A return to Nature

(This is a guest blog by a good friend of ours – Andy Milward of Milward: Consulting & Research in Strategic Leadership

We are in the constant grip of unhealthy imperatives

Our quality of life is under assault. Employers exhort us to ‘drive’, to ‘compete’, to ‘deliver’, to be ‘crisp’. They expect us to act not reflect.

The virtual world has increased social distance and reduced personal intimacy. Face to face contact is the exception not the rule. Relationships have become shallow and transient. Trust is rare and suspicion is rife.

The pursuit of self-interest transcends the pursuit of the common good. We behave with reckless abandon, regardless of the damage we cause to others.

Aspirational advertising induces us to strive for things we can rarely attain, and certainly do not need.

We must always look good and never show weakness. If we fall short of the standards expected of us we have failed, not tried.

Life has become a debilitating competition

Perpetual media envelops us in misery with its selective reproduction of bad news and gloomy prognoses.

Press intrusion is making our private lives public.  Governmental intrusion is eroding our liberties.

We face a crisis in health

There is an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Young women unable to attain that perfect airbrushed body are afflicted with life-threatening disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

Substance abuse is ubiquitous.

The World Health Organisation forecasts that depressive illness is expected to constitute the second largest cause of disease burden in the world by 2020[1]

We are living in a permanent state of existential angst

But we were not intended to live this way. In our efforts to exploit the opportunities the world offers, we have lost sight of what really matters in life. The human and environmental cost is a devastating indictment of our behaviour. We are the architects of our own demise.

However, there is a simple thing we can all do to improve our own and others’ wellbeing.

It does not require decades of pharmaceutical research. It does not need a massive investment of taxpayers’ money. It does not require a revolution in ideology. The solution is all around us. We encounter it every day, but sadly we do not recognise it.

The solution is a return to nature

A return to nature is a retreat from the bruising turbulence of life. There is a great stillness in nature that restores our sense of presence and place.

As the ancients have taught us, meditation, yoga, and similar practices help us to control our attention, and deflect unwelcome thoughts.

A return to nature has the same effect. It is the most natural therapy.

It helps us learn to live in the present moment, not the guilty past, or in an anxious future.

We can learn to see, smell, feel, and hear again

Who is not moved by an early morning mist shrouding the landscape, rays of sunlight piercing a forest canopy, or the fragrance of flowers wafted on a balmy breeze.

Contemplate the serenity of a sunset, the magnificence of ice-capped mountains, or the eternal swell of the ocean.

Nature heals us with its music. The dawn chorus, the splatter of rain on a muddy path, the crunch of freshly fallen snow underfoot. The rustling of leaves in the trees, the crash of waves on the shore, the anguished howl of a gale.

We should learn from the animal world. Watch your pet dog or cat basking in the sun. They do not ruminate about the past, or worry about the future. They live in the present. Their sheer joy emanates from simply being in the world.

The majesty of nature disposes us to curb our self-conceit. It reminds us we are each but a minute part of a vast, mysterious universe. Although we each have a valuable role to play, no one of us is more important than any other.

Nature has the potential to re-humanise our participation in the social world

Our detachment from nature has impoverished our social conscience. By reconnecting with nature we can recover the cardinal virtues we have long abandoned.

Employers, teachers, politicians, anyone able to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviour of others, has a responsibility to reconnect with nature. Nature cleanses the mind, elevates the spirit, but above all, it inspires moral action.

A return to nature should be a compulsory element in everyone’s personal development. Unfortunately, it does not feature largely in our educational curriculum. Policy makers take note.

Andy Milward

Milward: Consulting & Research in Strategic Leadership

[1] WHO. (2008). “What is Depression?”   Retrieved 10 July 2016, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/.