Feeling Neurotic? Reclaim Your Animal Senses

08/17/2010 11:19 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Schuyler Brown Founder and Strategy Director @ Sightful (, faculty @ Design for Social Innovation program at School of Visual Arts, writer

The other day I went for a walk in the park near my apartment in Brooklyn, Prospect Park. It's a great, wild park and a blessing in the midst of the concrete and brownstone. About a half mile into the woods, I was just starting to sink into nature when I passed a woman pushing a stroller. She was walking at a rapid clip while talking loudly on the phone. The child was sitting in the stroller holding an iPad on which he was watching a movie (also loud). They were both completely alienated from their environment and I thought, "What's the point?"

I've been noticing this phenomenon for a while, sometimes called "absent presence," of people moving through the world completely engrossed in technology. It's very pronounced in cities, where you tend not to be in cars, but on foot and generally in close quarters. Look around your typical subway train these days and the majority of the people are wearing headphones or are otherwise absorbed in a device.

But this woman and her child represented something more dire, which is the escalating, technologically enabled alienation of people not just from their fellow man or from their immediate environment, but from nature itself.

Yes, yes. This is nothing new. Since the industrial age (and possibly before) men and women have been noticing and fretting over the eventuality of Man's loss of his place in the natural world. Teddy Roosevelt created national parks in part to encourage a reconnection. It's just that the omnipresence of hand-held devices has taken things to a new level. Even Yosemite is no match for the iPhone.

The good news is that smart people, great thinkers and doers are finding interesting and inspirational ways to reverse the tide. My friend, Peter Spear, just told me about the upcoming release of a new book by David Abram called "Becoming Animal." It's out August 24 and we're both giddy to get our hands on it. Random House describes the book this way: "For too long we've inured ourselves to the wild intelligence of our muscled flesh, taking our primary truths from technologies that hold the living world at a distance. This book subverts that distance, drawing readers ever deeper into their animal senses in order to explore, from within, the elemental kinship between the body and the breathing Earth." Bravo. We could all stand to be a bit more animal.

So as you contemplate ways in which you might reconnect with nature and awaken your animal senses, I leave you with a stunner of a quote from one of my heroes, Carl Jung. Maybe it explains something about our neurotic world, maybe it can be an inspiration for those of us who are actively seeking to become healthier, happier denizens of the planet:

"People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality. They are too naive, like children, and it is necessary to tell them the facts of life, so to speak -- to make it plain to them that they are human beings like all others."