Archive for October, 2014

I am concerned that where and how most of us live are producing a serious “blind spot” in the important business of self-understanding.

One way of tapping into our own self-understanding is by pondering the question, Who am I? We draw answers to this question from two main sources – our life experiences and the people around us. From both sources we learn where we belong, how we fit in and what we can do and be.  Thinking

As most of us live, work, socialise and play in urban environments, there is great pressure on us to see ourselves as exclusively urban creatures.

That is a pressure we must resist because it leads to a seriously incomplete picture of who we are.

We are in many significant respects, wild creatures.

Charles Darwin recognised this over 100 years ago when he categorised humans as a “wild species”. By this he meant that all of us are essentially creatures of the natural world. As a species, we evolved in and for that world, acquiring in the process the genes responsible for our “wildness”.

Some may think that these genes and our wildness have been swamped by the sophisticated cultures that shape modern life. Edward O Wilson (of biophilia fame) put paid to this idea. “Genes have culture on a leash”, he said. By this he means that, although there are many options in culture (a long leash), the availability of these options is dependent on our genes. A beautiful work of art, for example, is the product of a host of influences but essential among them is the brain’s inherited (genetic) capacity to experience beauty. In the absence of this capacity, beauty would not exist, much less find expression in image, word, dance, music and otherwise.

Aboriginal art






The ability to apprehend beauty is just one of the cultural foundations that are grounded in our wildness. Others include curiosity, wonder, awe, creativity and reasoning. Yes, reasoning! The basic sensory and thinking capabilities our forebears used in their hunting and gathering are the same as those that made possible the moon landing. Paradoxical as it may seem, we are able to build and exist in our “non-natural” environments because of genes that evolved in nature.

And we should feel immensely indebted to these genes for another reason. They shape our brains to respond to nature in ways that directly nurture our physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. Think of de-stressing, mental restoration, tranquillity and transcendence, for example along with the relationship these responses have with reflective thinking, self-control, empathy and altruism.

I know that I have blogged about much of this before. But this time around I want to emphasise how very important it is for us to acknowledge our nature-biased and nature-friendly brain – our wildness in other words.

It is important for several reasons. If we fail to acknowledge this part of ourselves, we are much less likely to take advantage of it – and what a loss that is! As well-known ABC journalist and broadcaster, Geraldine Douge, said in a recent interview, Divorced from nature you lose part of yourself.

You certainly lose out on some of the richest mental, emotional and spiritual experiences life has to offer. It is like playing a piano but ignoring the black keys or having a sailing boat but never using the spinnaker.

And it is more than the loss of experiences that is at stake. To be divorced from nature is to compromise our overall quality of life. American essayist and naturalist, John Burroughs, makes the point very emphatically.  “If I were to name the three most precious resources of life,” he wrote,” I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature”.

What a difference it would make if we all saw our relationship with nature in this way. Individual and national well-being would surely be greater, and the political, bureaucratic and commercial vandalism of the environment would be a thing of the past. Destroyed forest

Hasten the day. “Claim your wildness”.


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I was pleasantly surprised and chuffed by the interest that was shown in my last post, The world I would like for Zoe. It seems that many share my hope for a world where nature is firmly woven into the fabric of everyday life. I also detected a concern that this dream is a long way from becoming a reality – if, indeed, a reality it can ever be in the face of humanity’s headlong rush towards urbanisation. busy-street-new-york-city-united-states+12837313312-tpfil02aw-30390

But I refuse to abandon the dream because even in the midst of this “headlong rush”, there are clear signs that our deep, instinctive affection for nature (our biophilia) endures. Despite the allure of urban habitats, we are reluctant to abandon nature altogether.

We see this in our persistence with “green” activities. Gardening is an obvious example along with keeping pets, decorating with flowers, hiking, fishing, hunting, picnicking, taking scenic tours, and paying fortunes for houses with scenic views. Living in cities has clearly not crushed our “liking” for nature.

Environmental-Wellness woman_man_walking_dog_park_lg




No doubt, city life makes it harder for us to embrace our biophilia, but research tells us that people in general, children included, do not want to lose touch with the natural world. There is certainly no reason to suppose that people have ceased to value the beauty, peace, wonder and other joys of nature – quite the contrary. One recent survey found that 61 per cent of people from across nine countries cited nature as a major contributor to health and well-being. Only family (84 per cent) received stronger support.

Even more encouraging are the many “re-connecting with nature” or “naturalising” initiatives that are gaining ground in a number of Western countries, including our own. As a result, we can expect to hear a lot more about “biophilic design”, “biophilic cities”, “urban forests”, “forest schools”, nature play and nature therapy. And there is no shortage of websites, such as Natural England, NatureConnect, Natureplay WA, and Caro and Co, that are full of information and guidelines about engaging with nature.

A very significant feature of these initiatives is that they rely on people power. They involve a “bottom-up” or “grass-roots” approach in other words. They are succeeding because people, like you and me, are willing to join the re-connecting with nature movement.

If enough of us make a similar commitment, the world I (we) hope for Zoe will become much more likely. A good place to start is with a promise to ourselves to spend more time in and with nature.

Keeping this promise is far easier than you may imagine. There are just so many ways of connecting with nature that everyone can be a nature person of one kind or another.

In the last chapter of Claim Your Wildness, there is a chart, The Tree of Green Activities. This is only a section of the chart (unfortunately, the chart is too large to reproduce in full) but it is sufficient to show just how diverse nature or “green” activities can be. Tree diagram cropped

A major purpose of the chart is to push the message that there are green activities for virtually everyone, ranging from those you can do in and around your home to more adventurous” ones like rock climbing and scuba diving.

A recent edition of ABC TV’s  Gardening Australia contained some interesting examples of green activities. To view them click here  and here.

Speaking of Claim Your Wildness, if you would like to read the book and write a brief review of it, please use the comment box to request a free copy in ebook or PDF format. In addition to providing an email address, tell me a little about yourself. As I will not approve your comment for publication, your privacy will be protected.

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