A new study inFrontiers in Psychology, led by Dr Laura Berrera-Hernández and her team at the Sonora Institute of Technology (ITSON), has shown for the first time that connectedness to nature makes children happier due to their tendency to perform sustainable and pro-ecological behaviors.
As our planet faces growing threats from a warming climate, deforestation and mass species extinction, research focusing on the relationships between humans and nature is increasingly urgent to find solutions to today’s environmental issues. As younger generations will be the future custodians of the planet, work is being done by researchers on how we can promote sustainable behaviors and develop environmental care in children. The researchers state that a disconnection to nature, termed ‘nature deficit disorder’, may contribute to the destruction of the planet, as the lack of a bond with the natural world is unlikely to result in desire to protect it.
Connectedness to nature: its impact on sustainable behaviors and happiness in children
Berrera-Hernández describes ‘connectedness to nature’ as not just appreciating nature’s beauty, but also “being aware of the interrelation and dependence between ourselves and nature, appreciating all of the nuances of nature, and feeling a part of it.”
The study recruited 296 children between the ages of 9 and 12 from a northwestern Mexican city. All the participants were given a self-administered scale completed in school to measure their connectedness to nature, sustainable behaviors (pro-ecological behavior, frugality, altruism, and equity) and happiness. This included measuring their agreement with statements about their connectedness to nature, such as ‘Humans are part of the natural world’ and statements about their sustainable behaviors, such as ‘I separate empty bottles to recycle’.
The researchers found that in children, feeling connected to nature had positive associations for sustainability practices and behaviors, and also led to children reporting higher levels of perceived happiness. This suggests that children who perceive themselves to be more connected to nature tend to perform more sustainable behaviors and therefore also have greater levels of happiness. Previous research on adults had suggested a relationship between connectedness to nature and the development of pro-environmental behaviors, and the happiness derived from these
Despite the study’s limitations of only testing children from the same city, the results provide insight into the power of positive psychology of sustainability in children. Deepening our understanding of the relationships between these variables may provide practical insights for the added psychological benefits of promoting sustainable behaviors in children. If we are to develop environmental care and concern in younger generations, then initiatives to encourage and enable young people to spend more time in nature is a must.
Berrera-Hernández states: “Parents and teachers should promote children to have more significant contact or exposure to nature, because our results indicate that exposure to nature is related to the connection with it, and in turn, with sustainable behaviors and happiness.” The study has fascinating and practical implications for future research in environmental psychology and its applications in nature-based education and initiatives, highlighting the positive benefits for both the planet and children’s wellbeing in encouraging more exposure and contact with the natural world.
Steve Taylor, Ph.D. – As a psychologist, I have been studying what I call “awakening experiences” for a decade, and have recently published (with a co-author) a new study of 90 such experiences in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.
Awakening experiences are moments in which our awareness expands and intensifies. We transcend the worries that normally preoccupy us and feel a sense of elation or serenity. Our perceptions of the world around us become more vivid, and we feel a sense of connection to nature, other human beings or the whole universe in general. We feel a sense of love and compassion, and there is a strong sense that we have transcended a limited state, and that awareness has become more authentic than normal. At higher intensities of awakening experiences, we may even feel that we have lost our normal sense of identity and somehow become one with the whole world.
My research has found that there are three contexts that consistently show up as major triggers of awakening experiences. Around a third occur in situations of stress, depression and loss. For example, a woman described how she was devastated by the end of a seven-year relationship, “facing a suffering that I didn’t imagine could possibly exist.’” However, in the midst of this suffering, she “began to experience a clearness and connection with everything that existed…I was in a state of such pure happiness and acceptance, that I was no longer afraid of anything. Out of that depth arose such a compassion and connection to everything that surrounded me.”
The second major trigger of awakening experiences identified by my research is contact with nature. Around a quarter of the experiences take place in natural surroundings, apparently induced by the beauty and stillness of nature. People reported awakening experiences that occurred while they walking in the countryside, swimming in lakes, or gazing at beautiful flowers or sunsets. And the third most significant trigger of awakening experiences according to my research— with a similar frequency to contact with nature—is spiritual practice. This primarily means meditation, but also includes prayer and psycho-physical practices such as yoga or tai chi. The relaxing, mind-quietening effect of these practices seems to facilitate awakening experiences.
However, perhaps the most significant thing about awakening experiences is their after-effects. Even though they are typically of a very short duration—from a few moments to a few hours—they frequently have a life-changing effect.
Many people described an awakening experience as the most significant moment of their lives, reporting a major change in their perspective on life, and in their values. In our 2017 study of 90 awakening experiences, the most significant after-effect was a greater sense of trust, confidence, and optimism. For example, one person reported that even though “that whole experience was brief, it left a little piece of knowing and hope. While I still was and am on a journey of self-reflection, it left me knowing that your inner truth is always there for you.” Another person reported that, “To know that it’s there (or here, I should say) is a great liberation.”
One person had a powerful awakening experience while suffering from intense depression during which she “felt the most intense love and peace and knew that all was well.” The experience only lasted for a few minutes, but in its aftermath, she found that the feeling of dread had disappeared from her stomach, and she felt able to cope again, which led to a new, positive phase in her life. As she described it, “I looked around and thought about all the good things in my life and the future. I felt more positive and resilient.” Another person described how her awakening experience “allowed me a glance into the other side and opened me to the knowing that I am never separate, alone, nor unheld.”
Such changes in attitude sometimes led to significant lifestyle changes, such as new interests, new relationships and a new career. Some people reported becoming less materialistic and giving up high-powered professional careers for a simpler, more altruistic lifestyle.
This shows that awakening experiences have a powerful therapeutic effect. They make us realize that the world is a much more benign and meaningful place than we normally perceive it to be. And once we have glimpsed this, it becomes a permanent reality to us. As the great psychologist Abraham Maslow noted – in relation to what he called peak experiences — ‘A single glimpse of heaven is enough to confirm its existence.’
Using some kind of microphone attached to her phone, a woman claims to have recorded the “voice” of sunflowers in her backyard.
A few online articles about this report that the woman posted it to Facebook and the video went viral, but it’s nowhere to be found, while republished versions of the video with nearly 100,000 views can in fact be found on Facebook. According to one article:
“With a microphone and her mobile phone, the woman records the vibration sound from the sunflowers which sounds like a high-pitched radio wave Impressed by the recording, she later shared the video on her Facebook and the video immediately became viral with hundreds of thousands of views so far.”
If this is real, the sound resembles some kind of angelic horn section, or a gentle trumpet.
Rigid skeptics might not be able to see the beauty in this, and it would be wise to question whether this is real or not, but plants using sounds to communicate is actually a well established scientific fact.
A study out of the University of Western Australia titled “Tuned in: plant roots use sound to locate water,” published in the journal Oecologia proved that plants can acutely sense sound vibrations that emanate from running water, whether it’s in the soil or trickling through pipes, and sensing the sound helps plants move their roots closer to the source of water.
The study even went so far as to claim plants dislike certain sounds and will move their roots away from the source of some sounds. Apparently they communicate with “clicking” sounds.
Dr Monica Gagliano, a lead researcher in the study of UWA’s Centre of Evolutionary Biology at the School of Animal Biology noted that it makes sense plants would be capable of doing this, for the simple fact that they need water.
“We used the common garden pea plant (Pisum sativum) as the model for our study and put the plant into a container which had two tubes at the base, giving it a choice of two directions for the growth of its roots,” the researcher said.
