Keeping Your Natural Rhythm

I am newborn and slip into the scenery and the silence

Entering the Rhythm

Everyone has a natural rhythm. In my seasonal cycle, mountains rise in me like rivers rise in the spring. When the snow melts off the streets and the trees open their first buds, dreams of walking  through deep valleys and struggling up steep, mountainous slopes flood my sleep, washing away the winter’s months of stillness.  It’s difficult waiting for early summer. I squirm like a kid waiting for Christmas. I make lists of maps and look for places to walk away from empty talk, garish skylines of aluminum, and streets lined with black staves of wire instead of trees.

But, no matter how anxious I am to dive into the first national park I see, when I do go, there’s always a waiting period before I can settle into the trail’s rhythm.  On those initial miles, I feel out of sync with nature, and it’s not until I’m two or three days deep into a long-awaited hike that my body will break through the surface tension holding me captive. My muscles and nerves relax and suddenly, I’m no longer drowning in questions or choices that don’t really belong to me.  From that point, I am newborn and can rise into the scenery and the silence, while the sun’s warmth on my skin laps away the last vestiges of civilization.

Technology and Syncopation

As I slip into every day’s simple cycle, I am reminded of how in the past, for tens of millennia, when the sun went down—the world fell into a darkness we could not see into. What was out there, silent, watching, hungry, was a mystery that no one dared delve into. The night was for taking shelter and sleeping until the sun returned and lit our way again.

We have undone this rhythm with lights on everything. Don’t get me wrong or label me a Luddite; I enjoy having lights to read by, music to listen to, and television to watch, but the fact remains that we have thrown off our natural rhythm, and that exacts a price.

For mostly economic reasons, we have imposed our will on nature’s rhythm, the beat of which has formed us since the beginning of time. This technological syncopation has entered our minds and seriously thrown us off. As an Air Force member, I worked shift work for nearly twenty years, and I remember reading research from the late Seventies that showed the ill effects working night and day had on physical and mental health. Today’s research continues to reinforce those earlier studies.

Paying Modernity’s Price

In 2016, Medical News Today, an international publication for health news, published the results of a meta-analysis that showed shift work posed an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and a second study indicated that shift work impaired brain functions like: memory, cognitive speed, and overall brain power. Apparently, we cannot throw off the rhythms that have formed us without threatening our health.

Depression is higher among shift workers

 

Carla V. Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, said that ” television, computers and longer hours of social activity also contribute to what is referred to as “social jet lag,” as well as many new diseases and disorders that are more prominent in Western societies.” Depression is higher among shift workers. Plus, many of these disorders occur in those who work longer hours than usual. Even too much overtime throws one’s system into a tailspin.

Natural Healing

And what can set our mental health back on an even flight path? The outdoors. Being surrounded by nature has been shown again and again to reduce people’s stress, increase their cognitive ability and creativity, and strengthen their ability to focus their attention. Putting aside time to be outside in a pleasant environment shifts our attention away from ourselves and away from negative emotions. Even something as simple as a walk in your local park has been shown to increase your attention, calm stress, and lower your blood pressure.

Remember when I said it took two or three days for me to slip into the rhythm of the trail? Meet David Strayer. He is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention, and he talks about something he calls the “three-day effect.” Strayer demonstrated  it with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. “The three-day effect,” Strayer says, “is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough.”

So there’s scientific proof for what the early environmentalist, John Muir intuited. He said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ” But however beneficial to my health, I will always venture into the wild not because science says I should, but rather how it makes me feel connected to something larger and so very alive.  Entering the rhythm of the natural world resonates within us as humans. Nature restores our spirits, heals our bodies, and soothes  our weary souls.

 

8 thoughts on “Keeping Your Natural Rhythm”

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that a couple of days just enjoying nature, no matter the activity. Hiking, biking climbing or just peacefully camping can reset natural rhythms of the body and mind. Well written Roy

  2. Thanks, for the praise and comment, Rob. Yes, you’ve been out in the trees enough to experience the calm of open spaces, and how that calm seeps into us with every slow breath.

  3. Excellent post! It’s also been proven that much of the depression that descends on some people during the long months of winter is caused by a reduction in their exposure to sunlight, the source of all life on the planet. The natural world still holds the key to human health.

    1. Yes! It bothers me when people speak of humanity as something outside nature, as if we didn’t belong to it. We do. Our behavior may make humanity seem like it doesn’t belong, but unless we were planted here by an outside race of super-intelligent aliens–we cannot help but be a part of nature. And as a result–nature holds the strongest keys to living a good life.

  4. It’s like a cleanse… but for the mind! 🙂 Not that I don’t enjoy visiting a new city or attraction from time to time but nothing can replicate the beauty of mountains, or a lake, or river, or forest, etc.. Great article! I wish I enjoyed the snow so I could enjoy my outdoor fix in winter! 🙂

    1. Maybe that will be the title of my next post–Mind Cleanse. Hmmm. Thanks for stopping by, Kristin. I people have no idea how much I appreciate their comments!

  5. Although when we go “on vacation”, we don’t tend to do the long hikes, or camping, or backpacking, etc that you do…..but we still LOVE to go out to the Black Hills, and stay in low-populated areas. This last time we stayed in little 1 room cabins outside of Hill City, and walked along the Mickelson Trail. We are still around people and “stuff”, but we also can get into our vehicle and just drive and drive and drive in the hills, without seeing another vehicle for miles, and we love doing that. When asked where I want to go when we get the chance, it’s usually to the hills. A lot of people want to go do all the touristy stuff, or go to the big cities where there is so much to do. I prefer to get away from the crowds and the cities and the traffic.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying, Teresa. And no one needs to go far into the wilderness to receive the benefits that the outdoors offers. A short hike on a well-manicured trail or even just a walk under the trees in Memorial Park will work it’s mental magic.

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