Thursday, October 30, 2014

AGELESS WONDER — How To Channel Your Inner Five-Year-Old

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

As those of you know who follow my efforts here and in the social media, I’m a champion of reclaiming curiosity, wonder and regular access to Nature for a generation of kids robbed of those birthrights by well-intentioned parental interference, socioeconomic barriers and the glow of three- to ten-inch screens. I’ll continue to lobby for, at the very least, equal time for the wonders of technology and those of real, first-hand, low-tech experience in the out-of-doors.

And this isn’t just about kids; I actually make my case for people of all ages and circumstances. Everyone needs a regular dose of “vitamin N,” not just on weekends or vacations, but in our daily lives. Without it, we deprive ourselves of life’s most abundant font of peace, reflection, mental clarity, spiritual inspiration and general replenishment. Perhaps most importantly, without Nature we forget who we are and where we came from.

           Without Nature we forget who we are 
            and where we came from.


We all start life with an abundance of the natural tools we need to commune with Nature—curiosity, playfulness, creativity, spontaneity, wonder. But something happens as we grow up and become acculturated to the strictures of adult life. Ambition, expectations, responsibility and a cabal of other seductions conspire to rob us of those simple joys.

We learn to settle for Nature as an occasional treat, if at all, and something that takes an extraordinary effort. But we need the calming, healing, restorative effects of vitamin N every day and in every aspect of our lives.

That need to be touched by Nature all the time doesn’t end when we reach some arbitrary age—that of retirement, of moving to assisted living, or even of winding down our final days in this life. Indeed, as I’ve preached so often on this forum, our need for Nature may be most vital during both our first and last years of life.

Our entire culture has alienated itself from Nature at a rate unprecedented in human history.

As a man of advancing years, I can only hope that I—and certainly those entrusted with my care as I come to depend on them—will recognize that need and honor my express wish that vitamin N be part of my care-and-treatment plan until the very end. I want to be outdoors, feel the sun, smell the flowers and interact with the animals and birds. I want to go fishing.

But there may be some obstacles to clear. Many folks are so wowed by medical technology's incredible devices and pharmaceuticals that they seem to have forgotten Nature's powers. In fact, our entire culture has alienated itself from Nature at a rate unprecedented in human history. If we don't devalue it or forget it altogether, we fear it. And, even if we’re surrounded by Nature, too many of us have lost the ability to understand and embrace it the way we did when we were children.

That can change.

So here are my top-ten tips on how, even at a ripe old age, to get up, get moving and embrace Nature like a five-year-old again:

1. Make time.
You’ve spent most of your life since high school conforming to schedules and deadlines. The self-serving muse of competition has convinced you that if you don’t work during break, after hours and even while you’re on “vacation,” someone else will and steal your job. Hogwash! Declare it mental health time, a medical emergency, whatever takes. For that’s more than some crafty “dog-ate-my-homework" excuse; it’s the truth.

2. Get outdoors. Between household chores and the big game on TV, the sirens of sloth try to persuade you that it’s easier and more predictable to just stay inside and relax. That’s okay up to a point, but you’ll almost always unwind and restore yourself—physically, mentally and spiritually—more completely if you get outside and let Nature do her magic on you.

3. Explore.
Human beings are hard-wired to explore. Sadly, we’ve decided to let devices, and someone else’s legwork, do the exploring for us. We're coming disturbingly close to the point of googling natural wonders instead of expecting to actually observe them.

4. Touch. The idea of fiddling with things just to fully experience them was all but beaten out of us by the time we were about eight. Hey, you’re an adult now; you know to be reasonably careful, and besides, you can pay for it if you break it, right? It’s high time to reclaim this, the only one of our senses that's always reciprocal.

5. Be patient.
Here’s one place where maybe you don’t want to act like a little kid; often, with Nature, you just sit for long periods without anything happening. That’s the beauty of it; you enjoy what’s there, not something you expect to happen. Don’t worry, if you follow step 1, you’ve already taken the biggest step.

        As in nearly any aspect of life, you see 
        pretty much what you expect to see.

6. Hang out with like-minded folks. Depriving yourself of Vitamin N is just like any unhealthy habit; codependency helps support it. If you have trouble hoisting your friends off the couch, go by yourself…or get new friends.

7. Take youngsters with you. The key here is to get them out there in field or forest, set a few parameters and then let them alone; don't be responsible for entertaining them. Nature is the consummate playmate. It invites kids to exercise their curiosity, wonder and sense of play. Watch carefully what they do—digging, building, playing with sticks, rocks and water...and then you do the same. The simpler, the better.

8. Let go.
Have you ever seen young children playing who looked like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders? It’s impossible. Same for you. Suspend your need for control. Put the stresses of “adult life” into a musty corner of your consciousness and let spontaneity and joy make your day.

9. Insist on Nature as part of your elder care. If you want vitamin N to be an integral part of your care during your old age, speak up now. Don't trust the medical community to think of it. And do make sure your family and closest friends know your wishes. In my case, I've spelled it out: take me outdoors every day, weather permitting; if I can't go out, bring Nature to me—surround me with plants and animals I can touch and hold, play recordings of Nature's sounds, read to me of people's adventures in Nature.