“We then exposed the plant to a series of sounds, including white noise, running water and then a recording of running water under each tube, and observed its behaviour.”
They proved that based on nothing but the sound of running water, plants sent roots in the direction of it.
“It also was surprising and extraordinary to see that the plant could actually tell when the sound of running water was a recording and when it was real and that the plant did not like the recorded sound,” the lead researcher continued.
Does it seem ridiculous that a woman claims to have recorded the sound of a sunflower? Hopefully it doesn’t, because we need every excuse we can find to appreciate nature, and if that makes you cringe, maybe you should check what you hold dear in life.
It has rained steadily through the night, a gentle hushing sound in the thick tree canopy. In the morning light, crickets thrill and every leaf trembles and gleams. Soft mist gently rises as the creek gushes along its deep habitual groove in Rose Valley, a place as beautiful as it sounds: my home.
Amid such grace, one might forget the planet is in chaos. Wars rage… and the trees grow slowly. And yet, if one pays attention, the very poignancy of the Earth’s beauty is the reminder of her woundedness.
Often, we don’t pay attention. Climate change, war, and extreme poverty are somewhere else. We have bills to pay and problems of our own. Yet anyone living a ‘modern life’ has contributed to the conditions on Earth that cause suffering. How and what we consume, the policies of our leaders, our forgetfulness, have a direct impact on other beings—human and non-human. Denial, greed, and fear are not limited to big corporations and banks.
What then must we do? Can we live in such a way that we begin to reverse the damage? Can we reduce unnecessary suffering in the world and still take care of ourselves and our families?
Ecology, a branch of science, examines relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. Part biology, part Earth science, ecology looks at the vital connections between plants, animals, and the world. Ecology calls to mind the Buddhist principle of Interbeing. As Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh, (also called Thay), explains: you can hold an orange in your hand, but it does not really exist as an orange. That is, it does not exist apart from the tree, the sun, and rain, the soil and its organisms, the farmer, the truck driver, and so on. One could say the orange is actually made up of ‘non-orange elements’—a set of conditions that allow the orange to be here. If you really look at the orange, says my teacher, you can see the entire cosmos at play.
Neither ecology nor Buddhist doctrine alone, however, tell us how to really take care of this fruit—to protect the soil where it grows from depletion, conserve the water it needs, or ensure the rights of the farm workers who tend it. We need something else.
The Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss introduced the term ‘deep ecology’ in the 1980s. His concept, grounded in the teachings of Spinoza, Gandhi, and Buddha, explained that our cool, disembodied detachment from Nature and one another is an illusion, and he outlined a philosophy of being, thinking, and acting in the world—what he called ecosophy, an identification so deep that “one experiences oneself to be a genuine part of all life. We are not outside the rest of Nature,” says Næss, “and therefore cannot do with it as we please without changing ourselves.”
Doing as we please for so long has changed us. For fifteen hundred years, Western religious and philosophical values taught us we were set apart from and above the rest of Nature. So it was fine to exploit and deplete the Earth’s natural resources. If other people were in the way, we just enslaved them or removed them. And if animals were in the way, we removed them too, killed them for sport, enclosed them, or destroyed their habitats.
This kind of disconnection from Nature and from one another is the tragedy of our human story, the tale of darkness we have written ourselves into. It is a story that only ever served the few over the many, until finally the few have dwindled to a very small number of people who control more of the world’s wealth than everyone else combined. The inevitable result of such disparity is played out in innumerable ways and with devastating impact on the Earth and the human spirit. Like a child who hides from the mother out of shame for his wrongdoing, we have built barriers between ourselves and the natural world, invented false tales and excuses, unable to admit the terrible wrong we have done to the planet and to one another.
And yet, this is not the whole story.
Thay recounts that when he first heard the words from Genesis, “Let there be Light,” he imagined Light saying, “I will come when darkness comes.” And God said, “but the darkness is already here.” “Then,” said the Light, “I am already here as well.” What he means is that one can’t exist without the other. We contain both the seeds of darkness and the seeds of light within us. We have the capacity to generate terrible suffering and the capacity to generate great joy. A new story is already seeded within us, ready to flower. Its truth is found in Nature, in the reality of Interbeing. We are not separate from Nature. Rather, we are a grace note in its vast intelligent symphony. We are not adrift in a cold lifeless Universe. Instead we are a confluence of its vital energies and forces. Like the orange, we are woven into the very fabric of a radiant, vibrant living design.
A few hours have passed now. The sky is clear and the air rich with the mushroomy smell of forest soil. Some crows startle and flow out of a single tree, slick shadows, blue-black. Crow is a trickster, associated with transformation and the mystery of life. Human beings think in such symbols because Nature’s forms deeply influence our subconscious. We see ourselves reflected back by the world around us. We associate Crow sometimes with despair—but also with the courage to return to life.
Courage is one of the values we need so that conditions for joy and abundance can return. Our good intentions alone are not enough. Confronted with the terrible suffering in his homeland during the Vietnam War, Thích Nhất Hạnh, then a young monk, realized it was not enough to pray for peace or sit in meditation. In Saigon, he and his sangha responded quickly to render direct aid to the injured and refugee as part of their practice of mindfulness, not separate from it. Thay called this path ‘Engaged Buddhism” and outlined fourteen principles to describe it.
A follower of these principles would quickly see how the values they contain have much in common with Deep Ecology. How we live our lives now has everything to do with how we will save ourselves and write a new story for our children and the world. We need an ‘Engaged Ecology’ that moves beyond concepts and energy-saving tips to actual deep practice—a way of being, thinking, and acting, that restores our relationship with our communities and the Earth. We need shared values, something we are often reluctant to propose. What values; whose values? Where can we possibly turn to find values so universal that anyone might embrace them?
We can look to Nature.
An Engaged Ecology is a set of values and instructions derived from Nature that can guide us back to harmony and restore our fundamental relationship with the Earth.
Other wonderful teachers walk this terrain.
The Sufi master Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is an eloquent spokesperson for the Earth. He speaks of a world soul crying out to us, the very call of creation. “We will each hear this cry in our own way, as it touches our own soul, but what matters is how we respond— whether we turn away, returning to our life of distractions, or whether we dare to follow the call and sense what it is telling us.”
German scholar Andreas Weber explores a ‘poetic ecology’ and speaks of Nature as the “living medium of our emotions and mental concepts,” a mirror for expressing our inner lives. In other words, our own intelligence is already a reflection of Nature’s. What else could it be? Daniel Goleman has suggested that this kind of ecological intelligence has a place beside social and emotional intelligence and we should teach this ‘ecoliteracy’ in our schools.
The fields of permaculture and biomimicry have also turned to Nature for the inspiration and models we need to restore our most fundamental relationship. We are in chaos because we have blinded ourselves to the essential qualities and character of Nature. Nature cooperates and regenerates. Nature adapts, self-organizes, and uses energy efficiently. Biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus enumerated Nine Basic Principles of Biomimicry so that we might strive to consciously emulate Nature’s genius and use its principles and designs to solve human problems.
Local Living Economy pioneer, Judy Wicks; lifelong peacebuilder Dot Maver, and the editor of this journal, Nancy Roof, have also contributed insight, particularly by vibrant example, about service to our communities and to our world.
Thus, it is with a very deep bow of gratitude to Thay, these thinkers, and others, and with great humility that I have attempted to synthesize and integrate their ideas into Seven Principles and Practices for an Engaged Ecology. Each is invited to consider, interpret, and adapt these practices according to one’s own situation, capacities, and the needs of their communities.
