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          Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Nature Gazing for a Healthy Life

How often have you admired the colors on a butterfly’s flap? How often have you admired the dance of a creeper that goes up above your roof? How often have you felt the smell of snow? How often have you tried to derive pleasure from the rhythmic croaking of a frog? Quite often we seem to be undermining the value of what should be so important to us, and our health – Nature!

We seem to have distanced ourselves too far from something that surrounds us all the time. In whatever we do, most of us seem to be doing it as part of a cat race for materialistic pursuits. The interpersonal and the intrapersonal sense of belonging gets lost and we are left with a void, a nothingness that leaves us gasping for solutions when something goes wrong with our life or health. We search for meanings again in things that are as much meaningless and as much out-of-place as we are with respect to our surroundings. When we are away from Nature, we no more possess a perfect, healthy sense of place.

"Sense of place" is a widely discussed concept in fields as diverse as geography, environmental psychology, and art, but surprisingly it has little traction in the field of public health. Even though we know our family physician recommends us going to a relaxing hill station if we are suffering from a heart problem.

Our places and surroundings have a profound effect on our lives. The health impact of places includes physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and aesthetic outcomes. Dr H Frumkin from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, is probably one serious researcher who has been studying sense of place as a public health construct. “Evidence-based recommendations for healthy place making could have important public health implications. Four aspects of the built environment, at different spatial scales-nature contact, buildings, public spaces, and urban form are identified as offering promising opportunities for public health research, and potential research agendas,” he says.

American nature writer, Joseph Wood Krutch, has insisted that caring about nature is mystical in origin; and Arne Naess, an influential Norwegian philosopher, who champions nature for nature's sake, once spoke of a compelling emotional experience that seems to be the driving force for passionate environmentalism. It is the experience many people have in nature of being connected to something greater than their ego – it is a sort of oceanic feeling. The fact that positive outcome of such “oceanic feelings” is linked to good health could be because of an overall sense of well-being a person develops.

When you are an adult and you admire the zigzag of a butterfly, you actually become a child who gets happy seeing it. Children find happiness in the smallest things around them; as adults if we do that, we will be a better and a healthier lot. After all there is no harm watching a cat jump from the roof and fall in the bucket of water below! You will smile, you bet! “Artists are a healthy lot,” so we say; it is not because they are artists and popular among a big or a small circle, but because they pick up their ideas from the Nature. They remain connected to something of which they are very much a part. Breaking away from something of which you are a part makes you an escapist. Escapism is no healthy sign.

In The Gentle Art of Tramping, Stephen Graham says, "As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens." Stephen Graham was a prolific travel writer, and an avid chronicler of nature, who lived and wrote in the first half of the twentieth century. Critics have opined that after they have read Graham’s writings, they have felt an instant urge to be one with Nature. And the very thought of being one with Nature has made them feel better. If thoughts can make us feel better, how much can the subjects do? Most of us never seem to be thinking about this!

Not only has Graham documented the overwhelming effects of Nature on us, but there have also been many more good Samaritans like him. Thomas Traherne, in the Centuries of Meditations, says, "You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars." Byron reflects this in one of his verses: "I live not in myself, but I became a portion of all around me, and to me high mountains are a feeling . . .Are not the mountains, waves and skies a part of me and of my soul, as I of them?"

The great Islamic Persian sage and poet mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi has expressed togetherness of a man with his surroundings more than 8 centuries ago. Consider this:

I am the dust in the sunlight;
I am the ball of the sun . . .

I am the mist of morning, the breath of evening . . .
I am the spark in the stone, the gleam of gold in the metal . . .
The rose and the nightingale drunk with its fragrance.

I am the chain of being, the circle of the spheres,
The scale of creation, the rise and the fall.
I am what is and is not . . .

I am the soul in all.


Soul in Rumi’s verse forms a very powerful euphemism. In an evidence-based world, soul is what we forget quite often. Let’s have some food for it next time. Stay healthy.

-- Dr Sanjay Parva
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