nature

the importance of outside

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in my last post, i discussed the importance of personal finance in living a secure and happy life. today i’m writing about another important element of (my) life – being outside. outside encompasses a variety of experiences, and i believe that connecting to the world outside allows us to live planet-conscious and meaningful lives.

in our day and age, there is a strong division between inside and outside; indoors and outdoors. inside is where we live and work. as a society, we are based indoors – it is our base level experience. we wake up indoors, we eat indoors, we bathe indoors, and we sleep indoors. indoors is predictable – in our country it is climate controlled, hopefully safe, and sheltered from the changes in the world outside. i don’t think homes are evil or anything. climate control is awesome – it helps us humans live longer and be more productive. but for many of us in america, climate control is the rule not the exception. we expect to be indoors, and thus outdoors is often an inconvenience.

we conceptualize outdoors in relation to indoors. it is anything other than our base life experience – anything outside of our homes, places of employment, stores, etc. outdoors is unpredictable, sometimes unsafe, and often inconvenient. we battle the forces of outdoors to neatly maintain our indoors. in times of extreme outdoor conditions like heat or rain or cold, we rush into our cars to get from place to place, which are mini-indoors machines.

we describe certain people and experiences as ‘outdoorsy’ which means rugged when we talk about an experience, or deriving pleasure from being outdoors when we talk about a person. but even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as ‘outdoorsy’ surely appreciate the gifts available outside of our homes – beaches to lay out on, nice summer days to have a barbecue, views of mountains from cabin porches.

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this dichotomy of indoors versus outdoors is deeply ingrained and i posit contributes to much of the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing. for every other species on this planet, there is no such thing as indoors and outdoors – the world is simply one, big experience. sure, others make nests and dens to protect themselves from the elements, but humans have taken this coping mechanism to the next step. we have intellectually disengaged ourselves from the world around us, and this indoors vs outdoors dichotomy is a corollary of man vs nature. the world outside as something to be overcome rather than coexist with.

outside is the way of the world, not the force we humans are fighting against. our lives depend on the outdoors more than anything else – more than technology or medicine or development. our food comes from outside and much of our medicine is derived from outside and the building materials for our cities come from outside.

part of my path is challenging this way of thinking and working to reintegrate myself with the world ‘outside.’ some call this concept rewilding, but i’m not going to use that term today because it may connote extreme lifestyle choices like living in a hut in the woods. i think that’s great, but i also think there are ways to ‘rewild’ our perspectives that don’t require us leaving our cities or suburbs or jobs or modern entertainment.

outside, outdoors, nature, the wild, the environment … how can be start thinking about the experience of being outside our buildings differently? if we can understand outside as a unique experience that is readily available to us everyday, something to learn from and enjoy rather than conquer and manipulate, we can shift our concepts of ourselves and our homes too.

there are many different outside experiences, ranging from walking through a parking lot to camping in remote wilderness. we may think of our developed or civilized outdoors experiences as worth less or not as meaningful as more natural experiences like parks and wilderness. in this way, we’ve continued to even further parse out these experiences in our collective conscious. we believe that national and state parks and forests are neat little regions where we can visit to experience nature. the problem with this thinking is we then place less value on the nature that is right outside our door. this allows our lawmakers and developers to manipulate a great portion of our nation, while leaving parks intact as ‘wildlife sanctuaries.’ remember that before we starting building in this country, it was all wilderness and it was all outdoors.

as i sit at my kitchen table writing this, i see three squirrels foraging for leftover pecans in my front yard. brown thrashers are mulling around in the shrubby growth, and my redbud tree is swelling with pink buds. last night a barred owl woke me up calling loudly. and i live right in the middle of the city. it would be silly to dismiss this wildlife because it’s not in a park.

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many teachers and friends have offered this idea to me, and i pass it on to you to challenge your ideas of nature, wilderness, and outdoors: the wild does not exit only in parks and forests and mountains – it exists all around us at all times. we don’t have to drive three hours to have a nature experience – it is always available to us any time we step outside, if we can allow ourselves to believe and simply notice. it is available inside our homes and selves, too.

this radical shift in perspective places us and our communities back into nature. nature and the wild are no longer relegated to far away parks – these experiences are part of the everyday outside in parking lots and back yards and downtowns. the everyday outside isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a space just as sacred as our beloved mountains and shorelines. if we give value to the everyday outside, we can start to breakdown the dichotomy of indoors vs outdoors. outdoors can be as much a part of our home or base experience as the indoors. it can be a classroom or a living room or gym or even a kitchen.

here’s the problem – it’s fine and dandy to read this in an article and to understand, but how do we actually change a lifetime of conditioning? how do we go about un-learning behaviors that separate us from the everyday outside? we must practice.

a practice that works well for me is called sit spot. the reason i like this practice is that it’s much more open ended than meditation, which makes it easier for me to commit. sit spot means choosing a designated location outside (the closer to your door the better), and sitting in that same spot daily or often for as long as time allows. even just five minutes is worthwhile.

by returning to the same spot every day, we start noticing. we see the same tree drop leaves and hibernate and bloom. we see the same chipmunks burying nuts and we get familiar with the calls of the birds that live nearby. choosing a spot in your backyard will overtime reinforce the idea that the everyday outside is wild and sacred.

my sit spot is literally 10 feet from my back stoop on a comfy wooden rocker my grandfather built. sometimes i just sit in the rocker and watch the world around me, but often times i journal or draw or read or sip a drink. it doesn’t matter so much what you are doing, but that you are making the commitment to being outside in the same spot every day. it’s also good to visit your sit spot in all kinds of weather – as they say, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing!

another practice i’ve been trying recently as part of my morning ritual is stepping outside on my stoop for just a couple minutes every morning. as my coffee is brewing, i open the door and simply stand there, taking in the noises and weather. i always make a point to look up at the sky for a bit too. this grounding practice is helpful first thing in the morning, when we’re often accustomed to picking up our phones or laptops to start our days.

this post got very long, so in the future i will write about how this shift in perspective helps us care better for the planet and understand ourselves. remember – you don’t have to be into hiking or camping to be outdoorsy or to attune to nature. all you have to do is make a conscious decision to practice noticing the everyday outside. change your mind about where nature exists (it exists everywhere!)

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