When was the last time you spent an entire day outside? Can you remember your last trip to the beach, or where you last went hiking? Have you ever fell asleep while laying in the tall, cool, grass as you watched the billowing white clouds shape shift against an ocean blue sky?

Some might say these are frivolous ways to squander time, costly and unproductive or considered a child’s activity; in truth, these activities are as necessary as air, food and water for sustaining the health and well being of everyone, of all ages. But part of incorporating nature into our lives for the purpose of improving our health is understanding how society has pushed us to be isolated, not just from nature, but also from each other.

The Natural World, Our Natural Place

Have you ever noticed how kids and dogs always know how to have fun? It’s something of an innate ability, and it’s by virtue of not having forces, like society, pull them out of their natural place. As any kid (or dog) would tell you, you can’t really have fun until you’re outside. That’s where the adventure is.

Celebrating our love for nature by letting the rain splash on our face or catching snowflakes on our tongue is as much tradition as it is nutrition for our mental health. Its in our DNA to be outside. We crave it. That’s why kids can’t wait to get outside to splash in the puddles. We are outdoor animals, and nature inspires us to be ourselves in the purest form.

And it’s because of our relationship with nature that we are able to fully express ourselves. This can be during play, or during contemplation. Consider the often overwhelming sense of wonder when we look up at the stars at night. Deep inside, we ask the eternal questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Nature inspires this thought, just as it stirs excitement in our souls.

The Balance Between the Individual and the Connection

To answer those questions, as only we can do for ourselves, we need to remember our connection to nature. We need to feel the expanse of the sky above us, feel the earth under our bare feet, the sun on our skin, the wind in our hair. We need to remember our connection to each other.

But what draws us from this is another carnal need: privacy. This balancing point is where the frustrations of modern society pulls the individual in, and causes aches in the soul.

Humans that live packed into tight spaces with very little or no privacy often forget how to stop, be still, to listen and observe in silence. And its no wonder: under such a constant barrage of distraction and manipulation, from school to work to church and their obligations and responsibilities, then family, friends and the latest trends that require attention, then every media on the planet that seeks to plug one in to the stream of advertisements for every conceivable product, all clamoring and vying for our attention.

Modern privacy is caricature of real privacy – the type that inspires the wonder aforementioned. Instead, the ceaseless demand for decisions is exhausting. The digesting of the information overload requires energy. This is a reality bred by our own creation, and is one that must be consciously guarded against. Rather than privacy being provided by nature, it is forced by our own hand, and this is dangerous. 

We tend to fear crossing the street, preferring to be safe with what we know. We suspect any culture or geographical location that is not familiar to us. Bigotry, greed and fear are unseen, but now compulsory factors to our “survival.” Our basic human need to feel secure and truly safe is distorted due to a lack of connection with our natural world, and this means we take action to protect ourselves by searching out a place of release from society’s pressure.

The Paradox of a Interconnected, Completely Individual Society

What happens, then, when our natural connection to nature its stymied by a false sense of privacy and illusionary isolation? A prickly, disconnected populous, unsure of who is who and who is worth trusting.

A modern example is to notice next time you’re in traffic how many cars have one occupant. There is a reason we prefer private vehicles. Its the same reason no one likes being in a elevator with one or more other persons we don’t know. We now all have an invisible zone around us that, should anyone enter into, we react defensively. When we step into a full elevator, we hold our breath. We keep our eyes down and stand on front of our feet in anticipation of the doors opening and escaping the brief but barely tolerable invasion of our space.

Consider a movie going experience. The instant we step out of a dark, crowded movie theater we feel our spirit expand like being released from invisible restraint. After so many hours of ‘sharing’ even the largest spaces with hundreds or thousands of other people, sooner than later we must escape the masses. Our mind feels ‘free’ as it spreads outward, filling the increased space around us. There is even a physiological reaction to filing out of a stadium after a concert or football game. No matter how much we love the music or the sports, most of us breathe a sigh of relief when we get outside. We feel even better when we get back to a private, familiar space with one or two trusted companions where we can relax and be ourselves.

In some ways, this is natural, in others, this is a sensation exacerbated by the lack of true connection with each other and our world. Yes, every person needs a moment of private solitude to reconnect with themselves at one point or another. But just as seriously, we need to allow ourselves time to truly be private, truly ponder, and truly enjoy the world around us. This soften us, and connects us. We are at our best health, mentally and physically when our eyes see green and blue, as light and color create their own energy, having their own wavelength and frequency.

Say Goodbye to ‘Modern’ Necessities and Embrace the Self

And this really is what shows the point: we must embrace the self, the true self, once again, and this self exists in nature. Every person needs to relax, exhale, and let go of posture and pretense, ideology and intent. Stop making decisions. Stop sharing. Watch one sunset and keep that moment for yourself.

We are not truly healthy until we feed the whole body and mind. Being part of nature is the life experience; one must get outside, find a place to celebrate life, in person, in private, where one can truly relax.

Software is in the works for sending the smell of food, flowers, and spices through digital media, but currently, Instagram and Facebook are not capable of physiological interaction. For the time being we the only way we can enjoy the scent of pine on the breeze or feel the cold splash of ocean spray on our faces is to actually go do it. Lets face it, no app will ever replace nature. So just do it.

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon.