My son and I often sit in the same room where I do my work, and he reads and plays on his Kindle. Seemingly really happy, he laughs and giggles at the people on his screen for as long as I’ll let him. While I believe there’s a correlation between the rise of ADHD and increased prevalence of screens in our daily lives, I’m more concerned about how far these little gadgets draw us from each other and our active participation in life. Screens offer us convenience, entertainment, information, and also continued distraction. Maybe you’ve seen it too in your relationships with friends, your partner or your kids. But what do we do about all this space between us when we are right next to each other on the couch?
Can we bridge this growing gap between our spaces of intimacy both with others or even ourselves? How do we bridge the gap between our bodies and our minds, or our divergent worlds made of paved roads, versus pine-laden paths?
In a study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, George W. Burns focuses on the efficacy of Nature-Guided Therapy practices in sessions for couples and families. While we don’t hear about it much in the media, using nature as therapy is not really a new concept, and though we also don’t hear it circulate around water bubblers and playgrounds, it offers individuals simple tools that can be learned and used to connect individuals and heal relationships.
By entering into nature, we remove ourselves from the environments involving our daily problems. We step into the healing backdrop of nature as individuals, and consciously re-connect in this peaceful and restorative environment. From there we can enjoy activities that help us set our differences aside, find common ground again, and build a deeper level of intimacy than we thought possible.
Gregory Bateson in his book Mind and Nature believes that humanity is experiencing a degradation in the “pattern(s) which connect” by existing in industrialized environments far removed from nature. This separation impacts our behaviors and our relationships. In nature, for Bateson, there is a glue holding everything together. That glue, in daily life as we know it now, is progressively weakening.
We need to reintegrate; we need to restore that connection to nature, to others, and to ourselves by involving our most loved sensory experiences in nature, according to Burns. It’s really that easy. If we connect to what speaks to our feelings of enjoyment, be it the smell of wood burning, seeing a butterfly or wild animal run by, or by looking at the stars, our pleasure centers in our brains are activated, and if we can find a common enjoyment with say, our kids or our spouse, we can reconnect there in that happy space of shared ground, and in so doing, strengthen our intimacy.
We may happily occupy the same physical space as our loved ones, but many of us are dodging that great big elephant in the room called emotional disconnection that occupies the space too. It is leaching the depth of our relationships with others, with ourselves and it’s leaching the life out of our planet. But there’s hope yet. When you go out into nature with others, get out of the noise, the distraction, the crazy schedules and the have-to’s, you can take a breath, regard a flower, climb a mountain together, share an invigorating splash in a river, see each other’s smiling faces in the warmth of the sun or the glow of a fire, and feel that deeper, truly alive and energizing connection that unites us all to each other and to our natural home.
What is your favorite activity you’ve enjoyed outdoors with your family or your friends? How do you feel afterwards, and how does time spent in nature impact your connection to others? Is it time to go back and do it all again? Leave a comment about your thoughts on your connections to others and nature. I would love to hear them!
We love nature. All of us. I can’t think of one person that says they hate being outside. And for good reason, It’s where we come from, and comprises all that we are made of.
We ARE nature.
But here’s the thing. We live in an electronic world. As much as I would love to deny my child screens in all forms, it’s just not practical. I am just as wired up as anyone, and I love the convenience. I love having what is a virtual library of information accessible to me at all times. We regularly come up with bizarre questions that we love finding the answers to and when we get those answers, we are all the wiser.
Technology helps our kids become smarter. More curious. Connected to a great big wide world of people and lifestyles, cultures and gobs of information. It’s all done through electronics.
But everything comes at a cost. Shortened attention spans. Wanting everything immediately. Decreased amounts of exercise. Bad farsightedness. Less social bonding. Sleeplessness. Potential hyperactivity. We all know the con’s because we deal with them everyday.
I fought screens for a really long time. I treated them like the evIl I thought they were, but we all know that it’s silly to think we can live a life without screens and still be a part of our society. The internet has connected all of us virtually, and this is how we communicate now with friends, distant family, and business connections throughout the world. It even connects me to my own child who lives on the opposite coast during the school year. Because of the internet, we are both cursed and blessed.
This project aims not to FIGHT screens, the internet, or our automated lives, but to work WITH those things. Electronics and the internet offer us a wealth of opportunity, information, and connectedness. We can try to live without technological advancement in effort to retain our natural connection to the world, but in aiming to do so, we only disconnect from the rhythms of our society.
So what do we do now?
We already do lots of things different in the name of growth. Sure, we could go to McDonald’s to eat everyday because it’s ready made for us, but we know that isn’t healthy, and we know a real milkshake made from home tastes better than a fast, pre-made mix any day because there’s nothing quite like the real thing.
This screens thing should be treated the same. Instead of hating on technology, let’s use it in a balanced way, and commit to nature as much as we do our email, Facebook time, Sunday night shows, or our Candy Crush.
The virtual connectedness is amazing. It’s why I can work from home, see and talk to my kid during the school year, see family 5 states away, and freelance write for someone in the UK. However, the natural world is where I come from, and my natural rhythm comes from the seasons as they change. The water I drink comes from it too. When we are outside we feel alive and restored. There’s something amazing about losing time in the woods, tinkering in the food garden underneath the sunshine, having a run in the cool morning air, and listening to crickets at night. Technology will never give us that. No matter how gorgeous a screen, or video. It will never be the real thing.
The mission here ought not be to banish electronics, our advancements and the opportunities all of this presents for us, but to maintain our connection to our natural world. We need to strike a balance. One that continually sways between our connectedness both natural and virtual. If we can create that working balance as we raise our children, and take care of ourselves, our children will learn to do the same. Our children in nature will grow up to be tech-savvy, grounded, strong, independent, wise, and devoted both to themselves, the planet, and everyone on it.