I think sometimes we need to take a step back and just remember we have no greater right to be here than any other animal.– David Attenborough
Why do most people love nature? Why do we experience it as healing?
One answer is that it’s because we are nature. We are an expression of this living planet as everything else is.
Another is that nearly all of our ancestors lived in nature. They were adapted to it. It was their home. It is our home. We are – literally – made to be in nature.
There is also a simplicity in being in nature. It helps us focus on the basics and we don’t need to pay attention to all the complexities of modern life. Food. Shelter. Getting from A to B. That’s the few simple things we need to focus on.
It also helps us prioritize and see our life in perspective. When I am in civilization, I am immensely grateful for electricity, running water, hot showers, and being able to go to the grocery store for food. These are not anything we can take for granted at all. Also, I get to see that I can be content with little as long as my basic needs are covered. My quality of life does not come from all the extra things that modern life offers. It comes from the simple things in everyday life, and especially in how I relate to my life and the world in general.
The simplicity of being in nature is also a kind of retreat. It helps us meet ourselves. And instead of going to distractions, we are invited to find another – and more kind and content – way of being with ourselves.
Is this love for nature only for ourselves? No. It can certainly enrich our lives immensely and also clarify our lives. But it also makes us into advocates for nature, and few things are as important – for us as humans and for all Earth life – than that today.
I am very aware that what I write here is a reflection of privilege. I can go into nature when I want. I have a home in civilization. I have my basic needs covered. I don’t need to collect or catch my own food.
I am also aware that since I am from Norway, and a deep love for nature is an important part of Norwegian culture, these views are somewhat influenced by my culture. In the US, I didn’t find the same universal love for nature, or at least not the love that makes us want to be in and experience nature first hand.
Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include a few short personal notes as well.
Climate crisis is irrelevant….sort of. Since I first heard about climate change in my teens, I have had the same view on it as I do now. We have to change into a sustainable culture and society anyway, we have to do it soon, and we have to do it for innumerable reasons.
Climate change is just one reason so we don’t need to get too caught up in discussions of whether it’s happening (which it obviously is) and whether it’s human-made (which it obviously is). Focusing too much on those questions is a distraction. And that’s obviously why some – especially the petroleum industry – want to have that discussion. They want to sow just enough confusion, doubt, and strife to derail – or at least delay – action.
There are innumerable reasons why we need to transform our culture and society. Some have to do with what any sane person and society would want to avoid: toxins in our water, air, soil, and bodies; illnesses because of those toxins; death of insects and all the animals and plants dependent on insects; loss of ecosystems; loss of species; and so on. Some have to do with what we want: a society and culture that’s life-centered; that thrives; that recognizes that a society that’s ecologically sustainable, that is more socially just and inclusive, that takes care of those with the least, and where there is less gap between the rich and poor, is a society that’s better for all of us.
And there is really just one reason: We live in a system that doesn’t take ecological and physical realities into account and didn’t need to when it was created. And now – with a dramatically increased population and more powerful technology – we do need to.
In that sense, climate change is irrelevant. We have to make the same changes anyway and for a lot of other reasons. In another sense, climate change – or climate crisis – is important because it’s getting a lot of attention and it does show us that it’s urgent.Read More
Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature.
Spending time nature. This is something many have written about so I’ll just say a few words. Since I was little, I have spent time at a family cabin on a lake in the forest outside of Oslo. (The area is on track to become a national park.)
The cabin is without running water and electricity (apart from a small solar panel to charge phones and iPads). We get the water from the lake, the firewood from the forest, cook food with gas we bring with us, and heat the cabin with one of two fireplaces.
When I go there, I notice it takes a few days to “land” and that continues to deepen the longer I stay. There is a sense of gradually becoming part of the place and nature.
When I am there, I inevitably become very aware of resource use. I need to plan what food to bring and for how many days. I tend to eat fresh foods first and then, after a week or so, have more of the lasting foods to eat. I notice the effects of the different foods on my body.
During the summer, even when the temperature gets over 30 degrees Celcius, there is never a problem with the heat. If I get hot in the sun or from physical activity, I cool off in the lake. And the cabin stays cool due to the breeze, open doors and windows, and the shade from the trees.
Early and late summer – when they days are warm and the nights cool – I warm the cabin during the day by opening doors and windows, and trap it during the night.
The rest of the year, when I need to heat the indoor space, I separate the cabin into heat zones. I mostly spend time in the new living room, and use the fireplace there since it’s a good heat sink (the stones and brick stores heat and gradually releases it even after the fire is out). I close off the room and allow the other parts of the cabin to stay cooler. The kitchen warms up from cooking. (On early cold mornings, I sometimes eat and read in the kitchen since it’s warmer.)
