You are sitting in an 8×8 cubicle.. fluorescent lights drop a gross yellow hue on everything in sight, noise canceling walls barricade you in deadening your senses while the breakroom emits an alarmingly unnatural smell of leftover something. This may be you, or someone you know.
Time crawls as the minutes of the modern world chew on your soul.
Suddenly, a blue human-like creature peeks around your monitor, and offers a curious knowing smile…
Without breaking eye contact and smiling the whole time, the little thing shoves your monitor briskly off your desk, to reveal a hidden window. Through this magical window, that should not be possible, you see a beautiful overflowing garden of trees, flowers, and plants of all kinds. In sharp contrast to your current environment, this beautiful wonderland is flooded with endless natural light… you are drawn to this place, it feels familiar.
Blue jumps through the window and beckons you to follow. The last of the hesitation fades away and you launch yourself headfirst through the little magic window.
You feel the warm glow of the sun on your skin and notice the rich spectrum of color surrounding you, you hear the soft chorus of life breathing happily and you take in a deep clean breath tasting the natural world. A million years of slow evolution comes into alignment.
You feel at home for the first time in a very long time.
You: “What is this?” you ask your blue guide.
Blue: “In a word, this is nature. You do not belong in the man-made artificial labyrinths of the modern world. Yes, you can adapt and even thrive in any environment because you are human. But your mind, body, and spirit are born from nature… so when you return to nature you reconnect with something ancient and powerful inside you”
“Some believe that the modern world is a step towards the ultimate purpose of returning to the stars. Others believe it is the consequence of too many people wanting more than they need. Perhaps it is both… but the underlying consequence is you are uprooted from the environment that brings you the most peace.
The modern world you live in is filled with hostile media, processed food, artificial lights, long hours of sitting, emotional separation, adversarial politics, and more. These aspects of modern life leverage you away from the natural world and increase physical and emotional stress”.
You: “I know this is all true, but what am I suppose to do… quit my job, strip naked and run through a forest, I would be dead in a matter of days. I know that I have no idea how to survive in nature… regardless of how good it feels at this moment.”
Blue: “True. As with most good things, finding a balance is the best plan. I have an idea for you…
If you cannot go to nature, we must bring nature to you. I will show you how to build a bridge between the modern world and the natural world. Your senses inform your body’s stress response, so the more senses we engage in nature the more effective it will be at reducing stress. This is why completely submerging in nature is the best option.
Let’s look at how we can build this bridge to nature by focusing on: Plants, Lighting, Sounds, and Animals.”
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Plants are the most obvious and effective way to build your bridge to the natural world. They engage sight, smell and touch. They all have differing benefits too… filtering your homes air, reducing mold, humidifying, producing oxygen, and more.
For many of us, nothing is more beautiful than a living wall garden that feels like a piece of living art, overflowing with green and hints of vibrant colors throughout. Research has shown that just the visual sight of even a single desk plant will measurably lower stress levels
Our sense of smell powerfully influences our emotional state, and many plants especially flowering plants give off subtle and beautiful aromas. Our integration with nature and the downsides of being separated are much easier to understand when you take a second out of your day to breath in the natural aroma of a flowering plant.
The physical sensations of caring for plants and seeing them grow over time as we water and feed them unlocks a special part of human nature. Even if our day is long string of unexpected disasters, seeing the slow steady growth of our plants brings a subtle inspiration, encouragement, and feeling of energy. Being a physical part of their daily progress gives each day a feeling of moving forward.
Start small and work your way up. Plants are like starter pets and if you have never had one, its best not to buy fifteen to start… even though it would be fun for the first couple of days. A few great beginner plants are: Snake plants, Dracaena marginata (aka: Dragon Tree), and Ponytail palms. These all are pretty tough plants that allow you to learn the basics before leveling up.
Our bodies naturally follow patterns and rhythm. One of the most important is our sleep cycle which is heavily influenced by daylight, and the darkness of night. The unnatural lights of the modern world are constantly pulling at the edges of this rhythm making it hard to stay in sync.
