I am on a kick now, reading books about nature. Specifically, I have been reading books about man's connection to nature.
We spend so much of our time talking about connections. Connections via phone, email, facebook, skype, and other electronic forms. Connecting to distant other beings that we can communicate with remotely - in our own time, responding at our leisure, and being friends at a distance. We talk about our connections to electricity, electronic media, newspapers, radio, television, and the internet.
We need to spend more time on connections. But not the ones I've already mentioned. We need to spend more time connecting with people we care about. These connections have to occur with the phone turned off, the email disconnected, and not whilst multi-tasking. The people we care for deserve to have some of our real time - without distraction. I spend much of my time carrying people here and there, fixing dinner while helping with homework, working while chatting, eating while perusing facebook, and folding clothes while nagging the kids to put their shoes away. The people we care for (spouses, children, friends, as well as co-workers, students, and acquaintances) deserve to have us really listen when they speak.
We also need to spend more time connecting to the natural world. As a field biologist, of course I consider this a crucial element of life. But, as I read more of the literature on how our exposure to the natural world informs our lifestyle, choices, mental and physical health, and relationships - it reinforces that it is worthwhile to drop everything and spend some time outside - in green space. That is, where the bugs, frogs, birds, grass, flowers, trees, and wild things are. Where the wind blows your hair and you need sunscreen. Connecting with nature grounds us, calms us, and reminds us of what is important and what we can let go. Connecting with nature enhances all of our well-being.
We can take this one step further. We need to go outside with the people we care about (leave the electronics behind). You want your sulky teen to speak with you? Take him or her fishing. It is quiet. You aren't stuck staring at each other grasping for words. The whole pace of your interaction slows down and conversation can flow to what needs to be said. Even more important, the calm and the occupation with fishing (and not confronting one another) can allow us to hear and what we need to and allow us to withhold a response if it won't help. If you've ever been a teenager, you might recall that sometimes parents need to hear about our children and reserve judgment.
If you are fishing, the conversation ebbs and flows around where the fish are active and fits easily around your activity. The self-consciousnes of bringing up embarassing or sensitive topics eases when you are fitting a conversation around the birds, fish, and flow of the water. Nervous around someone? You can't stay that way while you float around a pond or wander through a forest.
Sometimes, it isn't other people that we need to connect with. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or down? Take yourself outside. Take a fishing rod, a kayak, a sketchbook, a journal, your lunch, or nothing at all. Take a vigorous hike, an aggressive paddle, an intense fishing trip, a gentle walk, or plop yourself down somewhere. Take in your surroundings. Listen. Sniff the breeze. Shake your hair out. Take it easy on yourself by soaking up the world around you and reserving judgment for some other time.
Mental health, physical health, environmental health - it's out there. You just need to slow down a bit and it will come to you.