Over the many years that I’ve been enjoying Wellness Walks from California beaches to Ozark mountain trails, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Ever more people are tuning out nature and tuning in to whatever it is they simply must hear on their personal listening devices.
Isn’t there enough noise in your life already?
Post-industrial humans spend the majority of our lives feeding on the digital teat: computers, cell phones, E-readers, video games, TV, etc, ad nauseam. Our hours spent unmediated further shrinks with the deployment of every new technological distraction. Meanwhile, the time we devote to being in the natural world diminishes apace.
So why on earth would we want to waste our precious moments amongst redwoods and warblers, shorebreak and wildflowers listening to that song—again—or yet another podcast? Walking, breathing and simply being in nature all have a calming effect on the nervous system, something everyone who lives in the modern world needs, and needs badly.
With our near constant attention to digital devices we are, individually and collectively, rewiring our brains to respond to incessant stimulation. Which means that we are training ourselves to sustain a low-level state of hair-trigger alert:
I’ve got to answer this call because it might be an emergency! I better respond to that Facebook post or my friend will get peeved! I have to check my e-mail because I’m expecting a date/a job offer/something unexpected that could change my life forever!
This does not make for a well-modulated nervous system, a healthy body or a resilient mind. A nervous system on perpetual alert makes for a human that’s always a little anxious, and who needs that?
Nature Rewards Those Who Unplug
Walking in Tilden Park a few days ago I heard a faint rustling in a blackberry-thick redwood dell. I turned to glimpse an adolescent stag, two skinny prongs jutting from between his big soft ears. I froze in my tracks, hoping he wouldn’t flee. Oh so delicately, and from a safe distance, the stag pranced around me, stopping now and then to listen and sniff. I kept still. We both stared for awhile, taking each other in. Then off he went.
Close encounters with wildlife—even the humble park deer—are gifts to be treasured. They can transport us to the world of our primal selves, if only for a moment. If my ears and consciousness had been occluded by some piped-in human singing or joking or lecturing, I wouldn’t have heard that rustling behind me, the deer would have gone unnoticed. I would have missed out.
Do a nervous system reset
So, the next time you head into the great outdoors, leave the iPod at home. Allow your nervous system to rest and recover. Let your senses experience gentler auditory pleasures: rain-soaked eucalyptus trees creaking in a winter storm, the hoo-hoo of owls echoing down a canyon, the rustling of dry grasses in a late summer breeze, the wooshing flap of a hawk’s wing overhead.
If all that is not sufficiently compelling, remember that much of the United States is rattlesnake country—and that is one sound you don’t want to miss.
© Lisa Martinovic