How to get more connected, and happier

Photo via Urban Jungle

I have this theory that one of the most fundamental reasons why we’ve gotten to where we are today (record rates of species extinction, pollution of our waterways, global warming, soil degradation, chronic unhappiness) is because we’ve lost our connection to nature. In fact, I think we’ve forgotten we are part of it.

In her recent book Partnering with Nature, author Catriona MacGregor emphasises that by living and working in the artificial environments we’ve created for ourselves (thank you industrial revolution), where we spend much of our time indoors, under fluoro lighting, in front of a glowing screen, we have deprived ourselves of our vital connection with the natural world.

I bang on about this a fair bit. With two-thirds of Australians living in major cities, most of us can eat, work, play and do everything in between without ever having to connect with nature. As a result, we’ve become spiritually disassociated from the natural world. A bit woo-woo? Maybe. But no less true. A side effect of this way of living, albeit unintended, has been that we don’t think about how the way we live, on a day-to-day basis, impacts on the natural world.

Aboriginal people present the best example I can think of to illustrate how maintaining a sense of connection with the land encourages you, no obligates you, to care for it, nurture it. Their connection with the land is entwined in their culture, stemming from Dreamtime. It was beautifully put by S. Knight when he said,

“We don't own the land, the land owns us. The land is my mother, my mother is the land. Land is the starting point to where it all began. It's like picking up a piece of dirt and saying this is where I started and this is where I'll go. The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and identity.”

This intricate connection to country saw Aboriginal people preserve the biodiversity of Australia for 60,000 years before European settlement saw it destroyed within a few.

“We cultivated our land, but in a way different from the white man. We endeavoured to live with the land; they seemed to live off it. I was taught to preserve, never to destroy.” Tom Dystra, Aboriginal author.

So, as MacGregor writes, whilst it’s essential that we work on specific environmental problems like stopping the destruction of our rainforests, for instance, in order to successfully address the environmental crisis over the long-term we have to transform ourselves internally. We have to find that vital connection with the natural world again.

Part of the problem is that most people don’t even realise they’ve lost an important link. Margaret Emerson of Contemplative Hiking wrote about how to tell if you’ve become disconnected from the natural world: you view nature as a ‘resource’, you saw the movie Avatar and afterwards you felt the real world was grey and depressing in comparison, your idea of a good time is Las Vegas, Monday night football and spending the entire day at the mall.

I reckon there are things we can do in our daily lives (barring moving to the bush and living off the land) to help us reconnect, in that important woo-woo spiritual sense, with the natural world we are part of:

Photo via LIBN

Practice yoga. Outside.
Yoga centers, awakens, connects you with yourself and yourself with the earth. The mountain pose, the tree pose… it’s about connection with the natural world. The first yama (restraints, in yogic philosophy), ahimsa (non-harming), sort of dictates an eco-friendly way of life. To me, yoga is all about finding our place in our natural environment. Do it outside, on the beach, in a park or in your backyard to heighten your sense of nature.

Likewise meditation can help strip away the fog created by all the artificial stimuli we’re exposed to, so you can find your true self, the self that is a natural being, just one of the creatures sharing the earth. The yoga sutra Sthira sukham asanam is translated as “May our connection to the earth be steady and joyful”. It’s a nice one to meditate to.

If you’re walking in the city and see a strip of grass, take off your shoes and walk along it.
I heard Mark Yettica-Paulson say this a few weeks ago and it’s really stuck. I think just standing barefoot on a patch of grass and focusing on the sensation of the earth under you can really connect you at that deeper level too.

Turn everything off
Disconnect from the synthetic world. All the exposure to t.v., radio, computers and Wiis we get in our lives today removes us from the natural order of things. Just turn it all off once and a while and spend time doing things for real. Or if, ahem, you're reading a blog, take your laptop and do it outside.

Consume less stuff
Ah, stuff glorious stuff. I’m talking about the stuff we buy but don’t need, the stuff we might use once or twice a year while the rest of the time it clutters our space and our minds. I’ve written about this before here. Buying less stuff isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for our soul. And acquiring fewer creature comforts (like electric spice blenders for instance) forces us to do things the way nature intended. Using muscle power.

Go camping
There’s no quicker way to remind yourself that we’re just a part of a bigger ecosystem than by spending a night under the stars, cooking in an earth oven and squatting under a bush. When we spend time outdoors like this we benefit from the ‘wilderness effect’, those feelings of joy, expansion and reconnection, like the feeling you get when you catch a stunning sunset. Yes, scientists have labelled it. It’s an actual ‘effect’. And it’s universal.

Eat real food
Food straight from the earth. Food that is ethical, that’s seen a good deal for both the producer and the environment.

Grow your own
Growing your own food, in your backyard or a community garden, reignites the hunter gatherer instinct. But do it organically. Navigating the intricacies of organic growing teaches you how to work with nature.

Ride your bike, go for a walk, a hike, climb a tree
You experience more of life when you ride a bike. Simple.

Tell your kids to go and play outside
Faced with more computer games, game consoles and t.v. channels than we can poke a stick at, in an age where it’s considered normal to stand in front of a screen kicking the air as a means of getting a CG character to play football (instead of actually connecting with a real ball), we’re in danger of producing a generation of people with very little sense of what place we have in the natural world. So tell your kids to get outside and collect snails like the good old days.

And lastly, a beautiful poem by Aboriginal author and Yorta Yorta woman Hyllus Noel Maris (1934-86), Spiritual Song of the Aborigine:

I am a child of the Dreamtime People
Part of this Land, like the gnarled gumtree

I am the river, softly singing
Chanting our songs on my way to the sea
My spirit is the dust-devils
Mirages, that dance on the plain
I'm the snow, the wind and the falling rain

I'm part of the rocks and the red desert earth
Red as the blood that flows in my veins
I am eagle, crow and snake that glides
Through the rain-forest that clings to the mountainside
I awakened here when the earth was new
There was emu, wombat, kangaroo
No other man of a different hue
I am this land
And this land is me
I am Australia.
—Hyllus Noel Maris

What do you do to feel connected with the natural world?


  1. Beautifully said! It really concerns me how disconnected many people are from nature. There's no way they'll care about something they don't know. That's why i'm passionate about urban nature and protecting urban bushland, no matter how small an area. We need to ensure that nature is something that everyone encounters in their everyday lives.

    me....I connect to the natural world through weekday wanderings through our neighbourhood, and on weekends we try and get out and visit the 'real' nature by visiting a nearby National Park. I also connect with nature through my job in threatened species conservation, but sadly far too much of that time is spent behind a computer. We used to get out camping and bushwalking, but haven't been finding time for that recently. Or to be precise, we struggle to find the time to organise camping trips...So we just bought a camper van as part of our plan to connect more often with nature. Otherwise city living isn't going to work for us.

  2. Great point Tricia, it's so hard to connect in a city environment... that's why we have to be mindful and really focus on the little things every day.



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