Principle 1 – Nature’s brilliant design is all-pervasive.
Practice – Cultivating awareness of Nature
Trusting that truth is found in Life, we strive to develop awareness by spending time observing and contemplating Nature. This can be as simple as working in a garden or meditating on a single flower. We can seek deep natural experiences without traveling to exotic locations. Even at work, we can quietly observe life within and around us. Drinking a glass of water with deep awareness or basking in the warm sun for a few minutes with gratitude are simple ways to remember our most primal connections.
Our breath is Life’s precious gift. Bringing our awareness to our own quiet breathing while sitting without distraction for even a few breaths is one way to come home to our true Nature. We can practice this any time to be refreshed and restored.
Remembering that Nature has successfully supported life on Earth for billions of years, we begin the work of transforming our fear and healing our consciousness. We find that we can be happy simply because we are alive and supported by the Earth.
Principle 2 – Nature adapts and self-regulates.
Practice – Being open to learning and change
Nature continuously adjusts to changing conditions. We are committed to seeking ways to educate ourselves in order to adjust our behaviors that cause damage to people and planet. We know we will not be able to change anything without changing ourselves first. We can learn new ways by seeking formal and informal education about the natural world around us: the names of trees and birds in our area, the quality of our watershed, where our food and the products we purchase come from.
By practicing openness in our views, we benefit from the wisdom of others. In Nature, embracing diversity results in greater resilience. We will seek and value a diversity of views, paying special attention to the voice of the marginalized, including indigenous people. We may have strong views about what we think others should do, yet greater insight is revealed through the practice of careful listening and deep thinking. Accumulating facts is not wisdom. What we think we know is subject to change and no one has all the answers.
Principle 3 – Nature expresses innate potential.
Practice – Developing empathy for all forms of life
All life has value in itself, and this value is not dependent on usefulness to humans. Aware that life is a vast web of interconnections, we will work to change our view that humans are superior to other forms of life on Earth and protect diversity.
All living things are engaged in the process of unfolding their innate potential. We vow to recognize and encourage the potential of all beings, from the smallest multicellular life-forms, to people, ecosystems, and the Earth as a whole. We will not support acts that kill or destroy life, in our thinking or in our actions and way of life. We will examine the impact we have on non-human animals and make an effort to reduce their suffering. Industrial farming, animal testing, the use of animals for public entertainment, and hunting endangered animals all cause great suffering.
We will practice looking deeply at the foods, clothing, and other products we consume and choose not to purchase or use them if they ‘contain’ the unnecessary suffering of people or animals. We can choose local and hand-made goods, Fair Trade and humane products, and simply live with less. By working closely with others, we will continually seek ways to protect the lives of people, plants and animals, minerals, ecosystems, and watersheds.
Principle 4 – Nature regenerates and nurtures new life.
Practice – Cherishing and nurturing the young
Nature reproduces itself: the tender leaf, rosebud, the baby bird, tiny fish. Each new life, anywhere, at any scale, is Nature’s freshest gift of innocence and purity, fully deserving the most basic right—to live. Aware that a baby’s first breath ushers in new hope for the world, we vow to cherish, protect, and nurture new life.
Knowing the seeds we plant in young minds will be the fruit our society reaps, we are committed to looking at all the ways children are affected by their environment. We will work to reexamine the purpose and goals of the educational system, understand the effects of excessive exposure to television, computer games, the Internet, and poisons in our food and in our water. We will work to support the concerns of mothers and children worldwide.
We are committed to protecting children from sexual and military exploitation and other forms of physical abuse, anywhere in the world. We will create opportunities and encourage children to participate in activities outside in Nature. If our community is unsafe, we will work with other families to create places for children to play and be happy. We are committed to teaching children the proper way to treat and take care of pets, how to grow a flower, and how to relax and be peaceful. As adults, we will make decisions and plans that take into account the needs of children in our community, not just in the present, but also for generations to come.
Principle 5 – Nature is efficient.
Practice – Limiting consumption and waste
Aware that Nature uses only what it needs, we too will make a diligent effort to consume only the energy we need and to reduce waste. We are determined not to waste the Earth’s precious resources while millions are hungry and lack the basic necessities of life. We will use and value renewable resources whenever possible and make every effort to reuse or recycle plastics, metals, and paper. We are committed to making our homes as energy efficient as we can and using natural means to make ourselves comfortable.
We will consume in a way that promotes health and wellbeing in our bodies and consciousness. By eliminating our use of disposable plastic items, avoiding excessive packaging, and using less paper, we can reduce our personal waste stream right away. Moving from place to place, we will use biking, walking, public transportation, and ride-sharing when it is feasible.
We commit to using seasonal foods that are produced locally when possible, and work to make sure our communities have access to healthy fresh food and safe public water supplies. We will nourish the collective body of our community and the Earth by sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
Principle 6 – Nature functions cooperatively.
Practice – Thriving as a community
By looking at Nature, we can learn ways that plants, animals, and other living things think and act cooperatively. It is not possible for one person or one business to act cooperatively or be sustainable. Sustainability is a community practice. The quality of relationships in any living community is determined by its collective ability to survive and thrive. We will practice coming together with groups of neighbors and friends to collectively seek ways to make our communities more healthy and resilient. We will focus on slow, small solutions, using local resources and responses whenever possible.
By training ourselves in the practice of deep listening and positive speech, we will arrive at shared understanding in our community. Together, our excesses as a community can be curbed from within as we develop collective actions to reduce consumption and waste.
Together, we should take a clear stand against actions that harm our community and planet, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety. We can set limits, for example, on carbon consumption, and use limits as a means to strengthen community and sharing. We can learn from Nature to creatively use and respond to the changes taking place in our community and in the world.
Principle 7 – Nature is a system of systems.
Practice – Participating as citizens of the Earth
We are woven into the fabric of all Life and our actions have consequences. Aware of the violence and injustice done to our environment and societies, we are committed to using our time on Earth for efforts that benefit people and planet. We will do our best to select a livelihood that does not contribute to harming others. Aware of economic, political, and social systems around the world, and our interrelationship with these systems, we are determined to be responsible consumers and citizens of the Earth. We will make an effort to invest in and purchase from companies that preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the world.
We will look deeply at the collective psychological origins of the ecological crisis and the related crises of war and social injustice. By examining how ethnocentrism has manifested in our science, philosophy, and economics, we will work to resist the drive for globalization of Western culture, and oppose trade policies that lead to the devastation of both human culture and Nature. We will keep those who suffer from war, famine and poverty in our consciousness and contemplate our interconnection to help us decide how we, our community, and our country can help.
Summer is fading and the shadows of the day lengthen in the slanting light. How tenderly the days pass. Sometimes a despair rises in me that time is slipping away too fast. The breeze stirs; a shimmer of gold is loosed from the trees, and then I am reminded that deep within every falling leaf is the promise of new life. Incredible beauty can spring from the compost of our misconceptions. Deep within me a seed of insight glows: the human era of separation is coming to an end and the greatest of re-awakenings is already underway— how fortunate we are to be alive at this moment.
Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of life of the Indigenous people of the Great Plains before, and during, the arrival and subsequent spread of the European pioneers.
Raised in the traditions of his people until the age of eleven, he was then educated at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School of Pennsylvania, where he learned the English language and way of life. (Though a National Historical Landmark, Carlisle remains a place of controversy in Native circles.) Like his above mentioned contemporaries, however, his native roots were deep, leaving him in the unique position of being a conduit between cultures.
Though his movement through the white man’s world was not without “success” — he had numerous movie roles in Hollywood — his enduring legacy was the protection of the way of life of his people.
By the time of his death he had published 4 booksand had become a leader at the forefront of the progressive movement aimed at preserving Native American heritage and sovereignty, coming to be known as a strong voice in the education of the white man as to the Native American way of life.
Here, then, are 10 quotes from the great Sioux Indian Chief known as Standing Bear that will be sure to disturb much of what you think you know about “modern” culture.
1) Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners and fine, high-sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless. Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried manner.
2) Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and the older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right.
3) Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that ‘thought comes before speech.’…and in the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect… strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling.
4) We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.
5) With all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
6) This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all.
7) It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth… the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.
8) Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.
9) …the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.
10) Civilization has been thrust upon me… and it has not added one whit to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity.
Wetiko: the greatest epidemic sickness known to humanity. ~ Paul Levy
It’s delicate confronting these priests of the golden bull They preach from the pulpit of the bottom line Their minds rustle with million dollar bills You say Silver burns a hole in your pocket And Gold burns a hole in your soul Well, uranium burns a hole in forever It just gets out of control.
– Buffy Sainte-Marie, “The Priests of the Golden Bull”1
What if we told you that humanity is being driven to the brink of extinction by an illness? That all the poverty, the climate devastation, the perpetual war, and consumption fetishism we see all around us have roots in a mass psychological infection? What if we went on to say that this infection is not just highly communicable but also self-replicating, according to the laws of cultural evolution, and that it remains so clandestine in our psyches that most hosts will, as a condition of their infected state, vehemently deny that they are infected? What if we then told you that this ‘mind virus’ can be described as a form of cannibalism. Yes, cannibalism. Not necessarily in the literal flesh-eating sense but rather the idea of consuming others—human and non-human—as a means of securing personal wealth and supremacy.
You may dismiss this line of thinking as New Age woo-woo or, worse, a lefty conspiracy theory. But this approach of viewing the transmission of ideas as a key determinant of the emergent reality is increasingly validated by various branches of science, including evolutionary theory, quantum physics, cognitive linguistics, and epigenetics.
The history of this infection is long, strange, and dark. But it leads to hope.
Viruses of the Mind
The New World fell not to a sword but to a meme.
~ Daniel Quinn2
One of the most well-accepted scientific theories that helps explain the power of idea-spreading is memetics.
Memes are to culture what genes are to biology: the base unit of evolution. The term was originally coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins writes, “I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged . . . It is still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene panting far behind.” He goes on, “Examples of
memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”3
One of the high priests of rationalism, the scientific method, and atheism, is also the father of the meme of ‘memes.’ However, like all memes or ideas, there can be no ownership in a traditional sense, only the entanglement that quantum physics reminds us characterizes our intra-actions.4
Of course, similar notions of how ideas move between us have been around in Western traditions for centuries. Plato was the first to fully articulate this through his Theory of Forms, which argues that non-physical forms—i.e., Ideas—represent the perfect reality from which material reality is derived.
Modern articulations of the Theory of Forms can be seen in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the Noosphere (the sphere of human thought) and Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious, where structures of the unconscious are shared among beings of the same species. For Jung, the idea of the marauding cannibal would first be an archetype that manifests in the material world through the actions of those who channel or embody it.
For those who prefer their science more empirical, the growing field of epigenetics provides some intellectual concrete. Epigenetics studies changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than any physical alteration of the gene itself. In other words, how traits vary from generation to generation is not solely a question of material biology but is partly determined by environmental and contextual factors that affected our ancestors.5
The Wetiko Virus
We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and the winding streams with tangled growth as “wild.” Only to the White man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land infested by “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it “wild” for us.
~ Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle6
Many spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam), Taoism, Gnosticism, as well as many Indigenous cultures, have long understood the mind-based nature of creation. These worldviews have at their core a recognition of the power of thought-forms to determine the course of physical events.
Various First Nations traditions of North America have specific and long established lore relating to cannibalism and a term for the thought-form that causes it: wetiko. We believe understanding this offers a powerful way of understanding the deepest roots of our current global polycrisis.
Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption (in Ojibwa it is windigo, wintiko in Powhatan). It deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others (others in the broad sense, including animals and other forms of Gaian life) is a logical and morally upright way to live.
Wetiko short-circuits the individual’s ability to see itself as an enmeshed and interdependent part of a balanced environment and raises the self-serving ego to supremacy. It is this false separation of self from nature that makes this cannibalism, rather than simple murder. It allows—indeed commands—the infected entity to consume far more than it needs in a blind, murderous daze of self-aggrandizement. Author Paul Levy, in an attempt to find language accessible for Western audiences, describes it as ‘malignant egophrenia’—the ego unchained from reason and limits, acting with the malevolent logic of the cancer cell. We will use the term wetiko as it is the original, and reminds us of the wisdom to be found in Indigenous cultures, for those who have the ears to hear.
Wetiko can describe both the infection and the body infected; a person can be infected by wetiko or, in cases where the infection is very advanced, can personify the disease: ‘a wetiko.’ This holds true for cultures and systems; all can be described as being wetiko if they routinely manifest these traits.
In his now classic book Columbus and Other Cannibals, Native American historian Jack D. Forbes describes how there was a commonly-held belief among many Indigenous communities that the European colonialists were so chronically and uniformly infected with wetiko that it must be a defining characteristic of the culture from which they came. Examining the history of these cultures, Forbes laments, “Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.”7
We would presumably all agree that behavior of the European colonialists in North America can be described as cannibalistic. Their drive for conquest and material accumulation was a violent act of consumption. The engine of the invading culture suckedin lives and resources of millions of others and turned them into wealth and power for themselves. The figures are still disputed, but it is safe to place the numbers killed in the tens of millions, certainly one of the most brutal genocides in history. And the impact on non-human life was equally vast. Moreover, it was all done with a moral certainty that all destruction was justified in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization.’
This framing belies the extent of the wetiko infection in the invader culture. So blinded were they by self-referential ambition that they could not see other life as being as important as their own. They could not see past ideological blinders to the intrinsic value of life or the interdependent nature of all things, despite this being the dominant perspective of the Indigenous populations they encountered. Their ability to see and know in ways different from their own was, it seems, amputated.
This is not an anti-European rant. This is the description of a disease whose vector was determined by deep patterns of history, including those that empowered Europeans to drive ‘global exploration’ as certain technologies emerged.
The wetiko meme has almost certainly existed in individuals since the dawn of humanity. It is, after all, a sickness that lives through and is born from the human psyche. But the origin of wetikocultures is more identifiable.
Memes can spread at the speed of thought but they usually require generations to change the core characteristics of cultures. What we can say is that the fingerprints of wetiko-like beliefs can be traced at least as far back as the Neolithic revolution, when humans in the Fertile Crescent first learned to dominate their environment by what author Daniel Quinn calls ‘totalitarian agriculture’ — i.e., settled agricultural practices that produce more food than is strictly needed for the population, and that see the destruction of any living entity that gets in the way of that (over-)production—be it other humans, ‘pests’ or landscaping—as not only legitimate but moral.
This early form of wetiko-logic received an amplifying power of indescribable magnitude with the arrival of Christianity. “Let us make mankind . . . rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground,” said an authority no less than God in Genesis 1:26. After 8,000 years of totalitarian agriculture spreading slowly across the region, it is perhaps not surprising that the logic finds voice in the holy texts that emerged there. Regardless, it was driven across Europe at the point of Roman swords in the two hundred years after Christ’s death. It is no coincidence that, in order for Christianity to become dominant, the existing pagan belief-system, with its understanding of humanity’s place within rather than above nature, had to be all but annihilated.8
The point is that the epidemiology of wetiko has left clear indicators of its lineage. And although it cannot be pathologized along geographic or racial lines, the cultural strain we know today certainly has many of its deepest roots in Europe. It was, after all, European projects—from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, to colonialism, imperialism, and slavery—that developed the technology that opened up the channels that facilitated the spread of wetiko culture all around the world. In this way, we are all heirs and inheritors of wetiko colonialism.
We are all host carriers of wetiko now.
Wetiko Capitalism: Removing the Veils of Context
I don’t know who discovered water, but I can tell you it wasn’t a fish.
~ Attributed to Marshall McCluhan
When Western anthropologists first started to study wetiko, they believed it to be only a disease of the individual and a literal form of flesh-eating cannibalism.9 On both counts, as discussed, their understanding was, if not wrong, certainly limited. They did, however, accurately isolate two traits that are relevant for thinking about cultures: (1) the initial act, even when driven by necessity, creates a residual, unnatural desire for more; and (2) the host carrier, which they called the ‘victim,’ ended up with an ‘icy heart’— i.e., their ability for empathy and compassion was amputated.
The reader can probably already sense from the two traits mentioned above the wetiko nature of modern capitalism. Its insatiable hunger for finite resources; its disregard for the pain of groups and cultures it consumes; its belief in consumption as savior; its overriding obsession with its own material growth; and its viral spread across the surface of the planet. It is wholly accurate to describe neoliberal capitalism as cannibalizing life on this planet. It is not the only truth—capitalism has also facilitated an explosion of human life and ingenuity—but when taken as a whole, capitalism is certainly eating through the life-force of this planet in service of its own growth.
Of course, capitalism is a human conception and so we can also say that we are phenomenal hosts of the wetiko mind virus. To understand what makes us such, it is useful to consider a couple of the traits that guide the evolution of human cultures.
We have decades of evidence from social science describing just what highly contextual beings we are. Almost all aspects of our behavior, including our moral judgments and limits, are significantly shaped in response to the cultural signifiers that surround us. The Good Samaritan studies, for example, show that even when people are primed with the idea of altruism, they will walk by others in need when they are in a rush or some other contextual variable changes.10 And the infamous Stanley Milgram experiments show how a large majority of people are capable of shocking another human to a point they know can cause death simply because an authority figure in a white lab coat insists they do so.11
We really are products of our environment, and so it should be taken as inevitable that those who live in a wetiko culture will manifest, to one degree or other, wetiko beliefs and behaviors.
Looking through the broader contextual lens, we must also account for the self-perpetuating nature of complex systems. Any living network that becomes sufficiently complex will become self-organizing, and from that point on will demonstrate an instinct to survive. In practical terms, this means that it will distribute its resources to support behavior that best mimics its own logic and ensures its survival.12
In other words, any system that is sufficiently infected by wetiko logic will reward cannibalistic behavior. Or, in Jack Forbes’ evocative language, “Those who squirm upwards [in a wetiko system] are, or become, wetiko, and they only perpetuate the system of corruption or oppression. Thus the communist leaders in the Soviet Union under Stalin were at least as vicious, deceitful and exploitative as their czarist predecessors. They obtained ‘power’ without changing their wetiko culture.”13
This ensures that the essential logic of cultures spreads down through generations as well as across them. And it explains why they self-organize resources to maintain a high degree of continuity in distributions of power, when those distributions efficiently serve their survival and growth. When this continuity is interrupted or broken, revolutions occur and the system is put under threat.
However, as the above quote suggests, the disruption must happen at the right level. Merely trading one wetiko for another at the top of an otherwise unchanged wetiko infrastructure (as in the case of Stalin replacing the czars or, more contemporarily, Obama replacing Bush) is largely pointless. At best, it might result in the softening of the cruelest edges of a wetiko machine. At worse, it does nothing except distract us from seeing the true infection.
The question, then, for anyone interested in excising the wetiko infection from a culture is, where is it? In one respect, because it is a psychic phenomenon that lives in potential in all of us, it is non-local. But this, though ultimately important to understand, is not the whole truth. It is also true that there is a conceptual place where the most powerful wetiko logic is held, and that, at least in theory, makes it vulnerable.
In the same way that a colony of bees will instinctively house its queen in the deepest chambers of the hive, so a complex adaptive system buries its most important operating logic furthest from the forces that can challenge them. This means two things: first, it means citing the logic in the deep rules that govern the whole. Not just this national economy or that, this government or that, but the mother system—the global operating system. And second, it means making these rules feel as intractable and inevitable as possible.
So what is this deep logic of the global operating system?
It comes in two parts. First, there is the ultimate purpose, which we might call the Prime Directive, which is to increase capital.
We often dress this up in a narrative that says capital generation is not the end but the means, the engine of progress. This makes the idea of dethroning it feel dangerous and even contrary to common sense. But the truth is, we have created a system that artificially treats money as sacred. At this point in capitalism’s history, life is controlled by, more than it controls, the forces of capital. The clue is really in the name. But if you need further proof, look no further than how we define and measure progress: GDP. More on that below.
Then, there is the logic for how we, the living components of this system, should behave, which we would summarize with the following epithet:
Selfishness is rational and rationality is everything; therefore selfishness is everything.14
This dictates that if we all prioritize ourselves and maximize our own material wealth, an invisible hand (ah, what a seductive meme!) will create an equilibrium state and life everywhere will be made better. We are pitted against each other in a form of distributed fascism where we cocoon ourselves in the immediate problems of our own circumstances and consume what we can. We then couch this behavior in the benign language of family matters, national interests, job creation, GDP growth, and other upstanding endeavors.
Put these two parts of the puzzle together and it’s easy to see why the banker who generates excess capital receives vast rewards and is labelled ‘productive’ and ‘successful,’ almost regardless of the damage s/he causes. Those who are less ‘successful’ at producing excess capital, meanwhile, are rewarded far less, regardless of the life-affirming good they may be doing. Nurses, mothers, teachers, journalists, activists, scientists—all receive far less reward because they are less efficient at obeying the Prime Directive and may even be countermanding the ‘self-interest’ operating principle. And as for those who are actually poor—well, they are effortlessly labelled not just as practical but also moral failures.
This infection is so far advanced that the system now requires exponential capital growth. The World Bank tells us that we have to grow the global economy by at least 3 percent per year to avoid recession.15 Let’s think about what this means. Global GDP in 2014 (the last full year of data) was roughly USD $78 trillion.16 We grew that pie by 2.4% in 2015, which resulted in the commodification and subsequent consumption of roughly another $2 trillion in human labor and natural resources. That’s roughly the size of the entire global economy in 1970. It took us from the dawn of civilization to 1970 to reach $2 trillion in global GDP, and now we need that just in the differential so the entire house of cards doesn’t crumble. In order to achieve this rate of growth year-on-year, we are destroying our planet, ensuring mass species extinction, and displacing millions of our brothers and sisters (who we commonly refer to as ‘poor people’) from around the world.
So when people tell us that the market knows best, or technology will save us, or philanthrocapitalism will redistribute opportunities (pace Bill Gates), we have to understand that all of these seemingly common sense truisms are embedded in a broader operating system, a wetikonomy, with all that that means. And the more they are presented as ‘unchangeable,’ the more often we’re told, ‘there is no alternative,’ the more we should question. There is actually a beautiful irony in the fact that, when we know what we’re up against, such statements are our signposts for where to look.
