Why is nature healing?

 

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, we remember. We remember who we are. 

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. 

Reflections on society, politics, and nature XII

 

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature.

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.

Laetitia Sadier in Laetitia Sadier on Stereolab and finding her voice 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.

Politically correct? I don’t use this term unless I discuss it specifically. It seems to mean different things to different people so using it often means talking about different things while it appears, on the surface, we are talking about the same.

Some use the term to discredit people who talk about ordinary decency, inclusiveness and treating others with respect. Some use it to refer to nice sounding words meant to distract from different types of actions. And I am sure people understand the term in other ways as well. 

In the first sense, I am happy to be politically correct. I am happy to stand up for treating people with respect, inclusiveness (of people of all types of orientations and backgrounds), and actions and policies that come from ordinary human care and compassion for fellow human beings. 

Not normal? I see that some people in social media still use the “this is not normal” label on Trump’s behavior. I understand some of the reasoning behind it. For instance, it isn’t normal for a leader of a western democratic country to consistently erode democratic norms and undermine democratic institutions. It’s something that may do lasting damage. 

Apart from that, the “not normal” label misses something essential. Much of what’s normal isn’t that great. And there are some very questionable ways he is normal. He is normal in that he is in line with most of the Republican’s policies. (Apart from leaving international free trade agreements and starting a trade war). And more importantly, he is normal and in line with nearly all US politicians in that he promotes policies aimed at making the wealthy wealthier at the cost of nearly everyone else.

For the most part, the real scandal is in the ways he is normal.

September 7, 2018

What will Trump be remembered for? A few generations from now, how will people see Trump? Here is what I imagine: 

He came out of the tea party culture within or connected with the Republican party, so in that sense, there was little surprising or even new about him. In a larger historical context, we have also seen many leaders like him. 

He was in line with the rest of the Republicans on most issues and policies. (Apart from international trade.) He served as a tool for the Republican party for them to get their policies through. 

In an essential way, he followed the norm for US presidents and western or western-oriented mainstream politicians of that era. He supported policies benefiting multinational corporations and the wealthy while often harming the rest of the population, ecosystems, and future generations. 

He was a turning point OR blip in one sense. He was a democratically elected leader who intentionally set out to confuse and erode democratic norms and undermine democratic institutions. (I don’t know if this will turn out to be a turning point or a blip. I imagine he has done some lasting damage in this area.)

As a footnote, we can also mention that his presidency did to some extent mobilize people on the other end of the policy spectrums (diversity, equality, sustainability etc.) 

He represents the failure of political leaders and people in general of that era (late 1900s and early- to mid-2000s) to deal with ecological issues. He ignored climate change and rolled back environmental regulations. He was the norm in that he didn’t take the issues seriously enough, he didn’t implement sufficient measures, and he didn’t do what was needed in terms of restructuring all of society and all institutions to create a society aligned with ecological realities.

In hindsight, knowing that this restructuring could have benefited them in all areas of society and life (science, research, technology, economics, well being and more), it seems bizarre that they didn’t. Although it’s also understandable since it did require a massive restructuring and realignment, and they did operate and view the world from within the old paradigm.

September 10, 2018

Native American DNA & Synchronicity. About a year ago, I received my ancestry and health information from 23andme. Most of the results were expected (mostly Norwegian / Northern European with some British, French, and German).

But one result was surprising: a small amount of my DNA was assigned to Native American ancestry. I am not aware of any Native American ancestry, or even any pathways explaining how it could have happened. So although I was intrigued, I thought it was probably a mistake. 

I still do, but it’s interesting to me in a few different ways. I have always experienced a deep resonance with Native American cultures. As a child, I always wanted to be the “Indian” when we played cowboys and Indians. When I first came to North America (Utah) to study, I felt I arrived at a sacred land and felt deeply at home. When I first went down to southern Utah and slept out alone under the night sky, I felt more profoundly at home than I have felt anywhere else before or after. When I read books written by Native Americans (especially shamans / holy men), there is a deep sense of familiarity, resonance, and coming home. 