When I go to get firewood, I typically take the rowboat and go to one of the three or four places where I know there are beaver-houses. There, close to the lake, I find birch trees felled by the beavers. They do the initial work, eat the bark and leaves, and I take the trunks they are done with, bring them back to the cabin, and cut them up for firewood. It feels like a nice partnership with the beavers, although they don’t get that much out of it.
I also notice what they say about firewood warming three times: When I collect the wood. When I cut and split it. And when I burn it.
In early and late summer, I tend to go to bed when it gets dark and wake up when the sun comes up. This changes other times of year since the sun is up 18 hours a day during the summer and only six in the winter.
In the summer, I enjoy swimming in the lake. Sometimes, I put on snorkeling gear so I get to see what’s under the surface.
I notice the direction of the wind and the types of weather the wind brings from different directions. I notice how it’s often still in the morning and evening, and windier during the day. When I row across the lake and it’s windy, I often take the slightly longer path through a group of islands since its more sheltered.
I am grateful when I see butterflies, insects, birds, and other creatures. They and I share the space for a while. We are neighbors. (This awe, gratitude, and sense of fellowship is heightened by my awareness of the loss of insect, bird, and animal life in the area and the world in general.)
I wash from top to bottom each day, either in the lake or using hot water in the kitchen. After a few days without showering, I notice that my skin doesn’t feel dry anymore. It retains the natural oils.
By being there, I gradually and effortlessly feel more and more as part of nature. My days are simple and mostly focused on basics such as food, heat, water, and sleep. And I become very aware of resources in many different ways. All around, it’s healing and – to the extent I allow it to work on me – transformative.Read More
Trauma-informed schools and society. There is a movement to create more trauma-informed schools. These are schools where teachers and students are aware of the symptoms of trauma and how to relate to traumatized students, and where knowledge opens for understanding, empathy, and healing. In the best case, it can help whole generations of students in all areas of life. And there is a similar movement to bring trauma awareness into some types of workplaces, including police, firefighting, and the military.
When we don’t know about trauma, we tend to react to it – in ourselves and others – in ways that may retraumatize or deepen the trauma. And when we know the symptoms and how to relate to traumatized people, we can create a safe space, invite in deeper healing, and people’s lives can change for the better in all areas of their lives. The more a whole culture – whether it’s at a school, workplace, for teachers in general – is trauma-informed, the more transformative this can be.
My wish is that we will, eventually, have more trauma-informed people, communities, and even societies. It’s already happening some places, and it will most likely spread. So much of what we see as problems in our society today is typical trauma behavior, including reactivity, recurrent or ongoing anger, anxiety or depression, extreme ideologies, dehumanization of groups of people, substance abuse and any form of addiction, violence, physical and emotional abuse, and
Why do we experience being in nature as healing?
In nature, we are reminded of our larger ecological self. We are an expression of this living planet and its ecosystems, and in nature
And the same is the case when we look up at the night sky. We are the universe evolving into this living planet and us, and we remember. That’s one reason a dark night sky is so important.
Our species evolved in and as part of nature. Almost all of our ancestors lived in nature. It’s our natural habitat. It’s where we are home.
In nature, we more naturally connect with our physical body. We remember who we are. We are invited to shift out of our obsession with thinking and into sensing and feeling, and this in itself is a relief and healing.
Nature reminds us that the natural state is allowing and non-judgment. Nature allows all as it is. Nature doesn’t engage in value judgments. It doesn’t say that this straight tall tree is better than that crooked old one. And when we shift in that direction, that too is a relief and healing.
We learn a lot by being in nature. We learn how we respond to different situations. We learn to handle challenges. We learn nothing is personal.
In my experience, the more wild nature is, the more I benefit from all of this. And that’s one of many reasons why it’s not only important to preserve nature and ecosystems but to preserve the wild.
Of course, not all experience it this way. In nature, we are also faced with our own conditioning. We are faced with the beliefs and habits that – in our minds and experience – remove us from our body, ancestry, and nature. And that’s another benefit of being in nature. We get to see how we divorce ourselves from our larger self and who we are.
Nature has played an important role on my spiritual path and in my life in general.
It feels strange to write that because I am nature, and I and humans and human civilization wouldn’t exist without nature. All of it is nature, and all of it requires the whole universe which also is nature. So to say “nature has been important to me” makes very little sense.