It is not that we are against markets, technology, or philanthropy — they can all be wonderful, in the right context—but we are against how they are being used as alibis to excuse the insanity of the wetiko paradigm that they are inseparable from. We are reminded of Jack Forbes’ heavy words; “It is not logical to allow the wetikos to carry out their evil acts and then to accept their assessment of the nature of human life. For after all, the wetiko possess a bias created by their own evil lives, by their own amoral or immoral behavior. And too, if I am correct, they were, and are, also insane.”17
Seeing Wetiko: Antidote Logic
Launch your meme boldly and see if it will replicate—just like genes replicate, and infect, and move into the organism of society. And, believing as I do, that society operates on a kind of biological economy, then I believe these memes are the key to societal evolution. But unless the memes are released to play the game, there is no progress.
~ Terrence McKenna, Memes, Drugs and Community18
You might just be a black Bill Gates in the making.
~ Beyoncé, Formation19
A key lesson of meme theory is that when we are conscious of the memetic viruses we are less likely to adhere to them blindly. Conscious awareness is like sunlight through the cracks of a window.
Thus, one of the starting points for healing is the simple act of ‘seeing wetiko’ in ourselves, in others, and in our cultural infrastructure. And once we see, we can name, which is critical because words and language are a central battleground. To quote McKenna again:
The world is not made of quarks, electromagnetic wave packets, or the thoughts of God. The world is made of language.. Earth is a place where language has literally become alive. Language has invested matter; it is replicating and defining and building itself. And it is in us.20
His last line is critical for exploring our own agency in the replication of wetiko. We are all entangled in the unfolding of reality that is happening both to and through us. In place of traditional certainties and linear cause-and-effect logic, we can recast ourselves “as spontaneously responsive, moving, embodied living beings—within a reality of continuously intermingling, flowing lines or strands of unfolding, agential activity, in which nothing (no thing) exists in separation from anything else, a reality within which we are immersed both as participant agencies and to which we also owe significant aspects of our own natures.”21
If wetiko exists, it is because it exists within us. It is also entangled with the broader superstructure, relationships, and choice architecture that we are confronted with within a neoliberal system on the brink of collapse.
Forbes reminds us that we cannot ‘fight’ wetiko in any traditional sense: “One of the tragic characteristics of the wetiko psychosis is that it spreads partly by resistance to it. That is, those who try to fight wetiko sometimes, in order to survive, adopt wetiko values.
Thus, when they ‘win,’ they lose.”22 A lot of reform-based initiatives, from the sharing economy to micro-lending have succumbed to the co-optation and retaliation of wetiko capitalism.
However, once we are in the mode of seeingwetiko, we can hack the cultural systems that perpetuate its logic. It is not difficult to figure out where to start. Following the money usually leads us to the core pillars of wetiko machinery. Those of us that are within these structures, from the corporate media to philanthropy to banking to the UN, have access to the heart of the wetiko monster.
For those of us on the outside, we can organize our lives in radically new ways to undermine wetiko structures. The simple act of gifting undermines the neoliberal logic of commodification and extraction. Using alternative currencies undermines the debt–based money system. De-schooling and alternative education models can help decolonize and de-wetikoize the mind. Helping to create alternative communities outside the capitalist system supports the infrastructure for transition. And direct activism such as debt resistance can weaken the wetiko virus, if done with the right intention and state of consciousness.
By contracting new relationships with others, with Nature, and with ourselves, we can build a new complex of entanglements and thought-forms that are fused with post-wetiko, post-capitalist values.
We have to simultaneously go within ourselves and the deep recesses of our own psyches while changing the structure of the system around us. Holding a structural perspective and an unapologetic critique of modern capitalism—i.e., holding a constellational worldview that sees all oppression as connected—serves our ability to see the alternatives, and indeed, all of us, as intricately connected.
Plato believed that ideas are the ‘eyes of the soul.’ Now that the veils obscuring wetiko are starting to be lifted, let us give birth to, and become, living antigens, embracing the polyculture of ideas that are challenging the monoculture of wetikocapitalism. Let us be pollinators of new memetic hives built on altruism, empathy, inter-connectedness, reverence, communality, and solidarity, defying the subject-object dualities of Cartesian/Newtonian/Enlightenment logic. Let us reclaim our birth right as sovereign entities, free of deluded beliefs in market systems, invisible hands, righteous greed, chosen ones, branded paraphernalia, techno utopianism and even the self-salvation of the New Age. Let us dance with thought-forms through a deeper understanding of ethics, knowing, and being,23 and the intimate awareness that our individual minds and bodies are a part of the collective battleground for the soul of humanity, and indeed, life on this planet. And let us re-embrace the ancient futures of our Indigenous ancestors that represent the only continuous line of living in symbiosis with Mother Nature. The dissolution of wetiko will be as much about remembering as it will be about creation.
10 Ways Playing Outside Will Make Your Kid Smarter
Today, the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes outside in unstructured play each day.
When I was a kid, I lived outside. Most warm evenings would have me and most of the neighborhood kids riding bikes, building forts, catching lightning bugs, or just laying in the grass until the streetlights blinked on or our mothers called us for dinner. I grew up in an age when organized athletics for five year olds were rare, when parents didn’t orchestrate their children’s every waking moment, when mothers and fathers didn’t feel so pressured for their kids to perform and succeed. There was an abundance of free time and my mother didn’t want me in her hair. I am a much better person for it.
Today, the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes outside in unstructured play each day. Let’s be honest, that’s not enough time to organize a game of stickball or terrorize the neighborhood in a bicycle gang or even to get lost in thought lying in the warm spring grass. What are our kids doing with their time? Most of it is spent indoors behind a desk or dazed behind an electronic screen. The average American child spends as much as seven hours using electronics every day.
It’s a sad fact that our kids would generally rather FaceTime with their friends than actually play with them.
But aside from “free time” spent on computers and tablets and cell phones, parents are overly concerned with artificially enriching their children’s lives. Organized sports, and dance classes, and math camps, and scouts are where parents want their kids to spend their “extra” time. By organizing and carefully constructing a childhood, they hope to give their kids a leg up in the human rat race.
It’s a common thought that if a child isn’t spending time in school achieving academic excellence, then they should be studying and completing worksheets, and if there is still time left over, they should be engaged in carefully coordinated activities designed to make them better, smarter, higher-achieving people. All of this is going to have to go down on college applications one day, so we might as well start now and make it look good.
But there is no “extra” time. Kids are like us, they only have time. There’s nothing extra, and too much is sucked up by living a script someone else has created for them. Kids need to write their own scripts, just like adults. They need freedom. And quite often, they need to be outside and engaged in free play to become whole human beings.
Parents, if you’re worried about your kid getting into Harvard (and if so, I argue that you might be worried about the wrong things, but that’s a subject for another blog post), you still might want them to back away from the worksheets and violin practice and just go outside. There are a number of ways that playing outside makes kids smarter.
1. Playing outside improves focus. A 2008 study from the University of Michigan explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. The study found that just walking outside, no matter the weather, and no matter whether the experience was actually enjoyable, helped improve memory and attention by 20 percent. So even when they don’t want to put down the tablet, and they complain about being miserable, just send them outside anyway.
2. Playing outside stimulates creativity. During open-ended play, kids have to make up ways to entertain themselves instead of relying on adults to do it for them. Being outdoors where there are rocks and dirt and sticks presents limitless opportunities for play experiences. No two playtimes will end up looking exactly the same. Being outside presents a plethora of opportunities for imaginative play, creative building, and inventive activities.
