In the midst of a busy college semester, I cannot help but think about life just over a year ago. In the height of lockdown life seemed to slow down. Everyday moments grew in importance; they were all we had. Daily walks through my neighborhood swelled to a new place in my routine, followed by eating lunch outside and reading in the grass. Without the ability to go to school, visit public places without fear, or travel, the everyday was all we had to lean into.
For me and those around me in Colorado, this meant leaning into nature. There was something comforting in rooting ourselves in the slow-moving processes of nature. Throughout March, April, and May, I spent the days leaning into the rhythm of springtime. The slow growth of the flowers in our front yard. The budding of trees. The calm wind that made clouds dance through the sky. If I interacted with friends “outside my bubble,” we gathered for socially distant days in the park, once again leaning into the natural world as a form of relief. Because our lives seemed to slow down, it felt like we were moving at nature’s pace. I felt the days go by as the flowers did, only connected to the sun rising and setting and the monotony that set in after several months in lockdown. There was no differentiation between work days and weekends, no large gatherings or exciting weekend plans to look forward to and nothing to speed the passing of time.
The Project Outside was founded with this in mind. It was meditative to enter into nature and somewhat of a primal instinct to be so close to something bigger than ourselves. The #outside2020 challenges that ran encouraged people to find ways to experience nature in a personal way and gain peace from it in the tumultuous months we spent in lockdown.
Now, in November 2021, life has picked up again. My days as a college athlete are highly scheduled and feel as if they are rushing by. My internal clock is running faster than that of nature. I am rushing around, moving faster than the routines that ground the planet and living out of sync with the natural cycle of sunrise and sunset. The fast-paced culture has returned, and the mundane moments spent in nature are hard to create. In the midst of stress, it feels silly to stop and watch a butterfly on a flower or appreciate the way the leaves are falling from the trees. No longer are we living in cadence with nature, but we are living in the technologically driven, high-stress hustle culture that praises moving quickly to speed from one appointment to another, barely taking time to each lunch and connect with friends and family.
This is detrimental to our mental health and reflects the fractured relationships Americans have with nature. In the age of instant technology and hustle culture, the mundane moments we started to appreciate in nature during the Pandemic have been left behind. We must now force a relationship with nature, actively schedule a hike several hours from home in a deemed ‘beautiful’ location, and this leaves our daily lives bare from the daily interactions that ground us and are crucial to our wellbeing.
There is a phenomenal 2015 National Geographic documentary called The Age of Airplanes that profiles the airplane in the modern world and how it has revolutionized our lives in the 21st century. One part of the documentary is especially striking — it demonstrates how the speeds at which humans have been able to travel have sky-rocked in the past several hundred years compared to the thousands of years prior. In many ways, it feels like the pandemic has illuminated this similar trend but in the pace of life. In today’s world, people are busier than ever, more stressed than ever, and spending significant amounts of time on screens. Like the airplane, the introduction of commonplace technology like the smartphone and laptop have allowed employees to complete more work in less time, allowing the workplace to function at a faster rate and pushing this phenomena into every other sphere of life. The pandemic allowed people to get a moment of relief from the ever increasing treadmill of workplace productivity, bringing people back into the natural rhythm of life.
I wonder what would happen if people intentionally chose to find moments in their daily life to slow down and connect with nature. Are humans meant to function at the speed at which we function today? Do we need to get back in sync with rhythms derived from nature? How must we seek nature in the everyday to improve our quality of life, relationship with nature, and health of the planet? How can getting back into nature help us adjust to life at full speed?
In this series of reflections on nature in the everyday world, we seek to explore what it can look like to lean into nature in an urban setting.
Implementable Action Step: Reflect on your daily life. Do you engage with nature each day? If so, how? If not, why? Were you aware of the amount of time you spend in nature each day before this? How can you find one way to get into nature each day?