The presence of sunlight cues our brain to release feel good chemicals, our bodies have adapted to recognize the presence of sunlight as a very good thing. In the same line of reasoning, darkness gives us an ancient feeling of danger and unknowing.
Natural sunlight feels great on our skin, and plays a role in how our body produces Vitamin D for immune, bone and muscle health. It also boosts our mood, increases our energy and decreases the effects of stress.
This is pretty straightforward… spend a little time in the sun. If you are one of us that live in the shadows of a giant city and much of the sun is blocked out for the day, you may have to work a little harder for your sunshine.
Aside from natural light, it’s important to also consider the use of your home and screen lights. A good rule to follow is match your ambiance with whatever light is happening outside. This will keep your light / dark cues straight in your brain and makes falling asleep and waking up much easier. So as the sunsets dim your lights, and when you are ready to sleep make your bedroom as dark as possible. Blackout curtains, eye masks, don’t leave the TV on, and remove any devices that could light up in the middle of the night.
Listening to the sounds of nature pulls our attention outward and connects us to a present peaceful moment.
The soundtrack of nature emerges from a spectrum of living instruments that are in constant movement. The soft sounds of water moving over half exposed rocks in a stream, the rustling of wind through a grove of trees, and the distant calls of migrating birds. These sounds have an unexplainable effect of reminding us of where we come from and what matters.
The steady consistency of these sounds is in part why they have such an impact on us. They are the same sounds we would have heard yesterday, or 10,000 years ago.
While natural sounds calm us, modern noises like car honking, construction, planes, etc, have the opposite effect and can induce minor stress responses throughout the day.
There are endless live recording of nature settings from around the world available on all music platforms. How you mix them in throughout your day is up to you.
A great first step is to changing your morning alarm (especially if it is a loud siren like noise) to a flock birds singing, or a morning forest soundscape. This wake up call is a much more peaceful way to return to consciousness.
Your morning and evening commutes can also be a source of stress reduction if a couple times a week you swap out a podcast with a nature soundscape. Noise cancelling headphones can add to the effect. It can lead to a hilarious moment if you see people arguing on the subway but all you hear is birds chirping at each other.
Lastly, if you want to mix nature into an active meditation it can be very peaceful to sit quietly and attempt to separate and identify the source of each sound. The better you get at this focused meditation the more relaxing and rewarding it becomes over time.
Understanding that we are an extension of the natural world, and more specifically the Animal Kingdom, its not surprising that connecting with other animals has a powerful emotional and mental effect on us.
Animals have served as sacred idols throughout history, they hold a consciousness that is like ours, but far more tuned to the natural world. Their ability to sense and understand the natural world is on a level that is deeper and more meaningful than we can achieve as humans. This understanding for them in many ways simplifies what it is to exist, what it is to want, what it is to protect, and what it is to love.
To have an animal as a companion in the modern world connects us deeply to one of the most amazing parts of the natural world and is immensely beneficial to our overall well being.
Get a puppy! (or cat, cats are super cool, too). Not that we needed science to tell us this, but it’s proven that having a companion animal leads to much better health and well being, including lower stress, better immune systems, lower blood pressure, lower rates or heart disease and cancer, better mood, and much more. They are the best. Other amazing pets include turtles, turtles, and turtles. I just got a turtle by the way.
Bonus: Return to nature when you can.
Nothing can replace the experience of truly being in nature and fully disconnected from the modern world. There is something deep inside us that wants to be in nature. Find a way to bridge your modern world with the natural world and you will immediately feel the benefits. A daily sit in your garden, a weekly hike through a local nature path, or a long weekend deep in the woods. The amount differs for each of us, but when the wild calls make sure you answer.
The stress relief benefits of the natural world are immediate and long lasting. The deeper you journey into your roots the more peace you will find. Don’t go alone, our friends and family are as much a part of the natural world as you. The more of them that understand the benefits of building a bridge from the modern world to the natural world the more beautiful and powerful that bridge will be.
Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review
The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan
Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest)–using salivary cortisol and cerebral activity as indicators
Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction
Ten reasons why we need more contact with nature
The Sounds of Nature
Pathways through which light affects learning and mood
Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health