3. Playing outside promotes problem solving. During free outdoor play, children make up their own rules. They learn what works and what doesn’t. They learn when to keep trying and when to try something else. If playing with other children, they learn what types of interactions promote cooperation and which cause frustration. By solving their own childhood problems, they’ll be much more independent problem solvers as adults. Practice makes perfect in this area of life. If never given the chance to practice solving their own problems, how can we expect them to magically do it once they turn eighteen?
4. Playing outside develops leadership skills. Playing together outside, children must negotiate rules of games and the roles they play in them. Natural leadership skills will be developed as they play. No special workshops or lessons required. 5. Playing outside improves language skills. Children are so often told that they must be quiet indoors. “Use your quiet, indoor voice,” we often hear teachers tell their young pupils. But outside, children are free to be loud. Instead of others encouraging them to hush, they can experience a freedom to speak that the indoors doesn’t always provide. Many children (especially boys) are able to find their voices outdoors. And cooperative play, gives plenty of opportunities to communicate with one another. Children may issue instructions to each other on the building of a fort or the intricate rules of a spontaneous game.
Being outdoors always creates a lush context for vocabulary development, too. From discovering tiny animals, to expressing changing weather and seasons, to describing the texture rich environment of trees and stones, children are encouraged by the outdoors to try out new words and make them their own.
6. Playing outside is multi-sensory. During outdoor play, a child uses all of his senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and even taste (If I had a dollar for every time I told a child, “Don’t put that in your mouth!”). Not all children learn the same way. By opening up experiences to all of a child’s senses, we help each child learn in their own unique way.
7. Playing outside relieves stress. It’s no secret that today’s kids are stressed out. As many as one in eight children and 20 percent of teens suffer from severe anxiety disorders. Modern children face pressure to perform from their parents, their teachers, and their schools. Children and their parents start thinking about colleges as early as kindergarten, and school systems place a huge emphasis on student test scores. It’s no wonder our children feel stressed out. But more than 100 research studies have shown that time spent outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. The cure for childhood depression and anxiety is literally waiting right outside our door. And a relaxed and unworried person makes a better learner.
8. Playing outside makes children healthier. You might not think that healthier equals smarter, but sick kids miss school and can easily fall behind. Besides, learning is more difficult when you don’t feel well. Spending time outdoors strengthens immune systems, making children healthier and less prone to catching common illnesses, and therefore less likely to miss school.
9. Playing outside encourages physical activity. Outside, children are free to run and jump and climb. There are opportunities to be physically active that just aren’t available in most indoor environments. There is a growing body of research that shows how physical activity positively affects brain health. Here are just a few:
A 2007 study from Columbia University discovered that regular exercise increased blood flow by 30 percent to the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
A 2007 German study discovered that after exercise, people learned vocabulary words 20 percent faster than before they exercised.
A Swedish study showed that cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. The researchers hypothesize that aerobic activity produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain.
10. Playing outside is fun. Learning is easier and longer lasting when it is fun. Being outdoors riding bikes with friends, organizing neighborhood “army” battles, and rushing to home base in impromptu games of tag are just plain fun. Those are the experiences that will stick with kids long after they’ve grown up and moved on to the “real world”.
So if you want your kid to get into Harvard, you might just want them to step away from the homework and just go outside and play. They’ll be smart for it… and certainly happier, too.
Woman Spends 14 Years Photographing the World’s Oldest Trees
These incredible photographs honoring our Earth’s Ancient Trees were collected over 14 years by San Francisco California photographer Beth Moon. She traveled the globe in search for the oldest trees and even ventured into the more remote locations.
“Many of the trees I have photographed have survived because they are out of reach of civilization; on mountainsides, private estates, or on protected land. Certain species exist only in a few isolated areas of the world. For example; there are 6 species of spectacular baobabs, found only on the island of Madagascar. Sadly, the baobab is now one of the three most endangered species on the island.” (source)
Unfortunately, one of the only reasons many of these trees are still alive is because they are out of the reach of civilization. They are growing on land that is private, protected, or hard to travel too. It is sad to think that nature has to hide its treasures to keep them safe from the greed of the world.
Beth chose trees for her photos based on their size, age, and historical significance. She did a lot of research before taking the photo’s which adds to their rich quality.
“Beth Moon’s stunning images capture the power and mystery of the world’s remaining ancient trees. These hoary forest sentinels are among the oldest living things on the planet and it is desperately important that we do all in our power to ensure their survival. I want my grandchildren – and theirs – to know the wonder of such trees in life and not only from photographs of things long gone. Beth’s portraits will surely inspire many to help those working to save these magnificent trees.” – Dr. Jane Goodall (source)
Nature is one of the most precious things we have left on this earth. Trees, especially ancient trees produce huge amounts of life-giving oxygen while providing homes for animals.
Humans have subtly moved further away from balance with nature over the past few hundred years. If we don’t change our ways we will add to the destruction of these natural habitats and do damage that is beyond repair.
If we want to preserve these incredible sights for future generations we have to learn to live in harmony will all life.
“It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest.” – Buckminister Fuller
Renewable energy technologies are being discovered and improved every day. Big groups are working to defund big oil and stop the deforestation industries in order to save these incredible trees.
Humans all over the globe are waking up and realizing that big change is needed to save and preserve beautiful ancient trees such as these.
If we look at our daily lives we are so wasteful as a species. We produce so much trash and consume much more than we need. Many things that we would assume isn’t related to trees actually add to the deforestation problem worldwide.
For example, 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon is for the beef industry.
Were you also aware that the rain forests are disappearing at a rate of around 6000 acres an hour. That is the same as 4000 football fields worth of trees being killed every hour. That is an insane amount of consumption of something that took decades or more to grow.
Humans are the one’s causing the problem and we have the responsibility to solve it. Two ways that you can start making a difference today is to spread awareness of the problem and make sure that you cut your consumer habits down as much as possible.
Research ways to start living in a way that is as renewable as possible. Recycle, stop using plastic, cut back or completely eliminate meat, and make sure to get involved whenever you can with groups that are trying to change this world for the better.
Perhaps with enough people we will hit the tipping point and start making this world a better place before we loose many of these priceless treasures.
These images are just a small part of the wonder and treasure that this earth holds. There are lessons in these enchanting trees. Wisdom beyond our lifetime that will be priceless to future generations.
How we choose to honor life is very telling of our character and value as a conscious beings.
We are making a difference in this world, I know it feels like only a handful of people are fighting this fight. The truth is that thousands of people are waking up and demanding change every single day.
What it really comes down to is us. We need to start demonstrating to the world what it looks like to live sustainable lives that are in harmony with nature.
“I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment, celebrating the wonders of nature that have survived throughout the centuries. By feeling a larger sense of time, developing a relationship with the natural world, we carry that awareness with us as it becomes a part of who we are. I cannot imagine a better way to commemorate the lives of the world’s most dramatic trees, many which are in danger of destruction, than by exhibiting their portraits.”
On In5D, we published an article entitled, “Moving Into 5D, Hidden In Plain Sight,”where Hollywood hid an inspiring message in plain sight regarding humanity moving to its next stage of spiritual evolution. While some may simply call this science fiction, others see how Hollywood lays out events that are about to happen, masking them in under the guise of entertainment and debunking the possibilities of these events coming to fruition as the overactive imagination(s) of the viewer(s).
