Being Connected to Your Authentic Self Through Nature
It’s almost Memorial Day and the place where I’m camped near Moab is being flooded with people making one of their few trips a year out camping. As I’m watching them setting up it makes me contemplate the human need for a connection to nature which is so obvious in this annual ritual. As vandwellers and RVers we know how many people buy RVs and then almost never use them; usually on Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day–and sometimes not even that much. Nature has an almost magnetic pull on us that we can’t resist but the reality is that we soon find ourselves disconnected from it again no matter how good our intentions.
If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. Eleonora Duse
Recently I was going for my normal daily walk and something happened that put me into a philosophical mood, and I’d like to share it with you. Cody and I had just left our camp and gone about 5 minutes down the trail when we were passed by a group of folks on their ATVs who were out for a ride. I didn’t think much of it at the time because where we are near Moab is a Mecca for off-road vehicles of all kinds; ATVs, motorcycles, Jeeps and just about every kind of motorized Off-Highway-Vehicle you can imagine. We just kept going on our walk.
Along my daily route is a high-point on a rock out-crop that I try to climb every day. There is just something about high-points that have a primal attraction to the human soul. Our ancient ancestors were all attracted to high-points where they could search out game for dinner or to watch out for enemies and predators who might do them harm. Ever since then they have had a magnetic pull on all humans, and I’m no different—twice a day I climb to this high-point for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. From the vantage point of the rise I can see far around me and everywhere I looked I saw RVs that had ATVs or Jeeps parked beside them and also many mountain bikes. I could also see far up and down the dry riverbed of Courthouse Wash which is what brings them here.
Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers – for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. ~ Osho
Often, the silence of the reverie I fall into as I survey the beauty all around me is broken by the scream of those noxious motors. On this particular day, as I was climbing up to my perch on the rocks the group of ATVs that had passed me on the way out drove by as fast as they could go down the wash. That seems to be the magic attraction to them, the high speed they can attain.
As I stood on my little hill it occurred to me that those guys on the OHVs must feel sorry for me, “Poor guy has to walk; he must not be able to afford to buy one of these great machines.” As I thought about them I wondered to myself what did they get for the deep debt most of them went into to buy them and for putting up with the stink and noise of the beasts? And the obvious answer is that they get to cover a lot of ground in little time really fast. On my daily walk I usually go for about 45 minutes and since I am a fairly slow walker I only go about 2 miles. However, these guys really zoom through here so in 45 minutes they can cover probably ten times more distance or roughly 20 miles. But, do they really get to see or experience the country they are traveling through?
When I walk, I make it a point to try to connect deeply with the land under my feet and all around me and savor all it has to offer. I want to participate in the big vistas of the terrain but also the smallest flowers and insects and everything in-between. Beyond their obvious beauty I want to know if they have a message for me; a lesson I can learn. I suspect none of that is true for the ATVers flying across the land.
Now this may seem like just another rant cursing off-road machines but that really isn’t what I’m intending to say. They are just the back-drop of what I see as a much more common and profound problem with our culture today and that is people who are just going through the motions of living but not actually experiencing any of it directly: modern life is very shallow. (Let me make it clear that I do know people who are connected to nature and themselves and also love their ATVs–they are the exception!)
At the core of our being we miss our connection to nature and know being separated from it is killing us so we do the only logical thing and go camping—unfortunately, when we are there we stay as far away from it as we possibly can! Why?
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles. ~Anne Frank
I believe it’s because we are terrified to be alone and quiet with the thoughts in our heads and the feelings in our hearts. Lack of connection to nature is so damaging to our minds and emotions we must escape from them in every way we can so we fill our daily lives with constant distractions of noise and movement. The noise drowns out the voices in our head and the motion distracts us from the feelings in our heart.
This is especially evident in our addiction to electronic devices. Think about your daily life, is there a moment in it that is not full of some kind of distraction? Or worse, do you find yourself constantly “multi-tasking” just to be really sure you are never alone with your thoughts and feelings?
