Connecting With 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
A very good write up. Harmony of mind and body and nature.
Very well said jonthebru!
Well said. While canoeing down the river or trying to savor the tranquility of the outdoors, I often find it hard to retain a peaceful attitude toward those who come out here to make noise, stink up the air and tear up the ground with their machines. Not content to do that, some drive into the river destroying the delicate ecosystems, which include endangered freshwater mussels and other species.
It looks to me that those who destroy mother earth are far away from the road that leads to enlightenment. Hopefully one day they will wake up & figure out their way is NOT the right one.
My regards, Lucy.
Lucy, I totally agree!! The problem is they are in the typical addictive spiral, the problems in their hearts make them seek escape, the escape does more harm than good, so they seek more methods of escape, which does even more harm … so on and so on forever in an infinite loop.
Over time escape becomes more difficult and more painful, making it even more stressful to accept. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that and getting out was no fun at all.
Your experience and mine match. One beautiful thing that can come from that kind of horror story is that many of us who survive the crash come to treasure every minute of full consciousness.
Exactly right Calvin! We soon see that the crash is the best thing that ever happened to us.
In other words, they get themselves in a vicious circle from which is very hard to come out !
Exactly! Been there, done that–many times!
Lucy, exactly like that! Been there, done that–many times!
Irv, I know how easy it is to be angry with them, I have to resist it all the time–and often fail!! But they are children of a horribly toxic society and that’s just how it comes out.
It would be nice if more people would slow down and connect with the natural world. I think it is very difficult for them to unplug from their regular lives. I remember when I lived as they do, I had a hard time feeling like I was on vacation for at least the first 4 days of any trip.
Jim, I call it the “civilized mind” and it is THE toxic source of all human problems and is overflowig into the destruction of our eco-system.
Mr. Pico and I just got back from our morning walk, here at McHood Park just outside of Winslow. What a wonderful morning and reading your message, wonderful too. I have the same thoughts when driving as cars zip past me, what beauty they are missing by not slowing down and enjoying the view. It is such a wonderful experience to enjoy Nature every minute of every day. A healing experience that nurturers the Soul. It makes me grateful for this wonderful life of Traveling and living in the beauty of the world around me.
Sameer, the same blood flows through both our veins and our hearts beat as one.
Two quotes (from Edward Abbey):
“The longest journey begins with a single step, not with the turn of an ignition key”
“Freedom begins between the ears”
——keep taking those walks (and inspiring others to do likewise)!
Thanks Alfred, you gotta love Edward Abbey! I’m a little connected to him where I am at. When we was at Arches this road I’m on was the entrance into the Park, so he has been through here many times!! Perhaps his spirit is speaking to me!!
If he saw Arches today, he’d be extremely displeased! It gets so crowded they have a occupancy limits here and when it reaches it’s full capacity they close the entrance and only let cars come in as cars go out.
Bob, I agree with you about the people that overrun and make these beautiful nature areas noisy and worn down. I have been out west and have been to the Arches about 6 years ago. Yes, it was crowded then too, and it wasn’t even a holiday. Just about any place you go that is special and unusual is going to be busy, especially on holidays and weekends.
Just today I went to Siesta Key beach, or shall I say tried to go. I didn’t want to go in the first place but the other people of my household just HAD to go. And of course I was expected to go too. Well…..it was so crowded that I just kept circling a huge, huge parking lot and people were driving like maniacs trying to crowd each other out for what ever space would come available. I had enough of that and just left. Everywhere I go, whether it’s a park, or interesting area is jammed with people. I think to myself, why are there so many people here that I have to put up with. I just want to enjoy all these beautiful things without all the commotion of ALL THESE OTHER PEOPLE. Then, I think…..well…..I am here too, and I am one of those other people.
But, I still want to get away from all of the agitation, and aggravation of society and the stress of it all. When I am in a nature area for awhile, I become calm and serene after a period of withdraw of feeling like I should be DOING something constructive. Then when I come out of that fores, or off that mountain, I get hit smack in the face with the wall of civilization and all the hustle and bustle of everyday. I want to leave it permanently and free myself of this life that I know is doing me harm mentally. I am sure that I could do it financially, but there are other fears and reservations that keep holding me back. I think, it will have to be like you said in a blog I once read that said, there has to be that one event or series of events that just push you to throw caution to the wind and just pack it up and leave.
Not to mooch into Bob’s blog, but I really hear you.
First, there are plenty of places out west that are still relatively free of people. My goal when I’m out is not to see more than one person/vehicle in a day, and I am usually successful.
Bob recently wrote about Monument Valley which (as his terrific photographs show) is drop dead gorgeous. No, its not Siesta Key crowded, but still there are too many people there for me (and its on the Navajo Reservation).