As a child, before school age, nature – and especially sunlight filtered through the leaves – sometimes brought me back to life before incarnation. I had flashbacks to a life where all was (golden) light, beings and everything were formless, and all was infinite love and wisdom, and profoundly home.
When I was around ten, I slept under the stars by Sølen, a mountain in Norway. There was a sense of infinity of the night sky, and also of the landscape stretching seemingly endlessly into the horizon. I looked at the stars and the satellites passing over, and it opened a profound sense of oneness with it all. I was the universe experiencing all of it. I was a local expression of the universe experiencing itself in its endlessness. Again, it came with a profound sense of being home, of not only belonging but being it all, and a deep sense of quiet joy and gratitude. It changed my life.
Age sixteen, between Christmas and the new year, I walked along a gravel road at night. It was dark, the sky was full of stars, and a big wind moved through it all. This time, there was an even more full blown opening. The divine woke up to itself as all there is, without any exceptions. Even the divine locally and temporarily taking itself to be something exclusively local and temporal – a separate being – was seen as the divine, the play of the divine. This too changed my life, and even more profoundly.
When I was 24, I went to Utah to study at the university there. (And, without knowing it in advance, to live at the Zen center there for a few years.) When I first went to southern Utah, I took my sleeping bag and walked into the desert on my own and slept under the stars and the milky way stretching from one horizon to the other. Again, there was a profound sense of being home and a quiet and deep gratitude and joy. This time, there was also the most profound sense of belonging to that particular place and landscape. (If we have several lives, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one or more of mine where in that area – the Four Corners area – of this planet.)
I still often feel a profound sense of belonging when I am in nature or see the night sky. A deep sense of quiet joy and gratitude. And it’s always there, low level, in the background.
As a child and in my early teens, it was probably more of a genuine nature mysticism. A sense of the divine in nature, or – more accurately – nature as divine and sacred. Later in my teens, it became very clear that all of it – all there is – happens within and as the divine, and that that is what we and everything already are. It’s all the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as all of this. Including when it locally and temporarily takes itself to be separate and a separate being.
The nature mysticism element is still very much here and it plays a beautiful role in my life, but it happens in a different context.
Note: When I say the divine, I could say consciousness, and love, and even a quiet bliss, because those labels also work. And there is the small and big interpretation of all of this, as I have written about in other posts. But I wanted to keep that side of it simple in this post.
Note 2: The image is from Sølen from a more recent visit and overnight stay.Read More
Continued from previous posts
One essential way Trump is no different.
But it wasn’t sane before. Obama was not sane; he was led by the same interests that put the corporate business ahead of people, with bread buttered by Goldman Sachs, only now, it is more brash” Sadier said. “For centuries the political class has been fucking poor people off.
This is a view I often hear from regular people, including most of my friends. But I don’t see it much from mainstream politicians, journalists, or social commentators. Of course, the job of the mainstream is to maintain the status quo, even if it benefits the few in the short term rather than the many in the long term. (Or perhaps just for that reason.)
Most politicians and political parties support neo-liberal capitalism, which in turn is designed to maximize profit for multi-national corporations at the expense of nearly everyone else, including nature and future generations. In this sense, Trump is no different from most other politicians, including Obama and both Clintons. He is just less subtle about it.
September 6, 2018
Strawman arguments. This seems so obvious I haven’t mentioned it before but I wanted to say a few words. When American football players protest during the anthem, they are not disrespecting the US, they are highlighting a very real issue of racism and inequality. And when people criticize or disagree with Israeli policies, they are not anti-semitic. To say they respectively “disrespect the US” and are “anti-semitic” are strawman arguments and it’s transparent and childish. It’s an attempt to shame people into silence and deflect from the real issue by attacking the person.
The golden rule in politics. Why should we treat others as we would like to be treated, even in politics? For me, it has to do with a couple of things. First, self-respect. If I treat others with respect, I can have respect for myself. The other is for strategic reasons. When I act and speak with respect, I invest in norms I would like myself and others to follow. I strengthen them. Also, if I don’t treat others with respect, I cannot expect others to do the same towards me (or politicians I support) and I am not in a position to ask them to do so.
This came up for me today since the New York Times has an article about the resistance to Trump’s policies from within the administration. Some liberals seem to applaud this. And I understand the impulse to want to curtail some of Trump’s worst actions. But he is legally elected and the resistance described in the NYT article is actually a subversion of democracy. It sets a very dangerous precedence. And it’s definitely not something I would approve of if it happened in an administration I happened to personally support.
