Has “Nature Deficit Disorder” robbed you of your connection to your roots, and to your wild soul?
I finally reached the ridge top, well above the tree line, a wide open space carpeted with wild green grass. Buffeted by the wind coming from the ocean, the moisture of my perspiration-soaked shirt rapidly cooled. Often the cliffs and summits of Big Sur are obscured in fog, but the view all along the coastline stretched clear, loosely stitched with a few white cotton clouds.
I slipped off my walking sandals to be barefoot on the earth, strolled to the edge and gazed out over the blue Pacific, some 1850 feet below me. Suddenly a kestrel rose up on the wind’s current and hovered just a dozen feet away. Russet wings rapidly beating the air as he hung suspended in the breeze, his keen eyes scanned the green slope below us.
In a flash, I felt my own heart soar. Weary from the long climb, the tiredness of my body seemed to fall away. I’ve not seen a kestrel or falcon — nor had such a dramatic hike — since residing in Spain four years ago.
In Andalucía, a pair of kestrels lived near our whitewashed, stone farmhouse on the hillside amid the gnarled olives. I frequently spied them when I was out wandering the groves, hiking, or even just standing on the terrace, gazing out over the campo (countryside) toward the turquoise wedge of the near-distant Mediterranean. I always felt graced when they appeared.
On the Big Sur summit, I stood for several minutes watching the small falcon swoop, dive, and then hover again, hunting the steep hillside until he disappeared from view. For the briefest of moments, I imagined the tattooed wings on my forearms pulsed ever so slightly, dreaming of flight.
Walking along the westerly edge of the summit, as I prepared to descend the trail that looped back down to the coastline far below, the kestrel swept up and hovered close at hand, bold and unafraid of human presence.
“Hello, beauty,” I smiled.
He plunged, veered swiftly left, and vanished into the canyon, leaving me once again graced by his presence. It felt oddly like an affirmation of sorts. A wild blessing. A welcome touch from the soul of the world.
I’ve learned a few things about nature over the years.
With a childhood and adolescent spent in the concrete, geometric sprawl of greater Los Angeles, nature was not something I was familiar or comfortable with. It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I began to discover my affinity for wilder places, that something important was stirred in me when I wandered non-domesticated land. My senses opened more widely, and I felt more creative and inspired. Somehow I was more fully myself, more fully alive when enfolded by nature.
Yet it wasn’t until my thirties, when I began apprenticing as a guide for wilderness-based “rites of passage” programs, that I fully realized this basic truth: nature does more than help us transform and evolve, it is essential for our well being.
In a previous post for Good Men Project, “Authentic Manhood: Rites of Passage and Soul,” I wrote: “Deep within each of us is a creative core of authenticity that I call ‘soul.’ I offer that soul forms an essential part of what makes us human — possibly it’s the very best part — but is also significantly missing in our modern society.”
Countless people have written eloquently about our disconnection from nature, outlining its necessity for our well-being. You could argue that such writings started with Thoreau, when he went into the woods “to live deliberately” for a year on Walden Pond. He has been followed by a notable string of visionaries, activists, ecologists, poets, and even scientists who share a similar view. In modern day parlance, we now speak about “Nature Deficit Disorder,” and a growing number of studies prove that nature, in its many forms, is vital for us.
My own nature writing and coaching tends to center on a few key elements:
- Nature connects us to our soul. We evolved with it over eons, and the creative authentic essence of who we are is deeply nourished by the wild, living world. In essence, nature and soul are the same.
- We are all interconnected. Nature teaches interdependence and interrelatedness, reminds us that each thing has a place and purpose, and our actions matter to the greater whole. We all live downstream.
- Nature is healing. Whether we’re talking about ecotherapy (for our psyche) or plant-based medicines, tinctures and balms (for the body), nature helps us heal and embrace a higher level of well-being.
In our urban/suburban lives, nature often seems like something ‘out there’ and faraway; it’s something we watch on television, or get in a car to go visit briefly, but we don’t really connect with it. It’s mostly foreign to us, and many people are uncomfortable with wildness and wilderness.
Arguably, much of humanity’s history has been spent trying to protect ourselves from nature and subdue it; yet the further we insulate ourselves, thinking we are somehow separate, the more damage we inflict to the living web of our environment… and eventually ourselves.
Essentially everything that humans depend upon is a gift from nature and the plants (and microbes) — including the very air that we breathe.
Our modern world is becoming ever more unhealthy, not simply in terms of pollution and overconsumption of ‘resources’, but from continuing to sever our roots from earth and nature. Many of us lack a deeper sense of meaning — or the sacred — in our lives, and yet when we venture into non-domesticated places, we can often find that special connection which was lacking.
To fully appreciate nature, we need to be something more than merely weekend warriors — only appreciating it as we drive through on the way to somewhere or, worse, tearing it up with ATV’s in the name of ‘recreation’. If we unplug from our modern life and immerse ourselves in the natural world (preferably for at least a day), if we open our senses and heart, we find ourselves being rearranged in a subtle, beneficial way.
Extended time in nature reveals something essential about ourselves — and the longer we’re there, the more we will likely discover. (Especially if we’re on our own.) At the very least, we will almost surely feel more fully alive — inspired, awake, energized, connected to something larger and grander — than we are when wired to our computers and phones.
Go out for a hike, said the small voice in my head. Go reconnect with your soul.
Among the noble redwoods of the canyon, amid the fragrant chaparral of the coastal ridge, and gazing out over the wild majesty of Big Sur, my day was far richer than had I spent it indoors, working on writing or any countless projects that beckoned. There’s little that shifts your perspective of life and grants a broader, inspired view than standing on a summit at the edge of a continent.
Similarly, coming eye-to-eye with a swift-winged falcon is guaranteed to evoke your wild soul — that essential part of us that sometimes gets lost in the crush and hum of the modern world.
My body felt tired but mind and spirit were aglow. As always happens, the sensual, healing embrace of nature enfolded me in a sense of authentic well-being. I came home once more to myself — a man fully appreciative of life and its interconnected beauty.
Photo: Getty Images