Someone mentioned Valley of the Gods (which has similar formations), just up the road in Utah. Its not a really a secret, but it gets an awful lot less visits, and its about 90% as pretty.
In short, you’d be surprised what’s out there, still untrammeled and not far off the pavement.
Second, you’re fortunate to have the financial resources to leave, that’s a big stumbling block for most folks. However, you also mentioned, there are “other fears and reservations that keep holding me back”. I have a feeling that if you were to focus on these you’ll be able to overcome them.
Know that if you do, and choose to leave, there is still plenty of space left with few/no people not all that far off the beaten path.
Steve, it’s the civilized mind at work! It’s our enemy, not the people or the ATVs, its the brainwashing that has made us all little, unhappy, robotic ants grabbing for any pleasure we can get out of life.
Perhaps the ATVers did the job they were supposed to do when they reminded you of just how wonderful and awesome our natural world is. Then you reminded us! See how much good those noisy machines and their oblivious riders actually did! Wow!
Marie, it seems like it all works out for good in the end, eh!?
Sometimes I cannot help but get the feeling that these other people in their toxic stupidity are trying their best to irritate the rest of us 🙂
Andy, it’s not them, it’s their brainwashing that makes most of us unhappy so we grab for any happiness we can, even if it at someone else’s expense.
Excellent post, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you for this!
You’re welcome Pamela!
The ATV’s covered more distance, but I think you covered more ground.
Well said Tom!
The big crowds is why we usually try to avoid the most popular places. We can go anytime, most of those ATVers only have limited time and they use it most unwisely. Rush, rush, rush to get there, rush around while there and rush, rush, rush to get home, go to work and do it all over again. Did that for too many years.
I agree totally Leonard! I wanted to leave before the crowds got there for Memorial Day, but the weather was just really bad everywhere but there, so we sat tight.
It’s hard to imagine how fun this could have been for most of them, half the trip was spent setting up and breaking camp!
(by Jesse Leigh Brackstone)
The race is on
The runner runs
His stride is strong and free
He knows not where he’s going
Nor where he wants to be
He races on
He rounds a bend
Sees crossroads up ahead
And indecision slows him down
And voices spin his head
Succeed, succeed the man in green
Signals he must go
But the man in amber says to wait
And he doesn’t really know
Quite what to do
And time moves on
The man in red
Has stopped the race
The flag comes down
The runner’s dead.
Copyright 1972, Hobo Mountain Publishing.
(Written when I was 16 – Jesse.)
Bob I agree with your outlook on slowing down the journey so that you can truly connect with nature. I’m an avid mountain biker and love riding trails all over the country. However, when you are riding, you have to keep your eyes on the trail or you will crash (target fixation). This means you miss out on a lot of breathtaking views especially in a place like Moab.
So… I always make a point to do several hikes as well so I can take in all the views and fully soak up the experience. You just can’t do that when everything is flying by whether it be 20 mphs or 100 mphs.
Joe, it sounds like you’ve struck a wonderful balance, which is both the most important thing of all to do and also the hardest!
Well said, and I agree with you. It’s one of the reasons I only own a canoe and kayaks. I dislike motorboats because they go too fast and are too noisy and polluting. Every time I am quietly paddling through a small waterway, seeing all the animals around me and the perfect sky above me, I find my soul and reconnect with my Source. It’s something I do regularly, and most of our camping trips involve canoeing waterways of one form or another. We often go snorkeling from our kayaks on a reef near where we live – and being peaceful underwater is also a wonderful thing. Makes you feel very small and yet completely connected all at the same time.
Beth, I think you hit the nail on the head, nature teaches us humility–our rightful place in this universe. It’s no wonder that modern society has completely lost touch with this most basic and necessary of human traits–and we are suffering as the result.