10. Expect wonder. Believe it or not, there's an element of faith in all of this. As in nearly any aspect of life, you see pretty much what you expect to see. If you come into any experience with cynicism and doubt, sure enough, you’ll be disappointed. Approach it with an open mind, heart and spirit, and whatever happens—or doesn’t happen—will end up somewhere between cool and awesome.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Try a food or dish you've never tasted before.



Food is fluent in any language. Let it be your guide to distant lands, your introduction to other cultures and new friends.

At home or abroad, explore new flavors; challenge your tastes; 

feed your sense of adventure.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


When I converse with Nature, just as when I converse with people, perspective is everything. Close up, I can see the pores and the warts; far away, details start to blend together, and the subject becomes shape, pattern and movement.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate a beautiful landscape. Both broad and deep in its scope, the view rolls out in a seamless progression of receding layers all the way to the horizon…and beyond. It always fills me with wonder and gratitude.

But something's been happening to our landscapes, something that's occurred in just the last generation or two. Fewer and fewer of us—most glaringly, fewer of those under thirty—seem able to find one any more. Part of it is that such unbroken stretches of unspoiled land are disappearing. If a housing development hasn't obliterated the view altogether, a highway, power line or cell phone tower stains it.

But as I so often preach, seeing is a two-way street. It doesn't have to do with just the quality of what's being looked it; it also has to do with the looker. And that we can do something about.

   These mental eyesores are about as unwelcome 
   as a frac sand mine in Eden.

A panorama might have all the qualities you could ever want in a vista—all those sublime strata of terrain, foliage and sky, unmarred by any trace of man's meddling. Maybe a lake or river graces the scene. If you're lucky, a tired sun pours that last, precious, liquid-gold light over hill and dale.

As ideal as it sounds, that picture can still be marred. This time, though, the defacement occurs at the other end of the exchange—in the eye of the beholder. The rude blurting of my cell phone blocks my view; cynicism slashes the canvas; concerns with time or responsibility dog-ear the corners.

Whatever the culprit, these mental eyesores are about as unwelcome as a frac sand mine in Eden.

Think of it as one's state of mind being his or her internal landscape. I see more, reflect more, learn more when that inner view spreads out all around me as if I stood atop a mountain. And anything that spoils that sensual, spiritual space ruins not just my mental outlook but my woods-and-rocks-and-waters view as well.

It all comes down to my belief that we see pretty much what we want to see.

   The view starts deep in my soul and extends, 
   simultaneously, to both earth’s horizon and  
   that of my deepest internal knowing.

To understand this in the context of my pantheistic view of the world, it helps if I see the inner and outer views as one entity, one continuous vista that starts deep in my soul and extends, simultaneously, to both earth’s horizon and that of my deepest internal knowing.


Where does your outer landscape end and your inner one begin? Are you aware of how they overlap? Can you feel your ability to appreciate the view improve when you clear your mind and spirit of distractions? How do you do that?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

THE QUEST FOR UNCERTAINTY – Why Wondering Is More Powerful than Being Right

Don’t get me wrong; I truly envy some people for their clarity of thought. I often wish I were more decisive, that I could be sure enough about a decision or an issue, right away, to be willing to go to bat for or against it.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of my reticence as a handicap. But in the past decade or so, at last, I’ve found a way to free myself of that burden; I’ve decided it’s actually one of my greatest strengths.

          Isn’t the brew of consequence richer, 
          more robust, when one lets facts and 
          feelings percolate for a while?

After all, I’m thinking, isn’t the world a more interesting place when the conversation doesn’t necessarily end at one person’s version of the truth? Isn’t the brew of consequence richer, more robust, when one lets facts and feelings percolate for a while? Isn’t genuine understanding better served when for every ideologue there’s a skeptic; for every answer, a question; for every teacher, a student?

I guess I can’t stop being the student. And I'm pretty sure that’s okay.

          The more I learn, the more certain I am 

          that I don’t know everything.

Learning’s a funny thing. For many people, it seems it’s just the means to an end. You learn so you can know; you know so you don’t have to listen to anyone any more. Not me. The more I learn, the more certain I am that I don’t know everything…and the harder I listen. For me, asking questions, keeping open the door to curiosity and wonder, is more powerful than being right.

Of course, I understand that much of modern life revolves around having answers. Sometimes one must act on those answers—the best ones possible given constraints of time and resources. But I keep thinking how much of the human experience, spanning nearly every culture, hinges not so much on whether or not those answers are the right ones, as on some clever person’s ability to make you think they are. There must be a better way.

       Isn’t there a kind of abundance in knowing 
       that all the possible conclusions are still 
       out there for you?

Giving myself permission to be ambivalent has been liberating. Ironically, it seems to have actually emboldened my thinking in a way. Not that I make decisions any more easily; but I’m coming more and more to not just tolerate, but actually celebrate the knowledge that absolutely nothing—including this statement—is absolute. It all depends on how I look at it—the lens of my experience; the filter of my judgement; the lightings and shadings of my emotions.

Besides that sense of liberation, isn’t there a kind of abundance in being slow to judge, in knowing that all the possible conclusions are still out there for you? Come on, isn't there at least a small part of you that pities those who so quickly limit their prospects to just one outcome, one reality?

                                         ~         ~         ~

I’m interested in your take on this. How certain are you, at your core, of decisions you make? Does having to know something for sure ever feel like a constraint on your intelligence and creativity? Do you catch yourself turning off your curiosity in order to protect your certainty?

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and wrong.