Re-thinking Our Relationship with Nature

04/20/2017 10:36 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2017
photo: Wright's

Ask a few of the people you know what it means to be connected, and you’ll get a range of answers.  Some overwhelmingly think of being connected as communicating via social media or the internet.  Many give a different answer - the word “relationships” come up. Others think of either emotional or social attachments.

However, in this unscientific experiment, two words come up in all conversations: communication and community.  These share a root word, communis, which is Latin for“together” (com) and “exchange” or “link” (munis).  Despite the unsurprising differences in the answers as to how we connect, the idea of “communing” remains constant.  

That idea of communing is something to consider if you’re reading this on Earth Day. As we think about how we relate to nature, let’s renew – and re-think – that relationship with an eye toward our common, interconnected link. What does it mean to be connected to nature?  We don’t just live in nature or visit it. The fact is that we are “of” nature – we are a product of it and we embody the forces and properties of the natural world.  

Beginning at the dawn of humankind and continuing in America with the likes of Thoreau and Muir – the concept that people need to be connected to nature has never been far from our consciousness.  What’s surprising is just how cut off from nature we have become in our day-to-day lives.  For too many of us in modern society, the closest we get to nature is unconsciously breathing the air and eating the fruits of nature.  At a basic level, many simply have no idea where their food comes from; we may believe that it just appears in the market, wrapped in plastic, devoid of any origin.

However, the fact is – we can’t live without a connection to the earth – literally.  While I will look deeper into the human connection with the soil in an upcoming post, it’s worth noting that there is an abundance of nutrients found in healthy soil that are essential for plant growth and human health. Scientists are discovering the existence of a significant number of nutrients in the soil that support human life – at least 18 thus far – and we don’t know the full extent of the regenerative power of the soil.

For example, nitrogen is a necessity for photosynthesis as well as a key component of proteins, DNA, RNA and blood in the human body.  Iron, another soil nutrient, is critical as an oxygen carrier in plants – and also as an oxygen carrier in our bloodstreams.  Our source for these soil nutrients is the plants we eat, and by destroying the soil we are destroying our natural source to health.  The link between humans and nature - the interconnected, essential and communal relationship - could not be clearer.

Scientific research confirms that we need to be in nature – to experience it as part of our lives – in order to maintain perspective and health – spiritual, mental and physical. Otherwise, we lose our roots. We risk devaluing nature, dismissing it as something “out there” and not part of ourselves.  And then, it becomes something we don’t need to think about, take care of, or protect.  

Let’s think again about how important and interconnected our relationship is with nature.  Communing with nature may not require a trip to the Grand Canyon. For me, to be in a relationship with nature means to live in harmony with the natural world, respecting the laws of nature. It can be as simple as recognizing the natural growing process without the use of chemical additives, and buying fresh local fruits and vegetables in season. It can be taking the time to enjoy the breezes in the park on a warm day, or taking a walk in the hills outside of town, or working in the backyard garden.

Whatever you choose, when you acknowledge our interconnection with nature and our part in the whole, it becomes a relationship of support rather than control. Because, at the end of the day, all parts of all ecosystems are connected. When we connect with nature, we connect with ourselves. When we celebrate Earth Day, we celebrate ourselves as members of the Earth community and our role in addressing the threats to our collective survival. When the earth thrives, we thrive.

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