Before there were cities, and sky scrapers, before there were roads, apartment buildings and shopping plazas... before there was civilization... there was the natural world. In all of the world's development and individuals motivation to thrive and succeed, the natural world tends to take a back seat. We get so caught up in our day to day lives, and people claim that they don't have time to appreciate the outdoors, or that outdoor sports are a luxury that most people can't afford or have access to. The truth is, the natural world is available to everyone no matter where you live or what you do. Simply step outside of your office building, and look up at the sky. This is the natural world. And in our busy and chaotic lives we forget to appreciate how beautiful it is.
The word nature stems from the latin word natura which means "essential qualities, innate disposition".
When we think about nature we are really thinking about everything humans need and use in life. Understanding the grandiosity of the natural world is hard to do, but once you begin to get a grasp of it, everything seems so small in comparison. Every little anxiety, worry, problem or conflict seems so blown out of proportion when you are in the presence of such a magnificent and large scale system. Not only do we begin to realize that we are a part of this system, we also start to appreciate the beauty of natures complexity.
Experts in the field outline the many different ways that nature can positively effect an individual's health. Studies show that living in green areas or within walking distance of these areas is directly linked to lower levels or mortality and morbidity, as well as lower rates of heart disease, stress, obesity, depression and better coping mechanisms in response to stressful events. It has also been linked to better regulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal system... mitigating adrenal fatigue, and boosting immune system functioning. Living in greener areas and having easier access to these areas also increases opportunities for social interaction, and creates a space for younger children to explore and play. The benefits of having more trees and plants around include capturing carbon dioxide and increasing oxygen release, buffer noise, create habitats for biodiversity which in turn can instil a sense of tranquility and connection to a larger network of life. (1)
When I was in the depths of my depression, if someone had told me that spending more time outside would help me cope then I would have laughed in their face. The idea would have seemed ridiculous and in my skeptical, dark and stormy state I would have axed the idea immediately. The problem here is that my expectations for the effects of nature would have been unrealistic. We can't just walk outside and expect to feel better. We must engage in our surroundings. Just observing the natural world isn't enough for a paradigm shift.
What I mean by a paradigm shift is that we must appreciate the outdoors differently than we previously did.
Let me explain.
Think about how old our planet is. 4.5 billion years ago, the earth is believed to have formed from a solidified cloud of dust and gases remaining from the creation of the sun. Millions of years passed and very gradually, an iron centre accumulated as the core of the earth, and a thin crust formed on the outer surface. Water rising through volcanoes and fissures slowly formed basins, or oceans, and plates grinding and overlapping each other formed the mountains. Our rivers, canyons, deserts even our atmosphere and biodiversity of animals and plants are all a result of a billion year-old process that has led us to where we are now. Not only does this fact instil awe and wonder, but it also creates a sense of certainty in this process.
No matter how long we as a species will be around, the natural world will continue to be. This fact instills a sense of calmness in myself. I think it's the idea of consistency and routine, no matter the circumstances.
Not only must we acknowledge the beauty of nature, we also must realize the magnitude of its entirety. When we step back and look at the natural world, we see a multi-billion year process that has resulted in what we currently see. From this I am always reminded of the fluidity of life. We cannot take our lives to seriously and we shouldn't waste our time ruminating about the little things.