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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Biophilia: Connecting with Nature

I came across the word "biophilia" twice in the past couple of days in totally unrelated places.  This is both a new word and new concept to me. Having never even heard of this before, when it comes to me in such an "in my face" way, I figure I better pay attention.

Biophilia is a term coined by Edward Wilson. He used it to describe what he called, " our innately emotional affiliation to living organisms". The definition has been expanded to include the natural landscape as well. Apparently after decades of scientific research, Wilson's theory holds true. We do, at a level we don't fully understand, need direct experience with nature. We need to feel a connection with nature in some way in order to feel healthy and happy. Hmm...

So then I got thinking about this time of year.  In my part of the world, we are experiencing quite an incredible fall/early winter. It has been unseasonably warm, we have had rain not snow ,except for one brief storm that brought out my mittens, and it feels more like spring than winter. Perhaps it's because of the sunshine and warm temperatures that the short days and early darkness seems even more pronounced. For some people, these long days of darkness can signal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) So that got me thinking....

Maybe it isn't the lack of sunlight we miss so much when the the the sunrise comes later and sunset comes earlier in the day.  Maybe it's Wilson's biophilia theory coming to light.

In our "modern lives", most people spent most of their working day inside, within climate controlled atmospheres. There isn't a lot of interaction with nature happening during the workday for many people. During the shorter days of winter many people drive to work in the dark and come home in the dark.  In my opinion adults are not generally as good at "being" as we are at "doing".  So when we spend time outside we often have to associate that time with a project.  In the summertime we do pretty good. We plant gardens, we tend to plants, we go swimming, or go for a walk, we sit in the sun talking to neighbours or reading a book, we cook outside on the barbecue.  All those are "projects"- things to accomplish while outside. Maybe we just wanted the "excuse" to go outside and connect in some way with nature.  During the summer, spring and early fall, we often can still "sneak in" some outside time either before or after work.  Definitely we "pencil it in" in for the weekend or days off.

But during the winter we loose the light. And that means we loose our "excuse" to get outside. We say that we hibernate indoors because of the cold. But I'm not sure I'm buying that reason these days.  I think it might be because in the absence of light, we're not sure what we could "do" out there.  We haven't really created any projects that we can do outside without sunlight. So we drive to work in the dark, come home with our headlights on. Walk through the garage, into the house, turn on the lights and sit in front of the T.V., or do some sort of inside "activity" until it's time to go to bed and get up and do it all over again. It's too dark to go outside. Hmm...

There aren't a lot of natural ways to increase the sunlight hours. At least not that I know of!  But maybe if we changed our thinking a bit we could find that we could have a nature connection even when it's darker earlier. Maybe we would find that if we spent the time outside, even in the dark, we wouldn't feel the same sense of sadness and depression that we associate with a lack of light. Certainly would be worth a try!

One activity that doesn't require sunlight is star gazing!  And the nighttime sky in the wintertime can be the most amazing of all.  In fact, in some parts of the world, the Northern Lights are amazing right now. This website can give you some great information about what's happening in the winter sky Maybe you could put on your mittens and pull that lawn chair out of the garage and just sit out there and admire the darkness?

Today's photo is courtesy of Liz Corbett. She's a Professional Bowenwork Practitioner , an amazing photographer, and, in my opinion, a Wise Woman. Thanks Liz!  Her pictures show her deep connection with, and understanding of , nature- perhaps her biophilia. Her photos aren't always taken in brilliant sunlight. Perhaps if you went outside with a camera either early in the morning or after work, you might find a "reason and an excuse" to have an "outdoor project". There have been some interesting photography courses initiated lately to bring children closer to nature in this way.

True connecting with nature isn't about "doing" anything.  It's about being.  If you are an adult, or a child brought up in the techno-age, you might have to get there gradually. At first you might need some creativity in order to find a way to "do" things outside in the early darkness. Although I think it might take less thought than it first seems. Ultimately, it's our mindset we need to change.  Maybe we just need to consider that we might need to be out there for a bit in order to feel healthy, happy and alive.

When I saw Liz's picture today, I wanted to just sit underneath that tree. I wanted to lean my back against the trunk, shut my eyes and listen and feel nature.  And I don't know about you, but when I close my eyes it's dark anyway! So it really doesn't matter whether it's sunrise, sunset or somewhere in between. It's about the connection to something much bigger than self. Maybe that's all we need to embrace the darkness of winter!

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