We all know instinctively that nature does something good to our souls.
After all – we’re animals: we are nature. But being the clever monkeys that we are, we realised at some point a few thousand years ago that building walls around ourselves kept us pleasantly distanced from things like sharp-toothed animals and weather.
And so, armed with nifty opposable thumbs and intelligent problem-solving brains, we set about building walls everywhere. Walls thousands of feet high made of concrete, steel, glass and other hard things that were really good at keeping all that pesky nature out.
Life was good. Soon we could do everything we needed to survive inside the sanctuary of our walls: we could eat, sleep, bathe, excrete, play, socialise and exercise without having to set foot outdoors.
But then after a while we started feeling a bit…icky.
Because we weren’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, our immune systems weakened; we got ill, our bones became brittle, our backs started to ache from all the slouching on sofas, our eyes started to dry up, we started breathing in dust and pollutants from our cleaning chemicals and worst of all…we forgot all about nature.
We forgot all the secrets of the land our ancestors used to rely on for survival. We forgot little things like the importance of insects (in fact, we became so disgusted by anything with more than four legs that we started to kill them if they had the audacity to enter our homes). We forgot where our food came from, we forgot that cows, sheep and pigs were intelligent, gentle animals; we forgot that other animals felt pain just like us. We forgot that nature was a delicate balance of billions of tiny processes, and one small thing – like making nearly a million species of animal and plant extinct for instance (oops), could throw everything out of whack and cause nature to…die.
Humans realised the time had come to get back to nature
As we moved out of the industrial revolution and had more time to do things, we slowly fell back in love with the great outdoors. The Victorians, bless them, didn’t quite understand the difference between appreciating nature and killing it, stuffing it and mounting it in a glass box.
Along came lavish landscaped gardens (felling trees to make more room for those wild rockeries and carp ponds), zoos and a trend for global travel and scientific expeditions to see how many incredible rare species could be dipped in formaldehyde and catalogued in the British Natural History Museum.
Anyway, we’re a little bit more enlightened now (aren’t we?)
Today there’s a revolution happening. There’s something about a government-enforced lockdown that just makes you want to be outside, don’t you think?
There have even been lots of excellent health initiatives to get more people outside connecting with nature. A UK-wide 30-day initiative in the summer of 2015 saw 18,500 people commit 300,000 random ‘acts of wildness’ like planting flowers for bees and feeding birds. Participants were surveyed along the way and scientists found a strong and profound connection between nature and increased positive emotions.
The impact nature has on us is powerful and somewhat mysterious. For instance, I went for a jog along my local seafront this week to witness the sunrise and the water was this beautiful, dazzling silver-blue colour. I couldn’t stop staring, and it was like the blueness itself was seeping into my brain and dousing all of my neurological pathways with buttery, joyful light.
It was such a profoundly physical experience, gazing at that ocean. It could be described as drug-like.
The problem is, it’s not always easy to feel motivated to go outside
Everything we need is indoors. Even nature-lovers have down days; days where they can’t seem to summon up the energy to do very much. It’s on these days in particular that a good heady dose of nature could help. But how do you find the motivation to do it?
Sometimes what you need is a reason to be outside, which is why a list of ‘nature challenges’ might be helpful. Here are some ideas that might be fun to try out (when it is safe and legal to do so)…
- Exercise – no matter how terrible you are at running, it’s still worth a try. You might have to jog for a few seconds and then walk, but that’s okay. You’re still going a lot faster than everybody at home. Exercise has the added benefits of even more endorphins and positive effects on the organs and muscles.
- Birdwatch – Embrace your inner nerds, grab some binoculars, a bird identification book and a cagoul, and head out to see how many different species of bird you can log.
- Take photos – See if you can capture something staggering, and then share it on social media to remind everyone else how amazing nature is.
- Beach or hedgerow clean – Nature is reciprocal. By collecting rubbish from beaches, parks and hedgerows, you’re not only potentially saving some poor little animal from getting trapped or ingesting plastic, you’re also improving the view for everyone else, while getting a good dose of vitamin D.
- Identify trees and plants – Go for a walk but notice the trees. Trees are seriously cool – many of them are hundreds of years old and they even communicate with each other.
- Chase sunrises and sunsets – The promise of a spectacular sunrise or sunset always gets me out of the house. It’s a really special moment.
- Collect pebbles to paint – This is fun whether you have children or not. It encourages you to be outside AND get creative with colours.
- Take the bins out (honestly, next time you take the bins out, just stand and stare for a bit. You’ll probably see something: a bird, a squirrel, a spider)
- Collect grass and herbs for your rabbits/guinea pigs (if you have them, obviously)
- Meditate (find somewhere safe to sit, breathe deeply and take in the smells and sounds for a few minutes)
- Journal (write about things you see, how they make you feel)
- Low tide beach exploration (pretend you’re a JRR Tolkien character on a journey)
So there we have it. A few good tasks to carry out in nature. It’s easy to forget just how good nature makes you feel if you haven’t taken the time to be out in it recently. So try it – even if it’s just a few seconds standing at your front door to watch the world go round.
Always remember that you are nature; you are full of microscopic creatures; you are an ecosystem and you will be a part of this universe forever, so treat nature like you would your own body. Love it, respect it, and take care of it.