People now spend over 90 percent of their time indoors and an average of 11 hours a day on a device, says Micah Mortali, author of Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature and the founder of Kripalu School for Mindful Outdoor Leadership. He’s been leading wilderness retreats for over 20 years and worries that fewer and fewer people have a connection with nature. In addition, the more time we spend on electronic devices, the more blind we become to the places where we live—a phenomenon known as “place blindness.”
Place Blindness: Not Seeing (or Thinking) Green
“If you don’t love the land, you won’t protect it,” Mortali asserts. “And then we’ll lose it.”
He stresses that the earth is a living system and our wellbeing is closely tied to the health of the planet. As he points out: You are the planet. “The air you’re breathing was on the other side of the planet a few days ago; you’re inhaling oxygen that the trees exhale. The molecules of your body are the same molecules of the planet: oxygen, carbon, water. If there’s pollution on the planet, it’s in you too.” Everything is interconnected; there’s no separation.
Now more than ever, with the acceleration of global warming and climate change, there’s an awareness—and for many a sense of urgency—to shed any blinders and halt the change. “We know the statistics on climate change. And we’re beginning to see that we can’t continue at this pace.”
On some level, people know that our current lifestyle isn’t conducive to optimal wellness for individuals, the species, or the planet. “Human beings didn’t evolve to sit at a desk for eight hours a day slouching over a computer screen,” Mortali asserts. In buildings and windowless offices with fluorescent lights, we’re removed from our natural habitat.
Not surprisingly, people are stressed. What everyone is really hungry for, Mortali says, “is to feel alive, to feel good.” And that’s what not succumbing to place blindness is all about.
Step Out and See the Light
Spending time outdoors reminds us that we’re part of the natural world—the larger cosmos—and dependent upon it. Studies show that being in nature improves mood and sleep, accelerates healing, increases the ability to focus, and boosts the immune system.
[Read: “Ecotherapy: Nature Is Good Medicine.”]
And just as you can feel the presence of a forest when you’re in it, the forest can also feel your presence, says Mortali. And so part of maintaining your vision of place is to ask: “How can you make the earth healthier by your presence instead of the other way around?”
Six Ways to Avoid Place Blindness
- Breathe: When you’re outdoors, put away your phone or don’t bring it with you. Take a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Be mindful of the present moment. Bring awareness to the element of air that gives you life. Give thanks for the air flowing into and out of your lungs with each breath.
- Nature Meditation: Find a place outdoors, a park or a tree, where you can just sit and notice whatever is happening around you. Tune into the sensations and sounds you see and hear: the shade of bark on a tree, the shape of the clouds above. Do this throughout every season. This deepens your bond with the land, plants, and animals. [Listen to a guided meditation: “Root Yourself in Nature.”]
- Walk with Awareness: Slow your pace so each footstep is conscious. Be aware of the sounds that surround you: the crunching of the ground beneath your feet, the wind brushing the leaves, the swoosh of grass strands. Send gratitude down through your feet into the ground.
- Start a Garden: Dig in the soil with your fingers. Planting a garden, even planting a few small pots, can be a great way to get outside and connect with the plant kingdom.
- Tracking: Notice animal tracks, especially in the winter months when snow is on the ground. Learn one animal’s tracks and then expand to others. This helps you connect with animal wisdom.
- Ancient Fire: Our ancestors ended the day by gathering around and gazing at a fire. Light candles, build a campfire, or make a fire pit.
Not seeing the forest or the trees? Schedule in time to shatter your schedule and start rewilding yourself.