Be the nature you seek


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?


9 responses to this post.

  1. I heart you. You are me: “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.”

    I love to think about the bacteria in my body – this connects me to the planet. Microbes fill every niche on earth. This is also what connects me to the universe. I think about the ice and water that is likely floating throughout the universe, and how they must be cultivated by bacteria of some kind.

    When I’m back in the city, I try to see myself as nature – the buildings, sidewalks, pavement, cars, are all human creations, like a beaver’s dam. Our creations are just more intricate than a beaver’s dam, interchanging parts on a bio-chemical level. Of course, this doesn’t serve to relax me in the way that you described, atop a scenic hill. Parks in the city are a great place to get a dose of nature.


    • There should be a holiday on which we show appreciation for our gut flora. 🙂 I know the scientific approach doesn’t speak to everyone (and maybe some people are totally grossed out by the fact that they are home to, what, trillions of microbes?), but I think appreciating the nature around and inside of us is important to understanding and respecting our place in the world.


      • Posted by treeoflife1 on 01/10/2011 at 13:40

        Like Life Itself, Sustainable Development is Fractal

        In just the last couple decades, we have learned that fractal geometry – and its related field of chaos theory – forms the very basis of science. “Chaos,” as its name implies, is the study of processes that appear so random that they do not seem to be governed by any known laws or principles, but which actually have an underlying order. We now know that the physical, biological, social and even the economic universe is not random, and we’re beginning to determine just what that underlying “code” is.

        Scientists are learning that everything natural is created by the immutable laws of fractal geometry. This includes static elements as well as energy flows, living things, and their behavior patterns. They are all built on self-similar patterns that replicate each other on increasing and decreasing scales, sort of like Russian nesting dolls. The various levels of scale are not all exactly alike, but they are all self-similar and build one on top of the other based upon a fundamental “code” that reproduces itself on different scales. In both the metaphysical and practical sense, the entire universe is built by fractal geometry.


  2. Posted by treeoflife1 on 01/10/2011 at 13:16

    Nature Bats Last: We are Part of Nature Too…

    The key to my optimism is the belief that inevitably the movement of human emotion between the extremes of confidence in human dominance over nature, and the fear of nature punishing us for our exploitive tendencies, will result in a more balanced view that as part of nature, humans have the capability to be a positive evolutionary force and to learn from and influence the natural world around us, for the benefit of society today, as well as future generations of all species.

    The cornerstone of our new-found knowledge of sustainability is the philosophy of “doing more with less,” and the best sustainable models to study are the earth’s natural systems. By emulating the efficiency of nature, we can sustain our species at a desirable standard of living and at long last, the often repeated cycle of natural resource exploitation, and the rise and fall of civilizations from the dawn of human time, will be broken.


  3. That is beautiful! I agree completely. We are nature, it is part of us. We have become so disassociated with it that we are like a love sick child, too grumpy and too stubborn to realize that we are in the wrong.

    It reminds me of a moment this weekend, when I was outside in my yard and noticed like 100 birds in our big fir tree. Every little branch held a bird, and they were chirping and flitting about. I did not know that there could be so many birds here in winter, so much life. I just stood and watched them for a long time, appreciating them.

    Thanks for reminding me that I am nature too.


    • I agree; we’ve stopped paying attention to our own humanity in relation to the rest of the world. It’s too bad. We live in an amazing world, and we are ourselves amazing coincidences of biology and circumstance…just as everything else is.


  4. Very nice! Earth, water, fire, air, space. The 5 elements. The constituents of nature. The constituents of us. We are nature! You are right.


  5. […] you live in a big city, nature in this resplendent abundance may not be so obvious to you.  But wherever you are, there’s […]


  6. […] address the issues our various behaviors are causing, I feel like we need to first recognize that we are nature. Part of it, anyway, caught up in an intricate tangle of cause and effect relationships with other […]


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