31 DAYS OF NATURE (PART ONE)

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Inspired by the annual 30 Days of Biking pledge and freelance writer Stacy Tornio’s 21-Day Recharge with Nature, I will be spending every day of May 2016 outdoors.

THE RULES

     1. Spend at least 30 minutes outdoors.

In order to make the 30 minutes count, I have to get my hands or feet on the earth. My 30 minutes cannot be entirely on concrete even if it’s a paved road winding through rows of trees.

     2. Take at least one photograph.

I bought a pretty snazzy camera a few months ago to photograph my friend’s Australian shepherd run around (hard to capture more than a blur at standard shutter speeds). I learned enough to take some decent shots. I’d like to learn how to better photograph nature, and this is the perfect excuse to start.

     3. Complete at least one item on my list of non-regrettables.

THE REASONS

      1. Restore connection

As a self-proclaimed tree-hugger, it’s contradictory that I spend quite a lot of time indoors. And as I make efforts to reduce my impact, reconnecting with nature is a way to further internalize what I’m trying to preserve. Restoring my connection will also lead numerous benefits, which are explicated in the next three reasons.

     2. Replenish worn-out faculties

It’s safe to say that many of us are in a constant state of exhaustion. We’re overworked and underpaid. We commute to work in our climate-controlled cars, sit in our climate-controlled buildings, and go back home to our climate-controlled houses. We’re lucky if we see the sun for very long except through a window (if we even have access to ones where we work).

Our work lives consist of constant stimulation, from the artificial lights and chaos on concrete-covered soil to the critical thinking and hyper-focused attention needed hold modern jobs. Of course, none of this is inherently wrong. I am quite thankful for heating and air conditioning; motor vehicles; lights that provide safety and flexible schedules; and a job that compels analytical thought and sustained attention.

But where’s the break?

When do we have time to replenish our worn-out faculties?

Is there a reset button?

Apparently, there is, and it’s found outside.

Psychologist Marc Berman of the University of Michigan posits that nature has the ability to shift the brain from a hyper-focused, analytical, and attentive process to a more passive one. This gives the brain time to replenish its critical thinking reserves so it can return to this mode with sufficient clarity. I’ve recently found myself overwhelmed with the day-to-day mental drain my job imposes. There was a period of time earlier in the year where I noticed how short-tempered I had become with students and colleagues. While I’ve gained perspective and amplified my self-care, I could still use some mental floss that, according to Dr. Berman, nature can provide.

You can read more about Dr. Berman’s study here.

     3. Reduce what ails me

It’s no longer a question whether or not nature has physiological and psychological benefits. Any quick Internet search will turn up hundreds if not thousands of studies that conclude the same thing: spending time in nature (especially if doing it actively) will lead to a healthier life to include reduction of illness, prevention of disease, and positive impact on mental health. There are even studies concluding that just viewing natural landscapes rather than urban settings has a positive impact on cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Since I am predisposed to high cholesterol and blood pressure and certain types of cancer as well as receiving ongoing treatment for a mood disorder, I am determined to harness whatever benefits I can from the earth.

      4. Promote growth

Dr. Peter H. Kahn, Jr. separates the term “harm” into two types: “direct harms” and “harms of unfulfilled flourishing.” Direct harms are obvious: you sprain your ankle, you’re mugged on the subway, or you incur a major depressive episode (hopefully not all at once or ever, really). Harms of unfulfilled flourishing are harder to recognize and occur without direct action. Kahn illustrates it with the following example:

Imagine a child who grows up without ever having been exposed to music; then as an adult he tells us: ‘I don’t care for music at all; I never listen to it.’ We might say: ‘Oh my, you don’t know what you’re missing for there is a beautiful repository of the musical experience that is within the range of all humans.’ We might say that this person’s musical sensibility was stunted as a child, and in this sense this person experiences a harm of unfulfilled flourishing.

The same could be said for our experience (or lack thereof) with nature. I do not plan to cause myself indirect harm by staying indoors. In review of the three other reasons I’ve given, I would be missing so many benefits.

It’s May 1, 2016, as I’m writing this, so it’s time to get outside and away from my computer screen.

Please check back each week for an update on my experience.
Follow me on twitter @audreywanders #31daysofnature.
Join me outside, wherever you are. Let me know what you find.

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