Nature- Our Docking Station
I have always been attracted to nature. Even the earliest memories of my life are mostly about the times when I was not inside but outdoors. I had the fortune of spending the latter part of my single-digit years in Bangalore, India. This was a time period that was eons before computers and the Internet and life was just slow and simple with most of the time spent outdoors. Known then as 'The Garden City', Bangalore was full of lush gardens and acres of public parks full of plants and trees. The gem of these was the botanical garden called Lalbagh located in the south of the city. Spread over 40 acres, it contained a rich collection of rare plants, lawns, water pools, flower beds and an ancient rock formation. My favorite part was the nursery where we could purchase all manner of plants that my grandparents would take back to their house and we would plant together. I spent many hours of my childhood helping them plant, manicure, maintain, and evolve the garden as they had an innate love for nature and the garden was their expression of it. This early engagement with nature became a big part of my attraction and connection to it. Moving to America at age 10, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much nature was around and relatively unspoiled. I joined the Boy Scouts and spent days in the forests and mountains, exploring and camping. I also learnt about how to harmonize with nature and why it was important to leave as less a footprint as possible. As a child before the Internet + Smartphone (I+S) age, it was all my parents could do to make me come indoors for dinner, study, and sleep. I cannot remember wanting to be inside, much less having my face glued to a screen. The woods behind our apartment complex or the many parks were home to me, my brother and all our friends. There was just something about being in nature that made me whole.
As I grew older and traveled the world, I noticed how people were just more at ease being outside. Every city in the world has green spaces (though becoming less) and people just seem to flock to these. Even the most ardent city dweller wants to seek out a green space to spend time in. Just look at the people walking around or relaxing in Central Park in NYC or Hyde Park in London. Yes, these days almost everyone is attached to their phone even whilst outside, but the fact they still seek out nature to do it in telling. Even as we inexorably chop up the planet and destroy nature, every house or building still leaves some "green space" which is usually a patch of grass and a few plants. Nowhere have I seen the stark reality of this destruction more than in India where tens of towers of 100 apartments each would go up and the advertisement would celebrate the "80% green space" they were providing. But I digress, as this is not a blog about man's destruction of nature via overpopulation as that is for another time. The fact is something elemental makes us seek out nature and we feel compelled to do it if not at a conscious level. And almost everybody feels good because of it and long after they return home. But we continue to isolate ourselves from it by never actually connecting directly with it. When was the last time your feet actually touched grass or mud? Or your hands a leaf or flower or tree? In fact, can you remember the last time any part of your body made physical contact with the earth in a direct manner? I know “nature lovers” who go out into the woods fully covered up and never actually come into any direct contact with any of it.
Countless government and health agencies all over the world have conducted research into the healing and energizing power of nature. All of them recommend going out in nature as much as possible and walk and spend time in the fresh air. In the 1980s, the Forest Agency of Japan began advising people to take a stroll in the woods for better health. I learnt about this when I was living in Tokyo in the late 90s and noticed the slow and deliberate way in which many of the older people spent in the lush park in the neighborhood I was living in. Known as shinrin-yoku or 'forest bathing', it was believed to lower stress and blood pressure and increase immune-system function. Another study found that plants release compounds called phytoncides that spur healthy changes in blood that are associated with protection against cancer, heart disease and inflammation. Medical universities all over the world have conducted studies by testing the blood of people before and after spending time in nature and see measurable improvements in many markers. Sleep quality significantly improved among trial participants. The impact on the body via direct contact with nature has been proven and is measurable. But, the impact of nature on the mental domain is even more profound. A study linked up patients to a brain monitor and exposed them to scenes from nature. They found that parts of the brain liked with empathy, love and happiness lit up, even though it was only images and not real. Per Current Directions in Psychological Science, exposure to nature results in improvements to working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control. Another study at the University of Washington showed that being in contact with nature was associated with an increase in overall happiness, well-being, positivity, and a decrease in metal distress. There are thousands of such studies as seen from a simple search on the Internet. The overall point is that it is scientifically proven that direct contact with nature has significant physical and mental benefits.
