“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” -Edward O. Wilson-
We cannot ignore the heritage of our bodies. Our bodies are the result of millions of years of evolution, from even before the point two hundred thousand years ago that marked the beginning of the homo sapiens species. In the space of a few centuries, which is very short on the scale of time, we have changed our way of living drastically. I believe that our bodies and minds are suffering from all the changes in our modern world.
We are Distancing Ourselves from Nature
Our homes are equipped with electricity and lighting which can disconnect us from the natural cycles of the days and the seasons. Before TV and the Internet, the sky had many more viewers! When you think about it, modern humanity has access to so much more visual stimuli than our ancestors. Year after year, they lived with and saw the same scenery, the same small group of people in a very restricted area before any type of transportation existed. Now, our brains need to process hundreds of different sceneries that flash past as we drive from one point to another. And that is nothing compared to everything our brain has to deal with when we watch all our different screens! Communication devices work by using different types of waves, some say that these affect our bodies in a negative way. It is a testament to our brains and to our bodies when we think of how they are still quite functional, seeing as how they have had to adapt over a very short period in our history.
People have fled the countryside to live in urban centers where they are rarely in contact with nature. Lawns and parks are beneficial to us, but they too, have been transformed by our interventions. When we landscape, we decide where to put the plants and we undo ecosystems in the process. In nature, plants grow symbiotically in areas where they will thrive and contribute to the community of plants, microbiota, insects and other animals.
Try delineating one small square foot of land where plants grow wild. How many different types of plants can you count? Dig a little, how many kinds of insects do you see? You won’t be able to see the microorganisms, but there could be tens of thousands of species hidden there. Thank goodness that there are stewards of the land that have worked hard to establish and protect these nature reserves. One such steward is Pulitzer prize winner Edward O. Wilson. He makes the case for creating many more conservation areas in his book Half Earth. And we can get involved in this cause through the Half Earth Project.
Is This What We Call Progress?
Our deep ancestors, the ones who lived on this earth many thousands of years ago, lived in close contact with unadulterated nature. Our different body systems evolved in harmony with these natural surroundings. I think that our bodies are affected by being disconnected from nature. When trying to learn the causes of many modern health problems, we are often told that the causes are “environmental”. And we shrug our shoulders as if to say, “It’s a mystery, we’ll never know”. I can’t help but think that our minds and bodies are reeling from all the changes we have been subjected to in the name of progress. And we let industry and safety boards reassure us that this latest ingredient or technology is safe. And we buy it—we buy into all of it!
More and more we are hearing how our gut bacteria is compromised and that it can affect many different aspects of our health, including our mental health. Sanitation in homes and hospitals is important, but perhaps we’ve gone too far in wanting to destroy too many germs. Antibiotics, antibacterial soaps, sprays and sanitizers are being overused. We fear bacteria and dirt, but dirt is where healthy food is grown.
Dirt is what our ancestors lived on, providing minerals and probiotics for a healthy gut. We don’t want to go overboard, of course, we know that progress has extended our life expectancy; in part through sanitation. But when I pick a fresh carrot from our organic garden, give it a smear on my jeans, make sure that there’s some dirt left on it and enjoy all those minerals—it’s a great feeling!
So Many Questions
I don’t think that we can rewind our society back to the days before industry and technology. But I do wish that we could slow down our pattern of progress at any cost. Should we blindly accept medical, economic and technological progress made for the convenience of the consumer and the benefit to the economy? What about how it affects nature? How it affects the way we live in our communities? How it affects communities across the world? How it affects our health, including our mental health? More and more, we are seeing conflicting studies on how these changes are affecting us. Things are going much too quickly for us to get a clear picture of our situation.
For now, if we are to make the best of it, we would do well to incorporate nature into as many daily activities as we can. Many findings point to the benefits of getting out and spending time outdoors. (Read more here.) Just hearing sounds made by water, insects, birds and rustling leaves is very soothing to us, perhaps on some deep, cellular memory level. Nature is always there, patiently waiting for us to enjoy its bounty.