Good morning, League of Wildness!
Do you ever feel like life is just happening to you and you’re along for the ride? Maybe you miss being a kid who was free to jump in the puddles, roll in the fresh-cut grass, or balance on boulders. Maybe you aren’t sure exactly what is missing, but you have a nagging sense that *something* is.
The other day I saw a quote on Instagram that caught my attention. It was one of those quotes that I felt. Sometimes words have the power to shake something deeper inside of us, and this quote did that to me:
“When the nature that gifted your blood with iron from her hills feels like a commodity,
When the living world that fills your lungs seems like a cold stranger,
When you feel like a visitor in the wilds that shaped your body and mind,
Then it’s time to rewrite the story of who you are.”
Jarod K Anderson, owner of The CryptoNaturalist Instagram page.
It got me thinking about the 8-week Wild Day Challenge that just concluded this week and all of the stories people were re-writing of their own lives. Many of the participants reflected on their 8-week commitment to getting workouts and movement time done outdoors. They also engaged in weekly sub-challenges such as cold showers, clean eating, and ditching their electronic devices an hour before bedtime. A common theme within their reflections was that many of them had been close to the natural world growing up but along the way, that connection was lost. Life was happening but they didn’t feel fully engaged in it. After making a commitment to getting outside every day, most people found that their connection to nature was being renewed. They had an increased sense of purpose and of using their time wisely. They were less stressed, happier, and excited to get their workouts done rather than thinking of them as just another thing on a neverending to-do list. Workouts meant a lot of different things. Some folks were out swinging weighted maces, others were setting birthday goals for walking, and still others were spending their time gardening. They had realizations about the things that were – and weren’t – working in their lives and they considered how they would take what they learned forward into their lives after the challenge.
Humans are animals. We are different in many ways than other species, but we are animals just the same. We live in boxes that keep us safe from predators and inclement weather and which allow us the freedom of 24/7 light, water, and food. But our evolution and our history come from a deep connection of living within nature, just as other animals do, and denying it has created a sense of malcontent and disconnection in many of us. Systems such as our fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system that evolved to keep us safe now work against us, driving chronic stress and its related diseases. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between the stress that helped us survive predators and the stress we feel in a demanding job or rush hour traffic. Spending time in nature can break that stress cycle. Exposure to nature helps to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest-and-digest system. Even when we are active outdoors, we are more relaxed.
Perhaps you are familiar with the term “Shinrin-yoku” which is the Japanese practice of forest bathing. It simply means to spend time in forested areas, or areas with trees and quiet, such as a neighborhood park. In practice, all you need to do is be present and allow the sights, sounds, and scents of nature to wash over you. It helps to calm our nervous system and decrease stress hormones like cortisol while increasing our immune function and mood-boosting hormones such as serotonin. Blood pressure and anxiety decrease while energy and mood elevate. The point is to relax, be present, and soak it in, not traversing points A to B in record time, counting steps, or measuring Vo2 max.
One of the biggest realizations I’ve had in recent years about my time in nature is how much we attempt to live apart from it. Taking the time to be present within it makes me part of something I lack otherwise. I feel like I belong outdoors, connected to something bigger than myself but performing a necessary role within it. I am a participate in a level of live that humanity thought it could leave behind. I spend many hours a day outside in the non-winter months and as that time draws to a close here in the far north, there is a definite sense of loss for me in having to be indoors with the windows closed. November is often very bleak and overcast with only a few sunny days the entire month. The arrival of winter brings great appreciation of quiet and downtime. Summer’s energy is frenetic and busy. Those of us who live in northern climates see so few warm, sunny days that we try to enjoy every second of the ones we get. It’s wonderful, but also tiring! I appreciate the rest and reflection that winter allows. I love to snowshoe and hike in the winter. There is something special about being the first person who has made snowy footprints on a frozen lake in the wilderness, sharing the space only with the large paw prints of wolves and the belly slide markings of otters. It’s different than July, but it has its own magic. I can’t imagine not spending time outdoors every day. If I don’t, I feel “off” and disconnected. Dedicating time to spend in nature every day was part of rewriting my story.
I love great quotes that invoke a sense of and so along with the one at the beginning of this article, I wanted to share a few others:
“We need the tonic of wildness. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. ” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“When I closed the envelopes, I wondered if my family could even imagine the place I was living in: a timeless land protected by ancient rhythms, where humanity is obsolete and control pointless. A land in which the forest is a guardian and fire our closet friend, the wind a bringer of change and the sun our salvation.” Miriam Lancewood, Woman in the Wildnerness (Miriam and her partner, Peter, lived for months in the wilderness in New Zealand, hunting and foraging most of their food.)
Thoreau and Lancewood both re-wrote their stories. They took lengthy breaks from society to immerse themselves in the lessons that nature had to offer. They reconnected their bodies and minds to the wilds that shaped their evolution and it forever changed the way they saw themselves and the world around them. The impact of immersion in deep nature is priceless, and it is something I hope anyone who is able will seek out in their lifetime. Even a three-day trip can be life-changing in so many ways. It changes how you see nature, how you see your own nature, and it reminds you of where you came from, and what you remain a part of. After a lifetime of living comfortable lives dotted mostly by the noises of our modernity, being in the wild can be really uncomfortable. Especially at night. Those uncomfortable places offer a huge opportunity to explore who we really are and what we’re really made of. They force us to face things we don’t experience in our everyday lives and we come out of it more resilient, more confident, and stronger in so many ways.
What steps can you take to rewrite your story so that you are more connected to the wild?
Recommend reading 📚:
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
The Art and Science of Shinrin Yuko (or any other title by the author) by Dr. Quin Li
Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood (one of my favorite books of all time!)
Original Wisdom by Robert Wolff
Study article about the impacts of forest bathing on our immune system function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
Have a most excellent, wild weekend!