Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Meditation: At Close Range

On this earth day I am reflecting on the tremendous amount that has been written about the value of encountering the natural world (of which we are a part)close-up. Winifred Gallagher in, The Power of Place, quoted James Swan, an environmentalist and psychologist who advised that his prescription for inner conflict was spending time alone with no activities or distractions in a natural setting. Swan observes that as we spend most of our time indoors, we become estranged from "the vast mine of meaning, art, metaphor, and teaching that we evolved in."

According to Gallagher, signs exist all around us suggesting that we long to reconnect with our natural environment. In exploring our growing attraction to nature-based activities, as well as the benefits of such endeavors, Gallagher cites a study conducted by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan who concluded that nature has a profoundly positive impact on both mental and physical health. Acts as simple as listening to a bubbling brook, feeling a gentle breeze ruffle your hair, lifting your face to the sun, following the flight of a butterfly, each of these experiences can be soothing and restorative.

Psychologist and researcher, Marc Fried, found after identifying the significant factors that enhance the quality of our lives that while the strongest predictor of life satisfaction was a good marriage, the immediate surrounding (the natural environment in particular) rated as the second strongest predictor. Not everyone is graced by a garden in the backyard, a beautiful view, or a park nearby. However, most of us can bring some degree of nature home by including live plants or fresh flowers in their living and work spaces.

According to Sam Keen, in Hymns to an Unknown God, the organization of the human soul reflects the world in which it is contained. He observes further that most of us have been cut off from our natural environment, working at desks and confined to artificially cooled and heated buildings for much of our lives. Keen believes that in order to sustain spiritual health we require expansive views, close contact with the elements of nature, the wind, water, the sun, lightening storms, and "the reassuring sight of something that grows from seed to maturity."

On this beautiful, warm and sunny Earth day in Maine I prepare to head outside to count my blessings...