The following is an excerpt from the movie, “My Dinner With Andre” where once again, an important message is hidden in plain sight. Pay close attention to the part where Andre talks about the pockets of light appearing all around the world because this is happening right now as each person awakens.
And as each person awakens, it changes the outcome of probable timelines in parallel universes and alternate realities. Right now, we are playing out the greatest probability of all possible scenarios in this particular reality, but as more people awaken and change their views on how they see reality, the reality changes with it.
If you’re looking for proof, look no further than events that haven’t happened such as Edgar Cayce’s prediction of Armageddon in 1999, the New World Order coming to fruition by 2000, and the failure of the North American Union to become a reality.
Negative timeline events are fading away quickly, as the ruling elite are very well aware of this. This is why they are ramping up tensions all around the world in a last ditch effort to cultivate as much fear as possible, because through fear, they can control the masses.
WALLY: Well, why…why do you think that is? I mean, why is that? I mean, is it just because people are lazy today? Or they’re bored? I mean, are we just like bored, spoiled children who’ve just been lying in the bathtub all day just playing with their plastic duck and now they’re just thinking: “Well! what can I do?” [Cough in the background.]
ANDRE: Okay! Yes! We’re bored! We’re all bored now! But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brain-washing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money? And that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say “no”? See, I keep meeting these people, I mean, uh, just a few days ago I met this man whom I greatly admire, he’s a Swedish physicist, Gustav Björnstrand? And he told me that he no longer watches television, he doesn’t read newspapers and he doesn’t read magazines. He’s completely cut them out of his life, because he really does feel that we’re living in some kind of Orwellian nightmare now, and that everything that you hear now contributes to turning you into a robot!
And when I was at Findhorn, I met this extraordinary English tree expert, who had devoted his life to saving trees. He just got back from Washington, lobbying to save the redwoods? He’s eighty-four years old and he always travels with a back-pack ’cause he never knows where he’s gonna be tomorrow! And when I met him at Findhorn he said to me: “Where are you from?” And I said: “New York.” He said: “Ah, New York! Yes, that’s a very interesting place. Do you know a lot of New Yorkers who keep talking about the fact that they want to leave but never do?” And I said: “Oh, yes!” And he said: “Why do you think they don’t leave?” I gave him different banal theories. He said: “Oh, I don’t think it’s that way at all.” He said: “I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they’ve built, they’ve built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia, where they are both guards and prisoners. And as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made, or to even see it as a prison. And then he went into his pocket and he took out a seed for a tree, and he said: “This is a pine tree.” He put it in my hand and he said: “Escape, before it’s too late.”
You see, actually, for two or three years now Chiquita and I have had this very unpleasant feeling that we really should get out. No, we really should feel like Jews in Germany in the late thirties? Get out of here! Of course, the problem is where to go, ’cause it seems quite obvious that the whole world is going in the same direction. You see, I think it’s quite possible that the nineteen-sixties represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished. And that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now, and that from now on there’ll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. And there’ll be nobody left almost to remind them that there once was a species called a human being, with feelings and thoughts. And that history and memory are right now being erased, and soon nobody will really remember that life existed on the planet!
Now, of course, Björnstrand feels that there’s really almost no hope. And that we’re probably going back to a very savage, lawless, terrifying period. Findhorn people see it a little differently. They’re feeling that there’ll be these “pockets of light” springing up in different parts of the world, and that these will be in a way invisible planets on this planet, and that as we, or the world, grow colder, we can take invisible space journeys to these different planets, refuel for what it is we need to do on the planet itself, and come back. And it’s their feeling that there have to be centers, now, where people can come and reconstruct a new future for the world. And when I was talking to Gustav Björnstrand, he was saying that actually, these centers are growing up everywhere now! And that what they’re trying to do, which is what Findhorn was trying to do, and in a way what I was trying to do…I mean, these things can’t be given names, but in a way, these are all attempts at creating a new kind of school, or a new kind of monastery. And Björnstrand talks about the concept of reserves, islands of safety, where history can be remembered, and the human being can continue to function in order to maintain the species through a dark age.
In other words we’re talking about an underground, which did exist in a different way during the Dark Ages among the mystical orders of the Church. And the purpose of this underground is to find out how to preserve the light, life, the culture. How to keep things living. You see, I keep thinking that what we need is a new language, a language of the heart, languages in the Polish forest where language wasn’t needed. Some kind of language between people that is a new kind of poetry, that’s the poetry of the dancing bee that tells us where the honey is. And I think that in order to create that language, you’re going to have to learn how you can go through a looking glass into another kind of perception, where you have that sense of being united to all things. And suddenly, you understand everything.
For some people, activism is the best way to achieve results because through activism, we see direct results. For others, holding the energy and vibration of love is playing a large role as we are all beacons of light connected to one another through the planetary grid system. Many people, such as myself, will do both.
Regardless of what your choice is, do it in the vibration of love and continue to work on eliminating as much fear as possible. The best way to do that is to not watch TV or read anything that is published by the mainstream media. Connect and ground yourself with nature, even if it’s looking at pictures of nature. Express gratitude and forgive those who have hurt you.
We can literally change the world overnight into something amazing!
At present, our culture is overly obsessive about germs, cleanliness, and hygiene. Parents are constantly washing their children’s hands, using antibacterial soap, alcohol tinged wipes or changing them the second they have dirt on their clothes.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a child I liked to make mud pies, walk around barefoot and climb any tree I could find. Instinctively I craved to immerse myself in the natural environment.
When I had my own children I reminded myself of this as they shoveled sand into their mouths at the beach or tasted a pebble or a leaf. It is natural for children to be as close to nature as possible. Well, now research into the connection between getting dirty and a immune system health has found that this modern obsession with germs and cleanliness might be leading to the rise in allergies, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. (1
Just like any other muscle in our body, the immune system needs to be exercised in order to fully develop and become strong enough to resist illness and disease. Eating dirt as a child turns out to be the ideal training to build your immune system’s overall fitness.
Wrote Mary Ruebush:
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment. Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
Children who grow up on farms and are exposed to all sorts of bugs, worms and natural elements have demonstrably less allergies and autoimmune problems than urban children who spend most of their time indoors. Playing outside barefoot every now and again and digging in the dirt more often would do wonders for the health of today’s youngsters.
Our Natural Instinct is to Love Dirt
New research says that it is possible that children today are ‘too’ clean, and would be better off sticking to their natural instincts.
In a 2012 study, researchers tested what would happen to mice if they were bred to lack stomach bacteria and how it would effect their immune system. It found that exposure early in life to microbes helped to train certain immune cells to resist disease later in life. Exposure to those same microbes as an adult did not have the same effect. The immune cells affected were generally those in the lungs and colon due to hyperactivity in T cells. This is similar to that found in humans with asthma.
The most important point from the research is the idea that during the early years of life there are some crucial biological developments that happen which cannot be recreated later on in life — and building a strong immune system is one of them. (3)
Playing in Dirt Builds a Strong Immune System
By no means am I suggesting that you feed your child spoonfuls of dirt, rather I am letting you know that you can stop worrying about dirt and germs and place your energy elsewhere. People are so worried about their children catching a cold or flu that they are obsessively focused on whether their child is clean and germ-free. However, this seems to work against the natural rhythm of life. Science has proven that exposure to dirt is beneficial to a child’s life. They love dirt because they instinctively know it is good for them in order to grow up with strong immune systems.
We can now relax and trust that our children will actually be healthier the dirtier they get. Take a deep breath and enjoy watching the joy your child experiences playing in dirt while knowing that they are building their intuitive instincts and a strong immune system.