This is the seventh instalment of 11 Ways of Dealing with Anxiety, an ongoing experiment in seeing.
Walking and Nature
…to walk by a stream, watching the pebbles darken in the running water, is enough; to sit under the apricots is enough; to sit in a circle of great red rocks, watching them slowly begin to throb and dance as the silence of my mind deepens, is enough.
The things that ignore us save us in the end. Their presence awakens silence in us; they refresh our courage with the purity of their detachment.
Andrew Harvey, A Journey in Ladakh, p.93
We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.David Abram
It has taken me a long time to write this. It has been brewing slowly and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get there. What I thought might be a few simple notes has, like a fractal, expanded to take in the whole world.
The human, and human beings, are very small beer in the life of this Earth and in the life of the Universe. We are the Johnny-come-latelies of evolution and, in geological timescales, we will be gone quite soon. We do not like to acknowledge this. It terrifies us. And yet it is such a comfort. It relaxes us. All the things we worry so much about take up their true, relative significance from this perspective.
Spirituality is making sense of our lives in a big universe.
the value of walking
Where I live in London, although it is built-up, I am lucky to be close to trees and gardens with flowers. I like walking the streets to say the Office. It is helpful to get out of my flat, to take the air, to step into rain, to see the sky, the trees, the clouds, the sun, the moon, stars: to have a different, bigger perspective.
Movement changes the dynamic in the body and mind, and gives a different context. The mind can often work things out on its own when the attention is elsewhere. A recent Horizon programme showed an experiment that demonstrated increased creative thinking as the result of taking a break and doing an activity that required some attention but not too much analytical thinking. In the Mental Health Handbook, Trevor Powell suggests that activity can increase energy levels, distract us into different thoughts, and improve confidence, thinking and self-image. The physical movement of walking is matched by a mental shift.
air and breathing: connection with other beings
Breathing outside reminds us that all living beings breathe. We share our breath with everything that lives. Like breathing, walking reminds us of the bigger story of (connection to) all that is alive. We are not separate: we depend utterly upon each other for this most fundamental element of life.
As we walk and look, as we breathe, no longer protected from the weather and the sky, we are comforted (and terrified) by nature, by this connection, to what is our primal home. From the minutely smallest of particles to the massively largest of astronomical entities, the growth-decay-growth cycle continues within and without us, unabated and unaffected by our petty concerns.
I had an epiphany this evening listening again to Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony from the Proms: we are a supremely narcissistic species; and Shostakovich was both a victim and a proponent of that narcissism. I love Shostakovich; but the composition itself and the culture around the performance are all about us humans, our identity and society. Very little music – or any art and culture for that matter, high-brow or low – looks beyond the merely human. This is a terrible and deadly mistake because the world is not about us. Walking and a connection with nature is the merest sliver of the beginning of sanity about who and what we truly are – the faintest glimmer of a world, which has always been about more than us, in which we have a place in the family of things, and about which we can never know.