The Silence of Nature


As a parent, husband, friend, business owner and enthusiast of many (too many) things, life is very busy.  My ancient, almost pre-historic lap-top (at a grand age of 4 years old!), housed many important artefacts:  photos, emails, letters, bookmarked pages, favourite tabs etc. and just kept on getting slower and slower until eventually it became ineffective. 


Surely, our brains sometimes feel like my ancient laptop?  Dr. John Medina is his book Brain Rules, supports this very notion.  His contemporary, Richard Newton called the maelstrom of information, busyness and chaos, the 'Vortex of Garbage'; a place where the mind becomes gripped into the circular motion of normality and therefore ceases from exploring change, inspiration and creativity. 


Nature is our passport to exploring aspects critical to our humanity.  Dr. David Strayer in his study with Ruth and Paul Atchley of the University of Utah, explored how a simple walk through a forest can improve creativity and problem solving by up to 50%.  Their study demonstrated a cognitive advantage if we spend time immersed in a natural setting.  Medina, a microbiologist by trade, again supports this with his comments that 'activity in an outdoor environment is the very thing that creates pathways in our brain'.  This points to not only a sense of wellbeing, but the ability of the human race to survive and evolve. Nature provided us with our flight or fight response. It is as natural to us, and as difficult to erase as the herding instinct of a Border Collie. It makes you think doesn't it.   


Social media makes us social.  Office cubicles make us innovative.  Classrooms make us smart.  Do we agree or disagree? 

For humans (children and adults), we need to explore nature as part of our everyday ritual in order that we create the neurological pathways that are essential for our physical and mental development.  Do we really get wet standing in the rain?  Our skin is a waterproof membrane.  We may, of course, feel a level of short term discomfort, but what are we really gaining.  For one: Resilience.  Resilience is a top of the list attribute for corporate executives, high flying entrepreneurs, for parents in their children, for ourselves when facing an unexpected challenge (which is as almost certain as the next second in time).  Resilience is the cornerstone of learning, otherwise we would have simply given up and died a long time ago. 

Resilience can be developed, but only through exposure to perceived risk of failure or danger.  Nature provides the perfect classroom for building resilience in young people.  I know from personal experience that the harder the challenge, the more grateful you become of what luxuries are available to you.  Through my work, I have watched kids develop and grow through incredible personal challenges.  The power comes to you, when you muster the courage and have the sponsorship of your parents to face the fear. 


Active kids who are frequently exposed to the outdoors will turn into resilient, creative problem solvers!  But there is a balance!  There is no point walking down the garden path if you don't get a chance to smell the roses.  I embrace boredom in our work with kids.  If kids are continually fed answers and activities, they don't have the chance to be creative, to digest their environment or explore who they are.  A typical antidote to "I am bored" is to squeeze in more activities for the kids.  We can easily fill a week with activities.  I would argue that we are simply boxing our kids into a schedule rather that providing them with an environment by which they can learn, improvise and adapt.  Many parents become nostalgic of their own memories riding their bikes to sports, climbing trees and not coming home until the sun went down.  The key ingredients to these memories?  Time and freedom.  There is potential risk in letting your kids explore the world, but there is also definite risk to their future if you don't.   


We teach ourselves bad habits - we say what we believe yet act out of habit.  The internet and social media us full of great advice: perfect tips and tricks to be better humans, better leaders, better parents, just better, yet in society we face the same challenges of equality, racism and inequity.  It brings to mind a quote"Be careful of your thoughts, for they turn into your words.  Be careful of your words, for they turn into your actions.  Be careful of your actions, for they turn into your habits.  Be careful of your habits, because this becomes your character.  Be careful of your character, for this becomes your destiny." Amazing words and the power of the compound effect on our lives (read Darren Hardy's book on this).  To tackle this, make a choice, a choice that you can control.  Choose to believe in what you are doing and if you don't, why are you doing it?  Choose to embrace nature, because it is YOUR nature and a significant part of why we are here today.  If nature feels foreign, you need to dig deep and question why you have drifted so far from it and what that really means for your existence.  This Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan refers to, is all we have.

Back on track

  1. Go for a walk and take a mental note of how you feel when you return.
  2. If you are facing a decision or challenge, go for a walk, jog or rest in a natural setting away from modern distractions.  Allow your mind to concentrate on your breathing and senses of sight, sound, smell and touch.  See if this has an impact on your decision making.
  3. Send the kids out with a job on an inclement/ windy/ rainy day.  Make sure it will take them at least 15-30 mins.  What do you notice about their appetite to do so, their willingness to return and their overall attitude when they return.

Author: Mark McOnie, Branch Out, May 2016

Mark McOnie