Animals, by their very nature, are far closer to the planet and its energies than us humans. A part of this is because their sense organs and minds are more tuned for survival than humans. It was not that long ago (evolutionarily speaking) that our ancestors had to fight for survival and few survived beyond 20 some years. But, over time as we have systematically destroyed all threats to our survival, except microscopic of course, we have grown apart from the planet and even think ourselves apart from it. We are unique in this because most other creatures, even ones whose survival is not threatened, continue to maintain their connection with the earth. Dogs are the best example of this, and their sense of perception is multi-dimensional. They can sense what food is good or bad or what will not work for them. When they are not feeling well, they eat grass which naturally provides the roughage to cleanse their stomachs. Many studies have also concluded they can sense oncoming death of a human as our body's smell changes radically when our life energies start the process of exiting the body in a natural manner. Birds can sense an incoming storm long before any visual or other clues. Before tsunamis and earthquakes, it’s been observed in Japan that most animals flee the area. We also have this ability of perception and awareness of nature as we are also part of the whole and deeply interconnected with the earth. But we think ourselves the “superior” species and at the top of the food chain and thus apart from the rest of the planet. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we do this to our detriment.
The body is nothing more than the result of a heap of food that assimilated, changed, nourished, and grew to what you are today. The mind, being part of the body, was created of the same food and that food came directly from the earth and carries with it all the minerals, compounds, materials, and energies that make up the earth. So, our body and mind is nothing more than an accumulation of what the planet is made of. Over time, most of us living in cities and "civilized" societies, we have learnt to distance ourselves from nature as much as possible. We live in boxes that keep nature out, wear clothes that are made from many chemicals and synthetic materials, drive around in boxes that further isolate us, and generally try to avoid any direct contact with nature. Even when in our backyard or at the park, we are wearing shoes that separate us from any direct contact with any part of the earth. Any contact that does happen is accidental (sitting on grass, brushing a leaf, etc.) and there is no conscious effort that goes into it. But the body craves this connection because it is from the earth and is going back to the earth regardless of what we do. This craving of the body and the need to recharge itself via direct connection is why we feel better in nature. The earth pulses an electromagnetic frequency known as the Schumann Resonance and the human body is fully conductive to it. Every cell in our body and mind become immediately grounded when we touch the earth directly. Twenty years of studies show that when the body becomes grounded, we go into a state of natural healing. All aspects of the body from blood circulation and muscle tension to brain waves and our heartbeat respond to direct contact. In a way, nature is our docking station that is needed to recharge and refresh our entire system. It is something that is fundamental to who we are in the physical domain but something which most people pay no attention to.
All five of our sense organs input and respond to nature in different ways. The eyes take in the elemental colors of green (forest), golden (sand), blue (ocean), grey/white (clouds), etc. The ear hears all the individual and combination of sounds that emanate from nature. The nose provides direct transfer of secretion from plants or the ocean but we only perceive the strongest smells. But our body is able to discern the multitudes of scents and responds to them. Taste comes from the salty air hitting the tongue or eating wild food from the forest like blackberries. Touch is perhaps the strongest in that it is the equivalent of plugging into a power outlet. The earth's electromagnetic energy courses through the body when we touch nature directly. All of these combine to form the direct connection with nature that leads to recharging and healing of the body and mind. It is no coincidence that most religions also depict nature as an integral part of their teachings. Native Americans, the Maori of New Zealand, and the Aboriginals of Australia all believe that humans are on an equal footing with nature; are part of nature and are morally obligated to treat animals, plants, and landforms with respect. (Gautama) the Buddha reached enlightenment under a tree. Jesus spent times of solitude in nature in the desert. In some ways, if our spiritual selves are to reach a higher level of energy, we must ensure our body and mind also do so in harmony with the earth. We must learn to re-connect our bodies directly with nature and help ensure that nature is preserved so we are able to do so.
