This is just a short one. I realised that listening to the sounds of nature from back home in the UK made my nervous system instantly drop down into a state of relaxation. And then I wondered why that might be.
I think that if you’re away from where you grew up (in a different country or even a different part of the same country), then you’re having an experience that is not always congruent with how your nervous system was formed. On the plus side you may have left old reminders of tough times behind. But on the downside, all those times you relaxed at home with the windows open, or in a park or in nature, where your nervous system learned to relax and let go, they might only be easily unlocked by the sounds (and other senses) of home.
And I believe this is true for city dwellers also, as you usually get birds and other wildlife in streets and parks. Although we might not be aware of all those sounds in the background, they sink in and become part of us. And not just when we’re children either, it’s also about the amount of time we’ve had experiences of relaxation, to build up that reaction.
So why not find a (hopefully music-free) audio or video recording of nature sounds from a place you grew up or lived for a long time, close your eyes and breathe. See if it helps.
And in case you’re curious, this is one I found for Britain (I think the nature may be more extraverted than the people 😀 ).
There is nothing quite so healing, quite so fundamental to our human nature (no pun intended) as spending time in the great outdoors. We were not designed to sit immobile staring at screens for hours on end, we are born explorers and wanderers. Yet there seems to be a variety of obstacles keeping us from running wild outside, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about them as well as ways around them.
If we could be running around breathing fresh air, nature bathing or squirrel-watching, why would we choose to stay inside a box? Here are some of the most common nature-blockers:
Coming from Britain, this is a fairly common occurrence (but not all the time like in the movies). It is not that fun to walk around in wet clothes, unable to warm up and dry off for a long time – especially if we are not used to it. Alfred Wainwright (an inveterate walker) said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” OK, but maybe you don’t want to invest in all the latest hiking gear, or look like a birdwatcher (sorry twitchers!). Here’s what I recommend instead:
– Walk close to home so it doesn’t matter
– Take spare clothes wrapped up in a plastic bag to keep them dry
– Go for a run – you’ll get sweaty anyway, the rain won’t make a big difference
– And most of all: enjoy the rain! There is nothing like being out in a storm (but stay safe of course) or a gentle misting of rain. And it is a lot quieter as loads of other people stay indoors!
If you’re going to be wet for a long time in a colder country the thing you’ll probably want most is waterproof shoes, to keep your tootsies warm and dry. From there you can build up a supply of outdoor gear if you want to – but don’t let a lack of gear keep you indoors! There is a playground out there waiting for you.
2. It is Uncomfortable
What do a tree log and a comfy sofa have in common? Not a lot. It is undeniable that the great indoors is a lot more comfortable than out-of-doors, and our soft bottoms have grown accustomed to soft seating. But how uplifted do you feel looking around your house? Even if you have some great art, there is nothing like a sunrise or sunset, birds flying, or trees blowing in the wind to change your state of mind.
There is a different kind of comfort than that of your bottom – the comfort of your mental and emotional state after reconnecting with nature. Expand your spirit, unburden your mind and absorb the goodness around you, by disconnecting from your devices, unplugging bum from sofa and rediscovering your inborn affinity with the natural world. Playing in nature and natural movement are good for the soul.
3. It is Boring
It is true – nature is no amusing cat video! What happens in nature is not usually a 30 second clip, followed by another 30 second clip. It takes time, it unfolds at a pace many of us are unfamiliar with – a realistic, real pace. And slowing down to this pace lets us rediscover our humanity a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with not much happening – in fact it is normal. Things constantly happening give us the adrenals of a 90-year-old.
They say only boring people are bored, take your time – look around, watch some ants. Let your mind heal itself from the barrage of rubbish we take on board every day, by looking at something real unfolding in real time. While that is happening, good things will be working away inside you – restoration, rearranging, maybe some repair work.
4. It is not Addictive
I know, and it removes us from many of our addictions (unless we take them with us). It is not a bar, a TV, a shop, social media, refined carbs etc – it’s the worst! Time we spend in nature is mainly healthy and not giving us the endorphin rushes we are used to. So why bother?
It is nice to rediscover some real gratification – for example, we are rewarded with natural beauty if we put in the physical effort of getting ourselves there. A real effort, rewarded with something we alone (or only a few others) can see. Not millions of people on social media or TV – a real experience you have put in the effort to achieve. Nature is not addictive in the instantaneous, convenient way of many addictions – but is definitely moreish when you get into it! And better for your body and mind.
5. It is Out of The Way
True – we have built over a lot of it, and then put our houses in these built-up bits. Not many of us are living in treehouses these days. So it does take a bit of effort getting to it, more so for some than others. Yet I bet you will find bits of nature like some forgotten outposts, scattered around, silently waiting for a person to come and enjoy them. Looking at a satellite view of a map is an easy way to find these. Incorporating them into your journey to work can change your whole day. Taking your kids to areas like these or even somewhere further away can give you an experience for your family to share and enjoy in real time, away from devices and distractions. Some people even camp out for the night on what Alistair Humphreys calls “Microadventures”. If nature is not right at your doorstep, making the extra effort to seek it out can add a whole other dimension to your life.
6. It is Dirty and Unpredictable and Not Always Friendly
True, true, true – you’ve got me there! You might get muddy, come across creepy crawlies and things that bite. Remember when you were a little kid and the world was your crazy laboratory though? You probably used to be interested in such things, as well as getting as dirty as feasibly possible. I recommend investing in a good quality laundry detergent, a spread-out newspaper at the front door and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for watching bugs. After all, we are walking out in their home too – we are as much in their space as they are in ours, even though we may be very unused to them. If you do live somewhere with dangerous snakes and spiders you might want to familiarise yourself with where they typically hang out and your closest hospital, but for the rest of us, being OK with being outside of a homogenised environment makes us more resilient, more interesting, more balanced. And getting a bit muddy every now and then is really good for us, as well as lots of fun.
7. No time!
I only believe you if you are not watching TV or playing on your devices for hours. If so I veto this reason. If you have no time in daylight hours, head torches and a couple of friends will solve this for you. Nature at night is pretty cool too, as long as you are safe – i.e. don’t run off a cliff.
Well, this is the end of my little attempt to break down any barriers to nature you may have. I sincerely hope you have some fresh air, trees, wild animals and muddy/ dusty shoes in your future!
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more”