On the bond between humans and nature

In 2008, the Natural Change Project was started by the World Wildlife Fund Scotland in order to investigate if activities strengthening our bonds with nature can change our environmental behaviour in the long run. Seven individuals with influential jobs were to live, discuss and carry out exercises within socalled eco-psychology during three extensive workshops in natural environements.

The basic principles of eco-psychology is that the mental wellbeing of humans is closely linked to a healthy natural environment and that by strengthening this link humans will be inspired to protect nature better. A report from the project will be made public later on this spring. I find the approach interesting, but it raises the question: What is nature? Aren’t we as humans part of nature? I guess this opens for a longer philosophical discussion about nature and culture and that is not my scope. My experience is that through meditation it is possible to get in touch with our inner life and nature. This increases our sensitivity towards ourselves, others and also our environment.

Whether it makes us more environmental-friendly is an open question.

8 Comments

  1. Kaif

    I find that since I started meditating, I am more sensitive to nature and am more easily touched by natural beauty. Perhaps meditation helps one digest recent impressions and also be a bit detached from one’s habitual patterns of feeling. Perhaps that makes one more open to the world outside oneself and one’s own interests.

    Also, the lives of human beings in ancient times were much more involved with nature than ours are. If one reads the ancient Indian hymns called the Vedic Samhitas, probably the oldest existing texts, it is really striking how differently the people who conceived them related to nature. The majority of these hymns are about nature. The sun, the moon, the wind, the fire, the earth, the rivers – everything is perceived to be animated, alive, given several names, and is communicated to through hymns. Nomadic and hunter-gatherer people all over the world, it seems, had similar connections with nature and organised their lives around it. Perhaps they didn’t have that much of a choice.

  2. Elisabeth

    I like your point about digesting recent impressions! If the impressions are not digested they can divert us from the world around us I guess. I also feel that meditating makes me more sensitive to nature, especially long meditations. I seem to notice things I would not usually have noticed.
    Do you have a short excerpt or citation from the Vedic Samhitas in English? Would be interesting to read:-)

  3. Kaif

    I have also heard people who go to mindfulness retreats say that after the retreats they notice many more things in nature than they did before. That sounds quite understandable, although I haven’t really had this particular experience myself.

    Below is a hymn to the Earth from the texts I mentioned. For both the translator and the reader, it may be extremely difficult to feel what another human being felt 4000 years ago when he/she composed a piece of poetry. I find that the best of translations only catch a slight glimpse of that worldview, but try reading it!

    On whom are ocean, river and all waters
    On whom have sprung up food and ploughman’s crops
    On whom moves all that breathes and stirs abroad
    Earth, may she grant to us the long first draught

    Your hills, O Earth, your snow-clad mountain peaks
    Your forests, may they show us kindliness
    Brown, black, red, multifarious in hue
    And solid is this vast Earth, guarded by Indra
    Invincible, unconquered, and unharmed
    I have on her established my abode

    All creatures, born from you, move round upon you
    You carry all that has two legs, three, or four
    To you, O Earth, belond the five human races
    Those mortals upon whom the rising sun
    Sheds the immortal splendour of his rays

    – Atharva Veda, XII.1 (translation by Raimon Panikkar)

  4. Elisabeth Heimdal

    Ooh, I got goosebumps reading that. I can imagine though that in the original language it is even better. Translation sure is a difficult thing, especially with such an ancient text. Thank you very much for sharing it here on the mediation blog!
    I don’t think it matters if I don’t feel the same thing as the person who wrote it 4000 years ago. It is up to everyone of us to make our own interpretations. I guess the “invicible, unconquered and unharmed” is not true anymore, except for the invincible, as the latest events in Japan and southern USA show us. But part of the Earth are still unconquered and unharmed, I guess.

  5. Kaif

    Good to know you liked it. If you want to read more, you can get more translations and commentary in the book The Vedic Experience by Raimon Panikkar. And I totally agree that a poem or any piece of art gets a new life in each member of the audience, and that is important.

    It is interesting to inquire into how people’s relationship with nature affects their inner lives and vice-versa. I would imagine that there is a connection there. According to the Population Research Bureau, in the year 1800, only 3% of the human population lived in cities (http://www.prb.org/Educators/TeachersGuides/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.aspx). The majority of the rest were villagers. Further, scientists think that before c. 8000 BC, there was no substantial agriculture, and all of humanity was made of hunter-gatherer communities (such as those that chanted the above hymn), which means that a large proportion, if not the majority of us did not have a fixed habitat. What was it like to be an average human being at that time? I guess it’s not so easy to know..

  6. Elisabeth Heimdal

    Thank you for the reference!
    Since yesterday and until tomorrow I am staying at a hotel on Wall Street, NYC. What you write about urban vs. rural life makes me think about what it was like to live here on Mannahatta (I think that’s what it was called) say 1000 years ago. There is not much nature left here now. Wonder what it was like to live here at that time…

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