I think this is the best explanation for the huge popularity of RVing and off-road vehicles. We can actually be in nature and hope to get a little healing from being in it, but we can also insulate ourselves from the possibility of confronting our inner selves while we are there or in any way touching nature. In other words, it’s the perfect way to take the noise, movement and distraction of our city lives into nature with zero risk of being alone with our inner demons that society inflicts on all its members:
- High levels of terribly destructive stress.
- Anger and resentment at most people around us.
- Worried for the future.
- Tormented by our past.
- Unwarranted fear of personal harm.
We find ourselves in a Catch-22; society is slowly killing us on the inside, but the chaos of destruction they cause in our hearts and heads make us fearful and unable to take the only medicine that can heal us: connection to nature. Even worse, Society has only one real solution to offer, take a pill. Fortunately I think nearly all of us know that isn’t an answer at all. We need something to slay the dragons in our head and hearts and silence the voices that are killing us. That thing is nature. (However, there are times when our bodies and brains are physically broken and pills are the very thing we need–when that’s true, get them first.)
No doubt there are many ways to find healing in nature, but the one that worked for me, and that I recommend to you, is make a radical leap and get as far away from the source of your illness as you possibly can by living in a car, van or RV. Vandwelling leaves you no choice but grow closer to nature! I know how scary and full of difficulties that is because I’ve gone through all the fear and the problems. I’m not denying it’s very hard, all I’m saying is it’s well worth it, and I can assure you that it works; there is healing for you in nature. A life that is happy, joyous and free is worth it!
The reason we celebrate Memorial Day is to remember the many veterans who gave their lives in service to our country—and that is something we must never lose sight of. But I suggest we also make it a day when we celebrate our rising from the figurative death of disconnection from ourselves and nature. Make this Memorial Day, not just another day of hiding and running away from yourself, but the first day of a whole new life of transparency and connection.
Suggested Reading List:
You don’t have to take my word that nature is good for you and civilization is bad. I strongly recommend these books to get rid of all doubt in your mind. Click on the link to get them from Amazon:
Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality
Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization
Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs
I think part of the appeal of ATVs, dirt bikes, Jeeps and such is the owners are escaping everyday restraints. They aren’t allowed to rip and tear around the neighborhood, or on the job, or in school. Same with the folks who blast around in boats. WOOOOOO!
And there’s the gearhead attraction. Something to tinker with.
I get it. Just don’t do it around me.
“My question is, why would they go camping in nature with their main goal to drive over it at 30 mph on a screaming, stinking machine?”
Because they aren’t really there to be in nature. They’re there to be in wide open spaces where there are no speed limits, stop signs or noise restrictions.
Very true Al.
As usual Al, very wise!
That’s a great essay, Bob! I understand walking pretty much the way you do. Thanks for including pictures that illustrate the details found only at the pace of a pedestrian. Nobody would see that flower or notice the porcupine any other way. Seeking out nature loses much of its value even at the speed of bicycling, which I also do. Why people use ATVs for recreation escapes me, but your explanation is the most likely. I encourage people to walk for healing and as a form of meditation, and I practice what I preach.
Thanks Calvin, I owe a lot of healing to being an avid walker.
I used to race dirt bikes and the main reason we’d go out to the boonies was due to legal restraints anywhere else. It was a hassle.
Just bought a 16′ travel trailer. Still have my sailboat. My bikes and kayaks. I go slowly in all of them and quite often just hike. I really don’t like using engines anymore. Man needs to move to live.
CAE, we are a lot alike, as I’ve gotten older I also have slowed down and spend much more time smelling the roses.
Yes, man need to move!! Our epidemic of obesity proves that.
Great post Bob.
