“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Happy New Year! I love the clean slate feeling of a new year and thinking about where I want to put my attention in the twelve months ahead. Not one for resolutions, I prefer to focus on simple, easy actions that enrich life. In that spirit, I’d like to share an action with you that has rainforest-saving, health-promoting positive juju all over it—simply spending time in nature. Feeding ourselves with fresh air and experiencing our natural world is easy and just as important to good health as eating well. (And it’s good for the rainforest—but more on that later.) Henry David Thoreau was on to something when he moved to Walden Pond to write his classic, Walden. And Ralph Waldo Emerson too. These two writers found endless inspiration by spending time in the great outdoors. They were among the first American environmentalists, and they happened to be abolitionists as well. (I believe their connection to nature and ability to act on their convictions was not unrelated.) Oftentimes when hiking, I’ll get a creative idea for a recipe or story, a helpful idea for a friend or family member or sometimes I find a solution to a problem. Nature is indeed food for the soul.
And don’t we need nature’s nourishment now more than ever with our insular modern lives? Think about it. We spend many hours indoors each day, working or going to school—in paved cities, traveling by motor vehicle, airplane or train. We stare at computer screens, televisions and other electronic devices for hours. When we pause and take time to recreate, whether it’s a few minutes in the park on a lunch break or a trip in the mountains, a basic part of ourselves is fed and restored. It’s not surprising. After all, we are creatures of nature too. It’s important to take time to return to our original home.
So how does spending time in nature fit into the issue of tropical deforestation? When we feed our relationship to nature by giving it our time and attention, we are more likely moved to respect and protect it. This is not just theory. Numerous studies have revealed the beneficial effects that spending time in nature has on the human psyche and body, including reducing stress, improving mood and promoting an overall increase in both physical and mental well-being. Several experiments conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Rochester and published in the October 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin show that experience with nature goes further than affecting our mood—it can affect our priorities and alter what we think is important in life. Participants exposed to nature exhibited a broader focus on community and connection with others over personal gain. One of the coauthors explained that nature appears to help people connect to their authentic selves, which are inherently communal because humans evolved in hunter-and-gatherer societies that depended on mutuality for survival. “Nature in a way strips away the artifices of society that alienate us from one another,” said one of the authors. The bottom line is that exposure to nature makes us feel and act better, making choices that affect the greater good.
It’s the experience of receiving something unquantifiable but vital to our well-being from nature that motivates incremental changes in the way we live. Who wants to destroy what gives us life? Feeding that connection to nature, even if it is just rolling down the window of a car window and letting the breeze blow gently on one’s face, inspires action. You may just find that more often you bring your own bags to the grocery store or choose the reusable bottle rather than using a plastic one, buy in bulk, recycle or conserve paper, choose sustainably produced bananas, bananas, cocoa, coffee or sugar or read labels to avoid rainforest destructive goods such as uncertified palm oil.
So take time. Relax. Enjoy. Take a walk, even if it is for a few minutes on a break from work. Buy plants for your home. Invest in an indoor or outdoor fountain. Take a hike outdoors on the weekend. Visit the park with your kids. Spend time in your garden or add greenery to your patio or balcony. Take the longer, more scenic drive sometimes, just for the heck of it. Soak it up and enjoy our beautiful natural world in all its splendor and glory. And know that feeding our connection to nature is part of the solution to saving rainforests.