Two things are especially interesting to me. One is that this can be seen as a synchronicity. I have (at a deeper level) wanted to have this ancestry, was certain it wasn’t in me, and yet it shows up in my DNA ancestry report.

Another is that the DNA patterns used to identify ancestry groups are found in most or all populations in the world. It’s just that some patterns are more commonly found among certain groups. So it may be that I have DNA patterns most commonly found among Native Americans, even if I don’t have that particular ancestry. I guess that’s another form of synchronicity. 

Data collection and sharing. It’s well known that social media platforms, search engines, and apps and websites in general collect and sometimes share user data for marketing purposes, and also that this data can say a lot more about us than we may initially think. I feel I am relatively updated on and aware of this, but even I sometimes get surprised to the apparent extent of it. Over the last couple of days, I have had two telling experiences:

Two days ago, I searched for an obscure Japanese movie from the 50s on Netflix on my phone (which they didn’t have since they have a terrible collection of international classics), and when I then opened YouTube to look for it there, a clip from the movie came up as the first recommended video (before I had searched for it). Unless it was a remarkable coincidence, it means that data from my iPhone Netflix app searches somehow gets sent to YouTube (Google). 

Yesterday, I listened to the audiobook of Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 days, which is based on the 80s BBC TV series. The 5-minute segment I listened to was from crossing the Arabian sea, and specifically about using a treacherous outboard toilet. When I later that day opened YouTube, the first recommended clip was exactly that segment from the original TV series. Again, it was a remarkable coincidence (even more remarkable considering how obscure and specific it was), or my audiobook listening data is somehow conveyed to Google and YouTube. This one went even beyond what I thought they were up to. And I have certainly not knowingly given anyone permission to gather and share this type of data. 

September 11, 2018

International Criminal Court. In the latest barrage of news from the Trump administration, I see they are threatening the ICC and will probably do what they can to delegitimize, weaken, and withdraw from it. It’s partly because they won’t acknowledge any international institutions above their own. (Which is out of step with a globally interconnected world with global problems that require global solutions and institutions.) And, as so much of what this administration does, it may be a step in preventing their own legal trouble. 

Trump’s second term? Will Trump have a second term? I wouldn’t be surprised since he likely will last his first term (unlikely to be ousted or resign), his pride will probably tell him to run again, his base (around 40%) seems unshaken by anything he says or does, after the election in November (if the Democrats get a house majority) the Republicans can blame the Democrats for everything that went wrong, and Trump serves the Republicans well in terms of getting policies through while distracting through his behavior. There is a small chance he won’t run again, and an even tinier chance he will be ousted from office. If he runs again, there is, of course, a chance – perhaps even a good chance – the Democrats will do well. In any case, this is all a blip on the arc of history, as Obama said, and it’s good to keep an eye more on the real and far more important issues. 
 
September 29, 2018

Catholic Church abuse. I see that the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church keeps unfolding. It’s a complex situation, although also quite simple. Two of the main problems are celibacy and the absence of female priests. Celibacy prevents any legitimate and open way to live out ones sexuality. And the lack of female priests removes that very needed correction in a male and patriarchal culture. By holding onto outdated rules for the priesthood, the church itself has set the stage for these problems.

Another and related problem is, of course, the lack of transparency and the desire of people higher up in the hierarchy to hush down these very serious problems. 

US Supreme Court. After the Kavanaugh hearings, it’s abundantly clear that the US supreme court is anything but a neutral institution. It’s thoroughly politicized. That makes it even more unfortunate that the judges are there for life. It’s yet another aspect of the US political system that, in its present form, is out of step with how a real democracy works. 