On the topic of the NYT article: The other side is that these unhappy civil servants would do better quitting and speaking out openly about their concerns, or try to get Trump removed if they think he is a danger to the country. It does seem a bit spineless, as Trump said, to anonymously complain in this way.Read More
Continued from previous posts…. These posts started out about Trump but have morphed into brief notes about society and politics in general. For this one, I added nature as a theme.
Nature & Norway. Nature is an important part of Norwegian culture, and there is a certain culture about how to be in and relate to nature. In terms of sustainability, Norway isn’t that much different from or better than other industrialized countries (think of the oil industry etc.). But I do very much resonate with and appreciate the traditional Norwegian culture of how to be in nature.
My parents passed it on to me, and their parents passed it on to them, and as it must have been passed on through generations. They took me out skiing, hiking, berry picking, swimming and more throughout my childhood.
And almost invisibly, certain norms were passed on to me: Leave no traces. Use only dead wood for fires. Be quiet in nature. (To not disturb the animals, so you are more likely to see animals, and to not disrupt the peace for other people.) Take time. (There is usually no need to get somewhere quickly.) Be respectful. (To nature, animals, plants, other people.) Enjoy. (There is a deep enjoyment in being in nature – the sounds, sights, smells, sensations, and there is a profound enjoyment and nourishment in experiencing ourselves as part of nature, as not separate at all… whether we are in nature or in urban areas.) Maintain good spirits. (Set stressful thoughts aside and focus on the privilege and enjoyment of being in nature.)
Although not many would put it this way, nature is – in many ways – the cathedral for Norwegians. It’s the sacred place. The place where we are reminded of who and what we are, and our intimate connection to the larger natural world.
Loss of insects. When I started spending more time in Norway again, about ten years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the loss of insects. It seemed that my parent’s garden, which I remember as brimming with insects and life in general as a kid, now is mostly barren with just the occasional bumblebee or other winged creature. I considered that it could be because of the usual quirks of memory, but realized it must be something more. For instance, as a kid, I often saw crickets of all sizes in the yard, and now I haven’t seen any – not a single one – for years. Similarly, some types of birds seem completely gone. If that’s not a wake-up call close to home, I don’t know what is.Read More
I am on a cruiseship on the lake by our cabin, which I find odd since it’s a relatively small inland lake. It seems to be a family gathering. Towards the end of the outing, people wash their hands and good deal of soap is released into the lake. I comment on it, but others don’t see it as a problem. I realize the ship will stay in the lake and continue taking people on tours. They are very focused on selling things, and they will continue to release oil, soap, and more into the lake. I realize it will destroy the lake but the others say it won’t be that bad. I see them as being in denial.I wrote an initial response to this dream which you can read below. I didn’t publish it at the time since I felt something was off or missing. And now, several weeks later, I feel ready to rewrite my response and publish it. This dream is about a lake in the forest south-east of Oslo where our family cabin is located. I spent a good deal of time at that cabin growing up and it is an important place in my life. I had this dream just before waking up in the morning, and later the same day (at a Vortex Healing practice group in San Francisco), I learned it was Earth Day. This dream seems to have represented a shift in me in how I experience the destruction of nature. I have always taken it seriously and even worked in sustainability for several years, but I have also held its impact on me at an arms-length distance. In the dream, there was very much a viceral experience of the destruction of the lake. It felt as I was the lake and the nature in that area. I felt it in my own body. There was no separation. And, somehow, that’s how it’s been since. I now feel these things viscerally, in and as my own body. It’s a welcome change since I knew the distance was artificial. It was created by my own mind as a protection. And it seems that’s no longer needed. For whatever reason, there must be a readiness in me to have a more visceral experience of what’s happening with Earth these days. I have spent a few weeks at that cabin since the dream, and I notice a renewed and deeper appreciation and gratitude for all life there. Even the smallest insect is sacred and gives me joy. A small footnote: I was at the cabin last week, and on the path to the outhouse I saw something resting on top of a shrub. It was a loose collection of feathers and fur, and I suspect it may be a wolf’s shedded winter fur a bird collected for a nest and then dropped. Somehow, it felt like a nod from nature. We are on the same side. I am on the side of the wolves and the birds. We are all part of nature. In a very real sense, and in a very visceral sense, I am that forest, those animals and plants, and that lake. The photo above this article was taken at that trip, just before midnight one night in the third week of June. Read More
I thought I would share some Vortex Healing examples and stories.
Here is one from my own life: As a kid, I had some fear of the dark and especially when I was at the cabin. It’s by a lake, in the woods, far from the city, and without electricity. It’s a natural and common fear to have as a kid. (The tendency to be afraid of the dark is built into us through evolution.)
