life, and accepting this reality makes it not only bearable, but possible to feel the joy of being alive.
6. Nature reminds you of death so you can appreciate your life and its natural cycles.
In the U.S., we do everything we can to avoid the knowledge that we, and everyone we love, are going to die. In nature, you encounter dead trees all the time. And, behold!—they’re nursing young plants to life. You walk through a burn area and see a profusion of wildflowers thriving in the newly enriched soil. You might even see animal skulls and bones. When we come face to face with death, we value our own life more, the present moment more, and experience surges of joy to be alive. Many cancer survivors know this truth well from a harsh encounter with death. Nature eases us into this reality.
5. As the noise of our crazy culture fades, your mind calms and you experience silence and stillness. What a relief! Enough said.
4. You behold the beauty of nature.
How is such majesty possible? The strength of that mountain, standing there for all those years! The miracle of this single flower, infused with sunlight. The revelation of a tree, rooted deep in the earth, stretching to the sky, and bearing silent witness to the world around it! You feel awe and joy and are whole again.
3. You remember that you are connected to all living things.
You feel that you belong to this Earth. That you are part of the community of nature. You are made of the same substance, and that you are no better—and no worse—than that bird, that tree, that other human walking up the trail.
2. You remember who you truly are.
You feel comfortable in your own skin, you experience your own quiet peace and strength, you sense the inner you that is the true you. The mask you present to the outer world is irrelevant for a time, and put in its proper place.
1. You experience the Divine.
Whether you call it God, Earth Mother, the Great Mystery or by another name, nature helps you to connect with this powerful, loving presence. You might feel this presence loving and supporting you. You might receive guidance and wisdom. Nature brings you closer to our own spirit and to Spirit.
These are the reasons why I believe we are so happy in the natural world. This is why nature heals, and helps us to live lives of meaning and joy.
Kris Abrams is a nature-based psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner with Cedar Tree Healing Arts.