How the Outdoors Connects Us To Ourselves

Over time, mankind has slowly lost their intimacy with the elements they once relied on and had a close relationship with since the dawn of time. A release of appreciation for something alluring and timeless that is thought to be no longer needed- like teaching cursive to third graders. We have forfeited our natural intuition in exchange for dependency on technology. We have swapped meditative days of travel and thought observation for fast-paced work routines, often leaving no room to stop and navigate the space between our physical to-do lists and our own sound minds. 

Time spent outside doesn’t only give us a stronger connection to the earth and to those around us, but it also helps us develop a connection and confidence in ourselves- filtering our reactive and solicitous thoughts through a net of intuition, a lens of clarity that we can take with us into our relationships and the world itself.

Nature Gives Perspective 
Grounding doesn’t need to be naked feet buried into the sand, accompanied by chanting and deep breathing as we often see it described. We can still gain perspective, the gift of nature, by simply being present in it, by listening to what it has to say. This gift is free, waiting for all of us, like God with an extended arm reaching for us to lean in and grab hold. Being mentally anchored starts within ourselves, and this can be sparked by a mere moment in simple fresh air. In one study, 95% of people said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced. This study has matched my own experience, being someone who struggled with depression and anxiety heavily as a teenager, and who is still navigating this occasional glaze of worry in my adult life. Anxiety in adults is more common than ever before, and the one solution that gave me a broader perspective was getting back in touch with the earth once again. Spending one day in the natural elements makes the professional, family, and financial issues that bog my mind seem laughable; ripping off the blindfold of fear and revealing the truth- most of what we give negative energy to isn’t as real as we make it out to be. 

Nature Relieves Attention Fatigue
We have all felt attention fatigue- when even the most stimulating entertainment, foods, and endless scrolling leave us empty, longing for something more like an addict that is never fully satisfied. This lack-of mentality can weigh heavily on our subconscious minds and can hold us back from experiencing abundance in its unprocessed form. The distraught, jagged direction of our attention paired with the shallowness of worldly substances and values can be healed by reconnection to our organic sense of being. Time spent outdoors serves as a dopamine detox, trading the daily things that bring us temporary stimulation for just a moment of natural prosperity and contentment- one that can fill us up in the same way our ancestors once connected to themselves and the universe.

This doesn’t mean the only method to seeing the world clearly is to flip off the man and venture off like “Alexander Supertramp” once did in Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, (although I admit to putting more weight to this option than perhaps warranted at times). In fact, we found in this true story of Supertramp running into the woods, armed with a mere rifle, bag of books, and his bare hands-searching for understanding and escape is less practical than learning the elementary lessons that nature has to teach us; carrying those lessons into our daily lives. In this way, going outdoors helps us be better in all areas of what we do, including increasing our ability to pay attention and think critically. Another study, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings” proved that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve 47% more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing once within it. This also provides a metaphorical baptism for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks and thought patterns. This new mind, cleansed through a raw immersion in the natural world, allows us to be our most creative, curious selves.

It’s easy to get lost in this ever-moving world, to be so wrapped up in the next task that we are never truly present, therefore never knowing who we are outside of our calendars and other people’s projections. As we are too busy feeding off one another, we detach from ourselves. Our absence of contentment in this way further divides us from the ability to make critical decisions and engage in meaningful relationships. Perspective allows for inspiration and clear thinking, making us feel more alive and giving us more agency over our lives by letting the little things go, and holding the important elements closer.

Going into this new year, I am not only prioritizing time alone outside, but also using that time intentionally to center my own mind and work through the heaviness of my own pain and fear. I will allow for the lightness of life to illuminate this gift of perspective through every interaction in my life. After all, as “Alexander Supertramp” notably said, “Happiness is only real once shared.”

Thanks for reading, 
Madison Ford

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