Sunil watches the sunrise and sunset everyday. But, living in the heart of the city he hardly has any choice but to see the sun rise from behind a billboard through his bedroom window, or set behind the garbage dumps through his office window.
Sunil works in a luxurious air-conditioned office, but he feels lethargic all the time. However, whenever he goes on a nature trek he feels fresh and full of energy despite having to walk for miles everyday, with just five hours of sleep.
His strained eyes from prolonged computer use are soothed by the greenery surrounding him. He watches the sunrise and sunset from various breathtaking natural landscapes everyday. Sunil finds medicines of little use to alleviate his city-related ailments – he is convinced that nature is his real therapist.
The word nature originates from the Latin, natura, meaning “the course of things, natural character.” Natura is a translation of the Greek word, physis, which refers to the way plants and animals grow on their own accord. Nature refers to a general realm of different types of plants and animals as well as the processes of weather, geology and cosmology like wind, rain, sunlight, mountains, rivers and the stars. A natural environment may, therefore, include biotic [living] and abiotic [non-living] components.
Nature helps to nurture the human body, mind and spirit.
Physical health benefits of nature. Psychologist Chrisann Almeida says, “Exercise and increased physical fitness associated with most kinds of nature-based activities leads to better health. Research also shows that outdoor exercise has a more beneficial effect than indoor exercise [e.g. running on an outdoor track compared to an indoor track].” Nature boosts immunity and cardiovascular function. Views of nature from hospitals help to reduce recovery time and the number of days spent in hospital, including the quantity of medications required to treat patients. Naturopathy medicines and treatment are believed to cure ailments with minimal or no side-effects
Psychological benefits of nature. Staying in proximity with nature helps to reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] and psychosomatic illness [including irritability, restlessness, insomnia, tension, headaches, and indigestion]
Spiritual benefits of nature. William Wordsworth believed that “nature was mankind’s best moral teacher.” Walt Whitman echoed Wordworth’s views on nature when he said, “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.” Nature teaches without preaching, through subtle nuances. For example, Rose Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy political family, pointed out, “Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” Ralph Waldo Emerson advised, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”. Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” In Thomas Hardy’s novels rural folk have a sense of sweet simplicity in them as they blend well with nature which is primitive and pure.
Taking into consideration the bountiful benefits of nature, it’s not surprising that over the centuries a plethora of natural phenomena have been deified and worshipped.
Alienation from nature
Helen Keller said, “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Leo Buscaglia said, “I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things… I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind.” Contemporary urban folk, however, often prefer the indoor world of gizmos and gadgets than the outdoor natural world.
A shift from the pastoral to the urban landscape, work and academic pressure and the attractions of the digital age have alienated us from nature. Children prefer to watch TV and surf the ‘Net instead of climbing trees, bird watching, star gazing, or splashing in a pond.
As Almeida cautions us about the harmful consequences of alienating ourselves from nature: “Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory postulates that since we humans have evolved from nature we share a common ancestry with all things natural. Earth is the flow of natural systems. Wherever that flow stops, life as we know it, deteriorates or dies. We are a part of the natural scheme of things and, therefore, the same holds true for us. Biologically speaking, nature is designed such that, natural systems are self-correcting and purifying.
Balance and restorative powers flow through all forms of life. This includes human life of our body, mind and spirit, as well as our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Our body too has the capacity to renew itself when rested, however these days we cut ourselves off from nature, lost as we are in this concrete jungle. We tend to prefer instant non-natural substitutes ignoring the harm that they cause… [These] artificial substitutes exclude the organic energies resulting in deterioration, sooner or later.” Cutting off from nature cripples us in body, mind and soul.
Nature deficit disorder
The phrase, “nature deficit disorder,” was coined by author and child-advocacy expert Richard Louv, who in his extensive research discovered that today’s kids are more likely to know about global environmental perils than about the ecosystems within a 10-mile radius of their homes, and more likely to understand complicated video games than to be familiar with creatures they might find crawling around under an actual rock.
Louv’s bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder is his exploration of how contemporary society has become estranged from the natural world. In an interview Louv described “nature deficit disorder” as ‘The cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children’s experiences, but not just individual children.’ Families too can show the symptoms – increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world. So can communities, so can whole cities. Really, what I’m talking about is a disorder of society – and, children [are] victimised by it.”
All of us need to work upon our naturalistic intelligence. Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard University, US, added an eighth intelligence, naturalistic intelligence or nature smart to his Multiple Intelligence Theory. He described naturalistic intelligence as “The human ability to discriminate among living things [plants, animals] as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world [clouds, rock configurations]. This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. I also speculate that much of our consumer society exploits the natural intelligences, which can be mobilised in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of make-up, and the like.” Gardener identified Charles Darwin as a prime example of having naturalistic intelligence.
Moral: try to be your own Darwin!
Be Nature Smart
Love for nature should be inculcated as early in life as possible. Encourage your child to observe nature, collect objects from the natural world and label them, notice the changes in the environment, engage in gardening, care for pets, go on nature hikes, plant trees, engage in projects to save wildlife and nature, visit zoos, the botanical garden and museums of natural history. Or, buy books and encyclopedias of nature and wildlife, binoculars, magnifying glasses and microscopes to study nature instead of Barbie Dolls and video games. Set an example to your children by not polluting the environment, buying eco-friendly products and preferring wildlife programmes to meaningless soaps.
Anand Pendharkar, founder-director of the nature club, Sprouts, says, “We give children seeds and ask them to grow them. After a year we make the children plant the saplings on a river bed. When the plants grow we encourage children to make butterfly gardens and before long birds come and make nests there. Even in cities people can do simple things like making a bird loft and place bread crumbs or uneaten rice on it. Planting marigolds in the soil will attract honeybees, birds and squirrels to come and feed on them.”
Mumbai’s “gardening angel” Preeti Patil has cultivated a garden out of a garbage dump. Her Bombay Port Trust terrace garden has over 150 varieties of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants like the mango, guava, banana, strawberry, lime, bottle gourd and cauliflower. These trees have been planted on a layer of soil over pulverised kitchen waste – a rich source of manure.
The miracle: even a wasteland can been converted into a green paradise if only you have the will to be close to nature!
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