For me, it has always been the ocean first and mountains a close second. I always yearned for both when living in cities in Asia, India, Europe, and growing up in North Carolina. While I always had the beach or mountains a few hours’ drive away, it was never to the level I wanted or there were too many people. Beaches in India, Asia and Florida were always jammed with people and there was not much ‘unspoiledness’ to them. It is only after moving back to Seattle from India in 2012 that I really discovered the coast here and in Oregon (my true love). Imagine heavily forested, mist-covered mountains coming down to kiss the turbulent Pacific Ocean. And then last year I discovered the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and it was the tropical version of Oregon. Both places have stunning natural beauty and the presence of nature’s energy is all around. I have walked on so many beaches in both places and seeing maybe a handful of people and their dogs. So many times, it’s just me, the ocean, and the mountains and the feeling of utter solitude as the ocean makes me realize just how small each of us are in the cosmos. There are many moments where the boundary of my body just faded into my surroundings such that I was one with everything and nothing at the same time. The peace and tranquility just cannot be put into words and must be experienced. Even something as simple as connecting with a live plant (not the plastic ones) inside your home is a good thing. At home, we are utterly privileged to have a lush and beautiful garden with old-growth trees that surround our entire home. Every window looks out into nature and all manner of creatures, from crows and sparrows to rabbits and squirrels, live in it. And half a mile walk from home is an unspoiled forest that is pure joy to be in. We see deer there often, living among the dense foliage and ancient forest of trees.
I also wanted to address manmade electromagnetic radiation (aka EletroMagnetic Fields or EMF) as it has been shown to have a very detrimental effect on us but maybe not at the conscious level. EMF causes changes in field direction and creates vibrations at the cellular level of the body. This, working on the same principle as the microwave but obviously not as strong, can cause cell mutation which can turn into cancer. Nature also produces EMF from many different sources that also are present. But, the big difference is the natural ones are of random orientation and oscillate along different frequency bands, thus effectively canceling each other out for the most part. Manmade EMF however are polarized and all travel mostly in the same direction within frequency bands. Due to the number of different signals such as cell, satellite TV, GPS, WiFi, etc., these waves superimpose on each other. There is a great article describing these in more detail here. We are bathed in these on a 24x7 basis and at the least, interfere in some way with our nature frequencies that are harmonized with the earth. Our bodies are also electromagnetic systems and have millions of pathways for the brain and body parts to communicate with each other. In modern homes, there is always something humming, buzzing, or beeping and usually consuming one or more of these signals. While there are many health issues that are related to manmade EMF, cancer by far the prevalent one though the cell companies and government assure us it’s all safe and their products cause no harm. Actually, they don’t because if you read the fine print, they just say no direct link has been proven just like cigarette companies did a few decades ago. But, at the intellectual level, we can grasp that our bodies have natural resonant frequencies, and these manmade signals will clash and interfere with those. Going into nature and connecting will ensure that out bodies at least get some respite and are able to re-harmonize with the earth via direct contact and just being in it.
Experience --> For at least 5 (15 ideally) minutes in a day, go outside and have some part of your body touch nature directly. Easiest is bare feet on grass or both hands on a tree or bush. Leave your cell phone and any device far away from your person. Close your eyes and just connect with whatever you are touching in a conscious and intentional manner. Feel or visualize (do not think) energy flowing from you and the reverse of energy flowing back into you. After some time, you will notice that your body will begin to feel more vibrant and alive as if it has been refreshed. You will notice the quality of your sleep get better the more you do this as the “ease” of the body goes up. If this is not possible for whatever reason (some cities have no nature left), at least touch a plant or tree for a minute when you go for a walk. I go barefoot into the garden every morning regardless of season and stand in the grass or on the exposed roots of the beautiful trees. In the warmer months I also meditate outdoors but this is not necessary. Just the conscious act of connecting to nature is enough.