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Three Things That You Can Do to Transform the Planet and Your Life

by Catriona MacGregor(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 184 - July 2011


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
- Marcel Proust

In this age of technological advancements, our connection with Nature has diminished alarmingly. We are becoming strangers in our home - the Earth. We miss the subtle changes in the wind, the calls of birds, the smell of the fragrant ground beneath our feet. We spend more time indoors on computers and TVs, which leaves little time for deep inner journeys or quiet walks in the woods. Yet, who we are and what we are - the very root of our identity-springs from the Earth.

Mountain views

We are suffering from a lack of contact with nature, a nature-deficit that not only leads to ill health, but also gives us a sense that something is missing in our lives. Our children are especially vulnerable. We are witnessing a whole new generation that is growing up 'hooked' to an electronic device of one kind or another. According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "children today are spending practically every waking minute (7.5 hours per day) - except for the time in school - using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device".[1]

It is no coincidence that another study found that Americans spend less than one hour a week outside. Our reduced time out-of-doors is directly linked to the increased time that people are spending in-doors on electronics.

Astonishingly, the recurrence of Rickets, a disorder that weakens children's bones, and which was prominent in the 17th century, is returning! The cause: children rarely play outside, and without a healthy dose of exposure to the sun, their bodies are unable to create the vitamin D they need for strong bones. A recent BBC news report indicated that 20% of children tested in the UK had bone deficiencies linked to low levels of vitamin D.[2]

 Other physical, emotional and even spiritual ailments from lack of nature contact and outdoor activity include:

  • Increased levels of stress and illness;
  • Obesity and sedentary lifestyle;
  • ADHD and apathy;
  • Sleep disorders and fatigue; and
  • Lack of creativity, and even a loss of a sense of life purpose.


I will add to this list as well those 'intangible' but nonetheless essential human experiences of beauty, joy, and inspiration that can come from observing a brilliant orange hued sunset, the shining stars in a midnight blue sky, or a shimmering rainbow.

Fields

Our disconnection from nature is, of course, also leading to all kinds of environmental harm. This is why it is vital that we understand not only how important our role is in nature's sphere, but also how crucial nature's role is in our lives.  Usually, when we speak about protecting the environment, we speak about habitat protection, reducing carbon emissions, and banning toxins. These external acts are absolutely essential, but without a vision for ethical goodness toward all life, the 'environmental cause' is unlikely to succeed in the long run.

We do not need to try to solve global environmental problems on our own; Nature can be our partner in the truest sense of the word. Partnering with Nature means opening up to an ongoing conversation with nature, to listen and learn from the smallest living being to the Earth herself.  Solar power is one of the best examples of how we have learned from a natural process - photosynthesis - to create sustainable, non-polluting energy from the sun. Photosynthesis means a "synthesis of light", and is the amazing method that plants use to create a life-giving elixir, while also producing (as a by-product) oxygen.[3]

 John Todd, the founder of the New Alchemy Institute, also studied how nature cleans and purifies water by using all natural processes and living organisms including: sunlight, bacteria, green plants, and animals like fish and snails. The Living Machine(r) system[4] (based on Todd's original concept) installed at the Port of Portland will reduce the facility's water consumption by treating up to 5,000 gallons per day of wastewater. In addition, the beautiful system will educate people about the tremendous ability and cost effectiveness of a natural water purification system.

We will be able to solve problems, such as global warming, when we gain greater awareness about who and what we are in relation to the Earth and other living creatures. We just need to start paying more attention to nature and gaining a better understanding about natural processes and cycles. By learning from and working with the wisdom of trees for example, we can heal and transform our ailing atmosphere. Trees, of course, have been on Earth for over 400 million years. Beyond the miraculous feat of supporting an atmosphere that allows complex life to exist, plants create ecosystems that provide shelter. For example, the presence of trees along a streambed shades the stream water, lowering the temperature, which allows the water to hold higher-levels of oxygen. Higher oxygen levels support more life.

Ensuring that trees are protected and restored is a key step to saving the planet. An innovative and profound new program to clone the world's most ecologically valuable tree species and plant millions of copies is underway by a group called Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (www.ancienttreearchive.org). The trees will store carbon while creating healthful oxygen, preserve ecosystem diversity, and be used for medicines.

Beyond maintaining ecological balance and good health, Nature also offers us an opportunity to connect with the sacred. Nature is a portal to an infinite and timeless realm where we can gain insights into a larger reality that is beyond our day-to-day comprehension. Great spiritual leaders like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus all experienced divinity directly by spending time in nature. Buddha gained enlightenment under a fig tree. The tree became known as the Bo tree (short for Bodhi or enlightenment) and the site was later named The Immovable Spot. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. Moses had direct communication with God through a burning bush. For thousands of years, people went on pilgrimages that took them through, and to, some of the most beautiful natural places in the world. Today people are experiencing life transforming benefits from going on spiritual nature retreats and Vision Quests.

For careworn and busy people, a Vision quest or nature retreat may simply offer contemplative and peaceful time - away from demanding schedules and ringing phones. Others embark on a quest as a way to deal with important life passages, such as death, divorce, or change of career. Some people partake in a spiritual based quest as one path of soul seeking. As people unwind in nature, new revelations about their lives and the universe come to the surface.

A series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive. People on wilderness excursions report that just recalling outdoor experiences increased their feelings of happiness and well-being.[5]  

The cure for what 'ails us' is right outside our very doors!

Are we here to dominate the Earth, and destroy or ignore the 'lower' animals and plants?

I do not think so.

Rather, I believe that we have been uniquely endowed to care for the great diversity of life, and even the Earth herself.  I believe that we can bring greater life, joy, and wisdom to the Planet. Our role on Earth is to appreciate, learn from, and care for, the great diversity of life as if it were our own life-because ultimately it is.

By adopting a new paradigm that holds that all living things have innate value, and by applying what we learn from nature about how to live on Earth, we can save the Planet, and ourselves.

I invite you to see the possibilities for yourself and to view nature with new eyes. My hope is that by gaining a greater awareness of your own connection to nature, you will join me in fostering a new ethic-one that reveres all life on Earth.[6]

References
1. Tamar Lewin, If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online, New York Times (January 20, 2010), accessed online at www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/education/20wired.html   on April 8, 2011.
2. BBC News website Rickets Comeback Due to Lack of Sunshine Exposure, accessed on line at  http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/hampshire/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9363000/9363679.stm on April 8, 2011
3. Before the ancestors of plants, oxygen in Earth's atmosphere was a rarity, and without an oxygen-rich environment, life was constrained to simple, one-cell organisms.
4. The Living Machine is now trademarked by the Dharma Group Inc.
5. University of Rochester. June 4 2010. Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2011, from www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2010/06/100603172219.htm 
6 Some sentences of this article were excerpted from author's book Partnering with Nature: The Wild Path to Reconnecting with the Earth which can be ordered from the publisher, Beyond Words.

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About Catriona MacGregor

Catriona MacGregor is a Vision Quest leader, nature guide and author. To Learn More Go To www.naturalpathfinder.com. Her book Partnering with Nature: The Wild Path to Reconnecting with the Earth won "Best Social Change Book 2010". Catriona is the co-author of Healing the Heart of the World: Harnessing the Power of Intention to Change Your Life and the Planet, along with Carolyn Myss, Thich Nhat Hanh, et al.  She weaves together her knowledge of natural history and sacred traditions to benefit all life on Earth. Catriona's Vision Quests and nature outings combine visits to sacred sites and wilderness areas. She may be contacted via catriona.macgregor@comcast.net     www.naturalpathfinder.com

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