In your travels, how hard is it to find peace and quiet away from ATV’s and generators? This is of concern to me as I need peace & quiet for my work (and sanity :-))
Ron, the problem is I like to be close to town for the internet and easy access to supplies and that makes it much more likely to be a problem. Normally I can do it no problem but here I knew it would be bad because Moab is one of the best places on the planet for off-roading.
“addiction to electronic devices”
And you’re self-admitting and happy paying $190 a month for internet service, lol.
JD, guilty as charged! But, I do walk 4 miles a day and have no problem at all being totally alone and quiet with myself.
Nothing wrong with electronic devices or ATVs–unless you are using them to run away from yourself. Then they are doing you harm.
My reply won’t be true for all, but here’s a different perspective. I associate motorized vehicles, especially the smell of the old 2 stroke exhaust, with ‘fun’. In far northern MN, for example, when I was little it would get quite cold and the snow would get too deep to walk through without special snowshoes or skis. With the snowmobiles, which I started riding very young, we could go out in the weather – in the snow and cold – and travel the distances to the nearby woods and fields that it would take my little legs far too long to have carried me without help.
This then translated in the warmer months to the 3-wheelers that used to be more common then. Also with the 3-wheelers I could go out – just fast enough that it was much more difficult to be eaten alive by the rampant ticks, mosquitoes and horseflies present up north, or I could also get through swamp/bog conditions sometimes. Some of where we went was pretty remote and it was safer to be on a machine (for a kid out solo in the sticks anyhow) also due to the black bears that roamed around.
Those machines, for me, were a ‘bridge’, so to speak, to getting more easily into the areas of nature where a hike would have been vastly more unpleasant or not possible. I loved to ride the trails through and deeper into the woods! I think those ‘toys’ brought an association of nature and independence for me, odd as that may sound. I also associated engines with my grandpa (much beloved by me), who was a heavy equipment operator.
Despite the fact that I’m a machine-head, (I’d made them my profession!), I also love a hike through the woods, especially in my soft-sole moccasins, and am a big fan of grounding to the earth. I would love an electric-assist bike for further-distance forays because I wore myself out in my previous profession and tire out easily at this point. So I guess for me, those types of machines can be kind of a tool to accomplish more with nature and I’ve always loved them because of it.
Magicwolf, motorized vehicles are just tools and of themselves they have no intrinsic positive or negative nature, that is determined by the intent of the user. As you’ve described them in your life, your intent is very good and so the tool is very good. Unfortunately, I think you are the exception and not the rule.
For most of the people I see it isn’t about connecting to nature, it’s about controlling, dominating and subduing it. Some very bad ides we owe to Christianity and science.
I understand the attitude you’re mentioning (about dominating and subduing).
I didn’t used to, but I now tend to consider the unpopular-with-both-factions-mentioned-above theory that the planet is alive.
I am what they call an HSP, I find nature to be one of the few places I get any relief and peace from the people energy/noise. Not necessarily always by the machines they use, just the current common-crowd energy in general which unfortunately tends to not be positively-oriented a lot of the time.
I think if people would work with nature, for positive goals, instead of wishing to dominate both it and others, the amount of progress we’d have in so many areas would be phenomenal.
That porcupine in the tree is adorable, by the way 🙂
Very well said Magicwolf! I’m just glad Cody had the sense to leave him alone!
Thanks, Bob, I really enjoyed reading this. I understand the appeal of motorcycles and ATVs; it’s fun to go fast and zoom around. I’m not really a fan of them because the noise is obnoxious. I hope they spend a little time seeing the beauty around them, and the stars at night.
You might really enjoy Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker and The Man Who Walked Though Time. Wonderful writer.
Mary Beth, Colin Fletcher changed and molded my life into who I am today. In the early 70s I spent 6 weeks rafting and backpacking in the Brooks Range of Alaska in what today is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Backpacking was just starting to become a national craze so each of us in the group had studied Fletcher like our Guru and his books were our Bible.
I owe much to him! I haven’t read his books in probably 40 years, if I could just find the time I would read them again today.