I’m currently reading Blue Mind by Wallace Nichols, which is about “how being near, in, on, or under water” affects the brain. I didn’t find the beginning interesting, but towards the end, Nichols talks about how people feel when they “connect” with nature. Some of these passages really resonated with me. I’m putting them here because I sometimes cannot find the words to describe how full (emotionally?) I feel when I come back from trips, from daily runs to multi-day trips, in nature.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that because man’s “higher and transcendent nature” is “part of his essence,” occasionally we can access the mystical consciousness William James described. Maslow called these moments peak-experiences, and described them as “non-striving, non-self-centered, purposeless, self-validating, end-experiences and states of perfection and of goal attainment.” Psychologists studying these peak moments believe that they share certain characteristics: a complete focus of attention; an absence of fear; a perception that the world is good; a feeling of connection and even merging with the environment; feeling humbled by the experience and fortunate to have participated in it; a sense that time and space have altered and one is immersed in the present moment; a feeling that the experience is real, true, and valuable; flashes of insight and emotions not experienced in daily life; and a realization of the meaningfulness of the experience and the significance for one’s future life. When we access these states, we see ourselves not as separate but as “embedded” in our relationships with everything in the world; we are part of everything, and everything is part of us. (233-234)
Peak and plateau experiences in nature are remarkable not just for their momentary impact, but, more important, for the effects they have when we return to our regular lives. In the middle of a busy day, on the streets of a large city, or in an office, with our eyes locked on the screen of our smartphone or tablet or laptop, taking a moment to remember a transcendent moment when the mind calmed and the heart opened to the beauty and wonder of nature can transport us back to the experience of feeling connected with nature, spirit, the divine, or whatever inadequate name we give it.” (237-238)
The second passage reminds me of the poem “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W.B. Yeats. The narrator describes an idyllic place, Innisfree, in the first two stanzas. In the third, the narrator hits us with his reality: “While I stand on the roadway.” He’s not actually in nature, but pining for IT while immersed in the manmande world. While in the poem, the narrator states that he finds peace in nature, I think this sentiment is true on some level for all humans for it is embedded in our “deep heart’s core.”
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee; And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet’s wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core.