The internal problems of empire. As I see it, many of the current problems in the US are internal problems of being an empire. Any empire is dependent on a large military which depletes its economy and leaves less for their own citizens (lack of good education, healthcare, social safety nets etc.). And it’s also dependent on authoritarianism, suppression, distraction, and avoiding being a well-functioning democracy. All of which are hallmarks of the US today. Although not everyone would agree, I see the toxic masculinity of US culture is one of many symptoms inherent in being an empire. 

Of course, Trump and others are doing their best to dismantle the US as an empire and it’s likely to crumble within one or two decades. (Meaning that the US as an international power will fade, not that the US as a country will fall apart.) 

Buying into chaos and drama. When I worked at a center in southern California, I was repeatedly surprised and dismayed when my two bosses would buy into the chaos and drama created by some clients (mostly young male drug addicts). These clients would say something they knew was inflammatory, or they would spread lies about others with the intent to create conflict, and the two managers so often bought into it and fueled the drama with their own emotions. The pattern seemed so obvious, and it seemed so clear and transparent what the clients intended to do, and yet the managers bought into it. (This was partly a center for addiction recovery and partly a center for spirituality.) 

The same seems to be happening in the US today. Russia has explicitly set out to create chaos, drama, and internal strife within the US (and other western countries), and the politicians and others in the US seem to wholeheartedly buy into it. They fell right into the trap.  

Follow-up to Earth Day dream

 

My Earth Day dream earlier this year marked a shift in me.

In my dream, I am at the cabin, on a cruise ship going around the lake. I learn it will remain on the lake and keep taking people on cruises, and I realize the destruction it will cause over time. The lake and the forest around it will die. I feel it as if this natural area is my body, and as if my body is this natural area.

Since then, I have felt these types of things – the suffering of people and destruction of nature – in a far more visceral way. I feel it in my bones.

It’s a good shift. Where I before could hold it at an arm’s length distance, I am now unable to. I feel it as if it’s happening in my own body, and as if Earth now is my body. It’s not abstract. It’s immediate, apparently inevitable, and very visceral.

There is a small stream in me that is despondent from this more visceral experience. And another movement responding to it finding a deeper and equally visceral trust in the larger whole. In the inherent wisdom of the processes of the Earth, life in general, and the divine as all. The two go hand in hand.

Note: As I write this, I am at the cabin, sitting outside looking over the lake. Feeling the breeze. Hearing the sounds of the waves hitting the shoreline.

While I have been here this summer, I have experienced a mix of concern over the loss of life here (fewer insects, missing ant hills, far fewer swallows nesting, fewer birds in general, no bats at night and so on), I have felt the loss in my bones, I have experienced the immense value and divinity of even the smallest forms of life, I feel the small stream of despondency in me, and the deepening felt trust in life – no matter what happens.

There is a very real possibility that we, and Earth as a whole, is heading for major disasters. Climate change, combined with general loss of natural ecosystems and biodiversity, combined with toxins throughout nature and our own bodies, combined with economic and social systems inadvertently designed to destroy nature, combined with our own inability (or lack of will) to do what’s needed, does not bode well. Already, large parts of nature are dying off, and significant parts of humanity are impacted by it. And humanity may be the next to experience such a die-off. We don’t know.

What we know is that we need to redesign how we have organized all parts of society to take ecological realities into account. We can do it. We know how to do it. We have faced major challenges in the past, eventually – when avoidance is no longer possible – made it a priority, and found solutions. The question is at what cost? What will our delay cost? What will it cost us, nature, and future generations?

And what will we gain? Will we become more aware of Earth as, literally, our own wider body? Will designing systems that take ecological realities into account become second nature? Will we find a deeper sense of connection with all life? Will we include the interests of ecosystems, non-human species, and future generations in our decision making?

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Reflections on society, politics, and nature XI

 

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.

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Dream: Cruise ship by the cabin

 

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.

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Vortex Healing story: Fear of dark

 

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.

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Influenced by circumstances

 

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.

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Why wolves?

 

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.

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Quick boost in well-being from outdoors activities

 

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.