“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
We live differently from our ancestors. This is neither a good nor bad thing--it is inevitable as technology and our species evolve. What may have negative consequences is the growing disconnect between people and the natural world.
Most of us exist in the ubiquitous presence of light, sound, and electromagnetic waves. There are no long-term studies on what this is doing to us, but we do know that hormone imbalances in men and women continue to rise. Cancer rates have exploded. And respect for the living organism we inhabit has all but vanished.
Most of us don’t know where our food and water come from. Our bodies are soft because we don’t need to toil in order to cover ground. And it means nothing to “throw something away” because city sanitation makes it disappear.
But there are things we feel deep in our blood and bones for which there are no tidy explanations. Genetic memory is supposed to be pretty passé according to modern psychology, but staring at the flames of a fire or watching waves crash is undeniably intoxicating.
So where do you fall in the spectrum? I love the City as much as anyone else, but if your only exposure to Nature is Central Park, you owe it to yourself to find some wilderness. The fulfillment you get from this will be restorative, mood-enhancing, and wholly unique.
This is because everything that hasn’t been choked out by asphalt or poisoned by toxic chemicals contains life. And whether or not you realize it, it all affects you. The connection between us and our planet is not well understood, otherwise we wouldn’t be breaking our necks to sever it.
When you inevitably find yourself wrapped up in the turmoil of your own unique experience, remember that you can be brought back to the cellular level just by interacting with the natural world. Recharge. Let it nurture you. Then repeat it regularly and watch your real place in the universe improve dramatically.
1. SLEEP OUTSIDE
I know a few people who don’t like camping. It’s usually the result of being dragged to a place they weren’t familiar with, unprepared and unequipped to deal with the environment. Don’t let that be you. Plan like an adult, go somewhere incredible, get a good tent, and bring delicious food. These are things that cost less than a night at a decent restaurant, but you will sleep more deeply than at any time in recent memory.
Alternatively, grab a nap in a park, on the beach, or anywhere outside on the ground. In a growing movement called “Earthing," the premise is that contacting the ground and its frequency diffuses the buildup of positive electrons allowing for faster recovery, deeper sleep, and less chronic pain and inflammation. However you choose to sleep outside, you will awaken feeling amazing.
2. ORGANIZE OR PARTICIPATE IN A "CLEAN UP"
Whether it’s wetlands or the beach or just a stretch of highway, picking up the remnants of careless humans is an act that will benefit everyone and everything. At times we all feel a bit helpless as we navigate the indiscriminate Machine of modern life. But you, personally, can make a positive difference by doing this very simple thing.
Additionally, carry a bag with you every time you get outside. This way, you can pick up whatever trash you find and put it in a more appropriate place. I tend to do this on my way to the beach, as living in Venice has made me aware of a broad assortment of things stuck in the sand. Clean that mess up--you will enjoy the place more if you made it better.
3. GET FAR AWAY AND BUILD A FIRE
While some of you may not love camping, show me the person that doesn’t love a good fire. We can’t help it, it represents too many things that brought us to our current state. It’s real in a way that Youtube videos aren’t, and the way flames consume things is tremendously riveting to the most attention-deficient among us.
If you haven’t made one for yourself, do that. Go to a place where it is safe and legal, and make a fire just for you. You build it, tend it, and enjoy it. You will be repeating an act that has provided warmth, nourishment, and protection to thousands of years of your genetic forebears.
4. SUBMERGE YOUR ENTIRE BODY IN A FLOWING WATER SOURCE
Most bodies of water on our planet are polluted to some degree. This makes us sad. But bodies of water that flow are less polluted and can be enjoyed. This makes us happy. There are lots of minerals in waters that earn the “healing” moniker that you probably know more about than I do. Whatever is in there, it works, and people have known about this since they started getting wet.
Even if you don’t have an ocean or massive river at your disposal, chances are that you can drive to a natural spring or water source with some decent planning. Bring some friends or family along, and watch how their moods improve with the proximity to H2O. After you get out and get home, you will wonder why you don’t do this more often.
5. CLIMB ROCKS OR TREES
People that “climb” are pretty awesome. They are usually very lean, strong, have lots of energy, and spend a lot of time outside. These are generally healthy qualities. I wish I could love it the way they do, but I haven't been bitten by that particular bug yet. I do, however, love to be among rocks and trees.
Most of us definitely felt that way when we were kids. When you revisit it as an adult you will be overwhelmed with a pure joy that you used to be very familiar with. This is because you will discover that you are just as curious about the natural world as you once were. And if you aren’t, now is a good time to rediscover what that feels like.
6. GROW AND TOUCH BENIGN PLANTS WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Seriously, if they aren’t poisonous, stop and smell the flowers. You will see tiny stamens and pistils covered in pollen and parts of living creatures so small and intricate that they make your smart phone unimportant. All plants that don’t pose a threat to you (immediate or otherwise) can be examined and appreciated. You're basically looking at a bunch of living math.
If a growing thing is very large, it might be older than you. Respect the power and energy of an entity like that. Consider the summers and winters it has lived through. It is a sort of magic to have a natural life form so close that you can touch it. Do it, and try to learn something.
7. STAY AWAY FROM PHONE/INTERNET FOR ONE WEEK
Are you regularly checking your phone to see if you’ve received any new texts, Tweets, Facebook likes, phone calls, emails, or any other monumentally important information from your non-immediate environment?
Me, too, and it’s awful.
For one week out of the year, we should all try to get away from these things and document the results. My impression is that without the trappings of consuming data, our senses would turn back on and we would remember, albeit briefly, that we are living creatures navigating a living planet.
8. TAKE UP AN OUTDOOR HOBBY OR SPORT
I started surfing regularly in 2012, and the first good wave I caught at Point Dume in Malibu will be with me forever. It was the first time I was on a wall of water that was shoulder high, moving at what seemed like a tremendous pace, and I was able to drag my hand along the face of it as it broke. As an experience that tied me to Earth, it was wholly unique.
I know people who describe similar feelings about their chosen outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking, riding BMX, or playing Ultimate Frisbee. The point is, get outside on a regular basis. You will remember that you didn’t evolve to work in a cubicle, sit in the dark staring at a screen, or spend ten hours a day hunched over a desk.
9. FIND A TEACHER AND HAVE AN EXPERIENCE WITH PSILOCYBIN, MESCALINE, OR DMT
While I’m not proposing breaking any laws, I do think that there is much self-knowledge to be gained from working with these substances. And if you think they’re outlawed because someone’s looking out for your well-being, you haven’t seen cigarette and alcohol-related death statistics lately.
Many people who have experience with psychedelics are aware that what we perceive as “reality” is a small part of existence. Whether it’s another dimension we are usually incapable of detecting, or a completely different aspect of consciousness, there seems to be far more to life than what you and I see in our waking, sober hours. Seek out someone experienced to help you find more.
10. TAKE PART IN A WELL-FUNDED CONSERVATION EFFORT
There are plenty of organizations out there with a decent amount of influence that are trying to improve the planet in a variety of ways. It doesn’t take much to support and participate. But if you simply can’t make the time to do this, consider donating dollars where they will definitely be spent to improve the natural world, not just the people slowly consuming it.
Hopefully you love this planet, because there aren’t a lot of other options at the moment. Perhaps you want to improve the salmon fisheries, the Redwoods, keep the polar bears alive or whatever. Great. Please contribute in some way so that these causes can be successfully realized. We all have the responsibility of stewardship. Lead by example, and do your part to improve the world.
This piece was originally published in the book, Useful Things.