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By: WCPARC naturalist Elle Bogle
Once we were wild. Once we lived, breathed, and existed in nature as one strand of a large and beautiful web. Once we understood having a connection with the natural world was not only a necessity for survival, but we also knew no other way of existing. Now we live in a highly developed and technological world, in a society becoming more deeply entrenched in the digital and further removed from the natural. We have become tame, dissociated from, and sometimes even fearful of nature. We’ve come to view ourselves as separate. We’ve attempted to sanitize it, contain it, and tried to force it to conform to our ideas of what it should be, how it should look, even where it should be allowed to exist. But even now, in our compartmentalized, digitized world, separation from nature couldn’t be further from reality. Everything on this planet is born from the same womb in perfect harmony with the earth, born with innate knowledge of her rhythms, her seasons, her tides. Every living thing breathes the same air, drinks the same water, seeks shelter amongst the same trees. Everything shares the invisible but palpable thread of connection, linking us all, strand by strand in the glorious web. Reclaiming our birthright of connection to the natural world is an act of radical activism.
How do we regain this innate knowledge, strengthen our connection, become reengaged? What does reengagement and connectivity look like and how is it activism? Reengagement starts with a simple yearning for fresh air, for momentary escape from the frenetic pressures of everyday life, for the sound of the wind in the trees, for the sight of crystalline drops of morning dew. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we crave a sensory connection with the natural world. Seeking out a daily moment of awe is how we begin to reconnect. Many believe awe belongs solely to sweeping vistas, mountain peaks, ocean waves, but nothing could be further from the truth. Awe is found in the perfect mandala of flower petals, in sunlight exploding into diamonds on rippling water , in discovering a tiny tree frog asleep on a leaf. Awe is found in whatever speaks directly to us. When we seek out these daily moments of awe, we become engaged. This engagement leads to nourishment of the soul, to a desire for more connection with something larger than and outside of us. Rediscovering awe in nature increases empathy, generosity, and hope. In today’s hyper-focused emphasis on self, what is more radical than empathy? Feeling more connectedness to nature and a sense of being part of something larger and greater than ourselves fosters an emotional closeness with the earth, in turn inspiring us to take protective action.
Again, how is this activism? Research has shown that taking purposeful action feeds hope and hope feeds taking purposeful action. Embracing daily opportunities for experiencing awe is directly linked to pro-environmental behaviors, for when we experience awe, we are more apt to increase environmentally ethical decision-making and to focus less on the individual self. We begin to “think globally and act locally”. Mahatma Gandhi once said “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” If we mirror the natural world, we begin to act in accordance with its rhythm. We tune in, begin to live in harmony instead of in opposition. We become the change we want to see. We assume our responsibility and privilege of bearing witness to the earth, of properly caring for her and for all who dwell within her, including ourselves. In reclaiming our wonderment, our ability to experience awe, we reclaim the wildness of our true selves. What is more radical than this?