Language says a lot about how we think. I often hear phrases like “spending time with nature” and “being with nature” from people who genuinely love and respect the great outdoors. I understand the sentiment, and yet I wonder: how long has it been since we saw ourselves as nature, as natural beings? Could this sense of alienation have something to do with our dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the planet?
I can see the difficulty, of course. We have modified ourselves and our world to a remarkable degree. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not still, in some ways, the nature we’ve been looking for everywhere else. And maybe rediscovering nature in ourselves is another piece of the puzzle in building a more sustainable relationship with the planet and its other inhabitants.
There’s probably more than one way to do it. I find it helpful to be a evolutionist who accepts my genetic proximity to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. I really enjoy watching other animals yawn (OK, mostly the cat) because they look so much like us when they do. Or maybe we look like them. As an amateur anthropologist, I see many of the issues we face in terms of competition over limited resources — dressed up in the ideologies of politics and religion, but otherwise similar to conflicts in other species. As a factoid junkie, I like knowing that I am colonized by a unique assortment of bacteria in symbiotic relationships with my body, and that my blood bears surprising similarities to the sea water in which life originated. All these are things that make me feel connected to the non-human world around me.
But for you, perhaps reconnecting is simply a matter of breathing, feeling breath and blood flow through your body, or looking closely at the texture of a leaf and being reminded of the tiny cross-hatch creases that make up your own skin. Maybe it’s just paying attention to the fact that you are a living being, with more similarities than differences to other living beings.
Granted, it’s not the same as going out and spending a week (or a day) in the wilderness (or a mild mannered open space) without any other people. When I’m truly alone, on top of a hill with nothing but wild grass and trees around me, my brain unclenches and all my pent up anxiety over being around other people seems to flow out through the soles of my feet. But few of us live in circumstances that allow us this connection every day. Trying to see yourself as nature is another compromise of sorts: a change in attitude rather than a change in situation. I figure it can’t hurt.
Do you see nature in yourself?