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Friday, August 12, 2022

Something happens when we go to the field

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Something happens when we “go into the field,” something that cannot be bought or sold. Maybe we’re just walking through the woods or lounging by a lake. We might ride to work on a leaf-strewn bike path, or cross a road that circles the city where dry stubble seeds are strewn across the cement. When we realize something, it’s that our heart rate has dropped, that the mind begins to wander, or that a headache that doesn’t give our temples a break is beginning to subside. When we talk about how nature affects us, we are probably referring to moments like this. Moments when we finally relax, when we let go, take a deep breath and switch off. It is somewhat fanciful and historically dubious to use modern science to understand beliefs of the past, but it is entirely possible that the healing nature of ancient times arose from similar sentiments. The senses turn green again and the tireless adrenaline that has kept us almost on the verge of panic begins to thin in the blood.

The simplest question is why? One of the first scientists to formulate it was the American biologist EO Wilson. Beginning in the 1950s, Wilson traveled the world studying plants and insects. Although his mission was to gather information, it was during these voyages that he formed the core of his “Hypothesis of Biophilia”. Human love of nature is innate, Wilson asserted, a product of millennia of evolution in which we have lived in intimate relationship with the elements, creatures, and natural habitats. Our instincts, physique, and senses are perfectly attuned to perceive natural threats and seek safety, protection, and the nutrients that life provides in the environment in which it exists. Moreover, nature is the substratum of our fantasies, which intertwine in our languages ​​and whose elements and animal life recur in fables and religions. “Nature is the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction,” Wilson wrote. Simply put, Biophilia expresses our love for life. Not just our own lives, but also the intense, vibrant life of wild organisms, species, and places with which, in Wilson’s words, we feel an innate “and compelling call to bond.”

Wilson gave a name and a psychoevolutionary background to the appreciation of nature; later, starting in 1990, other scientists set about unraveling the mechanics. Thanks to the compilation of data from blood samples, heart rate measurements and patient reports, scientific studies are beginning to accumulate trying to prove that green and blue places, whether parks, forests or coastal areas, can reduce stress and restore attention span, reduce tension and improve the mood.

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These insights are very compelling and have prompted me to be a little more honest about my own relationship with nature, especially when I was younger. For my part, I not only played the cliché of the average teenager by venturing into a wasteland in the middle of Metroland, I saw myself as a cursed goth heroine. What I felt was what I now recognize as depression, although at the time I lacked the words to define or understand it. My devotion to hiking through the woods intersected with my changing temperament, exacerbated by the trauma and prejudiced experiences of small towns. Only when I look back can I fully appreciate how invigorating and vital these quiet and friendly spaces of woods and fields were.

I still suffer from constant bouts of insomnia, self-critical thinking, and anxiety, and for this reason I rely heavily on natural environments to manage stress and maintain my sanity. Certain routes provide tranquility and pull my mind out of their small and restless labyrinths. I have become intimately acquainted with the paths that start from my home on the outskirts of Bristol and meander down to the river, and the paths that wind from my office at the university to the quiet green fields, where the signpost my mobile phone and the invasive 4G can not penetrate.

I am amazed at what science tells us about healing through nature, and I instinctively identify with many of its findings. But I’m also skeptical of some of the bold claims made by researchers. It is dangerous to assume that one treatment can work the same for everyone and that we all experience health and illness in the same way. Our excitement over how natural light, color, or scent affects our mood irresponsibly leads us to treat people like plants that need a solution: a drop of magnesium, eight hours of sunshine, and two inches of water a week, and we’ll bloom as promised . Could it be that our culture, our beliefs, the stories we share, and our personal traumas and desires shape how we feel and the types of relationships we seek? And what about people with chronic or ongoing or difficult-to-treat illnesses who may spend years trying the right mix of medications and treatments to ease symptoms, achieve remission, or simply find a way to avoid pain life? ? Nature’s healing is often sold to us as alternative medicine or advertised as something to help us get off medication. There are many good reasons to be critical of the pharmaceutical industry and its obsession with profits, but no less true is that many drugs save lives. The language of “cure” can be disconcerting to those who may never see themselves “cured” or want to nip prescription drugs in the bud.

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