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.


Marghanita Hughes said...

Wonderful post Jeff, I grew up in a home where art, nature and books were the stuff of everyday life. My parents, both art teachers allowed me the freedom to roam wild and my young mind was free to wander, explore and discover in the beautiful country-side of Scotland. That sense of awe and wonder has never left me. It’s what drives me to explore more, not just in art and nature but in life itself. The more I discover and learn the more I wish to share. I believe if we inspire a love for nature in a child, it will lead to a desire to protect. Although I am heading into half a century, my heart and soul are and always will be fully open and alive as a child....much love, beautiful kindred soul, wishing you a most magical and enchanting weekend in nature, peace Marghanita xx

jean said...

I am old enough that I was outside every chance I got because there were no computers and nothing on daytime TV that would have kept me in. And I am so glad that there are people who are starting movements to get kids out into Nature (no movements needed to get my friends and me out----we were headed out the door the minute our feet touched the floor in the morning). I still try to get out for a long walk everyday and see the trees, look at the mountains, feel all of the seasonal changes down to my toes!
I think my Dad stayed as healthy as he was until he was nearly 90 because he had long walks outside every day, sometimes twice a day!

By the way, I have a new website-----you asked how you could see my work so here it is! Please edit it out of the comments if it is not appropriate here. :)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Those of us who grew up before the age of such pervasive media were lucky, at least in terms of our unchallenged access to Nature.
No problem mentioning your website ( ). Your painting and other art are wonderful!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Marghanita -- You were indeed fortunate, as I was, to have parents and an environment conducive to exploring and expressing Nature. You certainly have carried on that tradition and share it so beautifully and in such a heartfelt way, that it inspires many, many others -- including me! Everyone should support you and your great work with kids ( )

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