As an adult, I have noticed traces of this fear of the dark, and most noticeably at the cabin. If I went out in the dark at night, I would notice – and remember – the fear.
While at the cabin his summer, I did a few minutes of Vortex Healing for myself on this fear. Afterwards, I noticed it felt more neutral to go outside in the dark. That wasn’t in itself surprising. It’s what I would expect based on my experience with Vortex Healing. (It was a relatively isolated and not so strong fear, so it didn’t take long to clear.)
What was surprising happened on my next visit to the cabin. I went outside in the dark to go to the outhouse and noticed a whole new experience. Not only was the fear gone. But in its place, I experienced the animals and plants around me, and a deep sense of being part of the natural community. I was a natural part of life.
I assume this experience may have been there the whole time. I do often experience it in nature. But it had been covered up by the fear. With the fear gone, attention was available to notice this deeper sense of connection and aliveness.
I am very strongly influenced by circumstances – by place, housing, and people around me. Right now, I am in San Francisco which is in a region where I feel very much at home, and I am near San Francisco Zen Center and the Breema Center. Here, I feel alive, clear, engaged, and passionate about life. In other locations, it can be the reverse. And for me, the difference is not subtle. It’s like night and day.
Some say we are the same person no matter what, so circumstances doesn’t matter. That’s true in one sense. We are the same person and we have the same potentials and characteristics in us. But it’s very much not true in a practical sense since different circumstances bring out different parts of us. And for some, this is stronger than for others.
Note: For me, the land has the largest influence. The spirit of the land. It’s very tangible, and it can bring about clarity and aliveness, or dullness and a sense of drudgery. I can quite easily tune into the quality of the land at a distance, so the quality of the land is rarely surprising to me when I actually arrive there.
Climate does play some role, the geology and ecology do as well, and the duration and extent of human settlement play a significant role. If a large number of people have lived somewhere for centuries or millennia, the land feels saturated with the energies of all these people. I think that’s why I like places like the North American west coast, the Rocky Mountain region, Iceland, and the wilderness and sparsely populated areas in Norway so much.
There is an ongoing debate in norway about whether we should have wolves or not, and how many. The fault lines – as so often these days – seem to go between the urban and/or more educated, and the rural and/or less educated.
Here are some of the arguments against wolves, and my comments.
They take livestock. They do, but they take far fewer than trains, traffic, and disease. And the farmers receive compensation from the state if any are taken.
They are a risk to humans. No, they are virtually no risk to humans. The real risks are what we all know about, including traffic, suicide, poor lifestyle and food choices, and much more.
They are evil and scary. Yes, we may culturally have learned to see them as evil and project our shadow onto them, and they may trigger fear in us. That’s no reason to get rid of them. (I suspect this is what’s really going on since the apparently rational arguments are not very strong.)
And here are some arguments for having wolves.
For the benefit of the wolves. They have as much right to be here as we do. They are sentient beings just as us and wish to live.
For the ecosystems. Our ecosystems evolved with large predators, and healthy and thriving ecosystems depend on large predators.
For our benefit. Just as ecosystems, we need the wild. We evolved with and in the wild, and with high level predators. We need it for our own health and well being. We need it as a reminder of who we are, in an evolutionary context. We need it to feel alive.
Why are people really against wolves? I suspect primal fear of wolves is one aspect. Specifically, fear of losing animals to wolves may trigger a more primal fear than losing them to illness or trains. Another may be instinctual competition. Humans and wolves are both large predators, and it’s natural to try to eliminate the competition.
In my view, the arguments against don’t hold up well. And the arguments for are far more important – for them, for us, for nature as a whole.
As usual, I can add that this view is very predictable for someone with my background. I grew up in a well educated urban family. I love nature. I want to consider the rights and needs of other beings, including nonhuman species. I am liberal in terms of politics. If I had grown up as a sheep farmer in an area with wolves, my views may well have been different. And that doesn’t mean I won’t speak up for wolves. They need someone to speak for them.
Just five minutes of exercise in a “green space” such as a park can boost mental health, researchers claim.
There is growing evidence that combining activities such as walking or cycling with nature boosts well-being.
In the latest analysis, UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies and found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.
– from the BBC article Green exercise quickly boosts mental health
We all (or most of us!) know this from our own experience. And yet, it is good to have it conformed by research, and also explore it in more detail. For instance, through these studies they found the most benefit from the first few minutes of outdoor activities, an additional boost if there is water nearby, and the largest effect for young people and those with mental health problems (they have more room for improvement as well).
Another article is available from Environmental News.