I have worked as a scientist in ecology and environmental evidence-based research for over 30 years. I consider my field-based plant identification skills and capacity to deduce causal effects quite good and I get a buzz out of being able to identify many plants to at least the genus level when out in the bush ……… but my recent experiences suggest that I have missed something – the opportunity of real connection with nature.
I recently undertook two nature-based courses – a 5-day intensive Forest Therapy course in the mountains near Warburton in Victoria and a 5-day Wholistic Animal Tracking course run by Jon Young at Mungo Brush in coastal northern NSW. During these courses I began to experience something that I have largely missed over the last 30 years, despite it always having been there within my gaze. What drew me to the courses was a subconscious desire to have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of nature.
As a trained “reductionist” my field of view has been narrowly focused, my depth of field short and my desire to describe and label the components of nature strong. But what has been missing has being able to see the canvas and not just the dots of paint – the view from my peripheral vision, the sounds from far and near and all around and the rich information that can be gained through engaging all your senses whilst wandering through the bush. Rather than seeing a collection of components and processes, beginning to sense the collective function, awe and synchronicity of nature all around. It’s like diving into a pool rather than just taking water samples from the side.
What is so interesting for me is my response to this. Rather than feeling like each excursion into the bush is an academic test of knowledge I now feel totally relaxed, rejuvenated and even more fascinated and curious about this on-going symphony of the natural world. But I haven’t totally let go of the science because the wonderful thing is that all I have been feeling is the focus of an ever growing evidence base of international research on human well-being and nature connection.
We can now, thanks to the science, increasingly explain the reasons why we feel so good when we spend time in nature, something we have always intuitively known. For example, the science now tells us that my desire to label, categorize and describe was using direct attention which is very energy demanding and limits our ability to absorb other sources of simultaneous information. My new engagement with nature however is involving quiet fascination which has the opposite effect – it enables brain restoration and recovery.
I look forward to sharing with you in future blogs the well-being benefits I experience from my nature connection activities, what the science tells us about how and why we feel this way and how we will be using this information to develop tailored nature connection activities to improve your well-being through our “It’s Naturally You” program.