I hope I don’t get beat up but I want to suggest a little different view/explanation as to why there are out there on their three wheelers… I am 57 now and making plans to retire at 62 and go full time in a vehicle of some type. In a previous life, I had a couple dirt bikes(motorcycles) and spent a lot of time out there doing what they are doing. It is a blast!! Unless you try it, you wouldn’t understand so I wont waste your time except to say it is FUN!! They are not oblivious to nature… They are not out to destroy it… They are using land approved for what they are doing(hopefully) and experiencing another side of nature. There is always an argument to be made that someone is destroying nature. We drive down paved paths in our vehicles pumping out all kinds of pollution, we park our vans on dirt roads leaving our tracks, killing lizards and other animals as we run them over… Now days, I ride my mountain bike(bicycle) 3-4 days a week in Annadale State park. I am respectful of the hikers and horse riders but still listen to them complaining about how I am destroying the trail and stating there is no way I can be right because I don’t enjoy nature the same way they do. I also hike some days. And yes, unlike 90 percent of the hikers/joggers I actually pay for my annual parking pass even though I don’t park there. Just to support the park. I appreciate sitting or walking quietly while I enjoy nature but I also like riding my bike sometimes. It is incredibly boring to sit and stare at nature and not break a sweat at least sometimes. I have EX- friends that refused to believe someone could enjoy nature by experiencing it in a manner other than than the way they did. They were old hippies and so boring it almost made my head explode. Nothing wrong about having life figured out for yourself but believing you have it figured out for the rest of the people makes me a little uncomfortable. .Living life! That means going for it in more than one way. Next time, eat something different for dinner, put completely different clothes on every now and then, listen to a totally different style of music, don’t sit in your van talking about how bad those people are…. Go talk to them and you will find they are friendly, fun and it may be worth breaking out of your box and peeking into theirs:)
Bob: I have been a lurker for a couple of years. I can feel your gentle soul through your words. You keep me sane and give me hope. I had thought I was to old for any adventures but through you and others of your tribe I know that is not true. Because I am a caregiver I cannot leave for now, but, I have hope to one day join your caring tribe. I read others blogs and the members of your tribe are among the most respectful of one another. I am sure that is because of your gentle and caring attitude. Thanks for your time; the hope you give to me; your willingness to allow me to go along with you on your travels; the money you spend on this blog; for imparting knowledge; for being you. Because you have shared and opened so much of yourself into this blog, I feel I could walk into your camp and I would know you as a friend. Thank you
Nora, yours is a beautiful, soul-touching note !
My regards, Lucy.
Nora, hank you for your very encouraging comment, I deeply appreciate it!
Hi Bob, I am in the beautiful Smoky today. Managed to park next to the river here in Gatlinburg,Tn. Life is truly awesome. Going to rain the next few days but I have never minded the rain. Enjoy your blog. Keep on keeping on…….HJ
Thanks Hobo Joe, that is beautiful country!
Bob, I love the site, and I love the post. You truly are a man of minimalistic simplicity who possesses a deep love and appreciation for nature.
I completely agree with you about how we must immerse ourselves in nature. I’m a big deer hunter, and I promise 99% of deer hunting for me is just sitting alone in the woods, quietly. The other 1% is the cheap, delicious wild meat that I enjoy year-round.
One of my good friends and I have frequented a very rural river here in Mississippi. It sprawls at least a hundred miles through our state, through some of the deepest, wildest and most untouched woods left here in the southeast. Nothing but miles of silence, white sandbars, and gently flowing water winding through the wildness.
We have gone on several float trips that were longer than 5 days, and each time we get back, we hit up a big Chinese buffet. Sort of a tradition. And each and every time, we get what we call “sensory overload” on our buffet trips, simply from driving to the buffet, going through some traffic intersections, and just generally being around all of the noise and business. It’s overwhelming just to be in everyday life after being in quiet serene nature. Makes me wonder if it is a bad thing that we get used to the noise and bustle of everyday life.
One thing about ATV’s – I agree, there are a lot of people that fail to even see nature, roaring around on their noisy motorbikes. But I own a disgustingly powerful motocross screaming two stroke, probably the loudest, most obnoxious bike around, and its just a different kind of experience. An adrenaline danger fix of sorts by exhibiting extreme gnarly behavior. I don’t know Bob, it’s the same fix for me as snow skiing on an awesome pow day, bombing down a double black, but where I live there are no good hills and definitely no good snow, so the screaming motors help get me my fix.
I’m planning to head out west with my wife and start ditching the normal American agenda of get a job, have a bunch of kids, fill a house that you slave working for with meaningless possessions. Will probably sell the noisy bike which I dump tons of money in to to keep running and see how little we can really live with. Simplicity is beautiful.
I’ll try and post back on this site in a few years. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you that I broke away from the common path. Gonna be hard to do, as I’ll probably have a law degree and not pursue one of those terribly wasteful, paper-chasing careers (to my parent’s disappointment). If I can just finish school, it’ll be a sort of “Ha! I did it! If I need this education, it is there in my back pocket!” Then, and maybe then, I may be free.
Amen brother. ‘pologize the comment is so long.
Brennen, I appreciate your comment, very thoughtful. Remember, societies only goal for you is that you be “a good productive member of society,” if you can be happy also, that’s good but they don’t care if your not, just as long as you conform and are a good drone.
Nothing you’ve been told so far has had the single sole goal of making you happy–if you want that, you are going to have to throw out everything you’ve been told and ask yourself, “What will make me happy?” It sounds like deep down you already know the answer and it can’t be found in any city.
Which is more important to you, conforming or being happy? You rarely get both!!!!!!!!!!