The research has been done. The results are staggering. Children spend less time in the outdoors than EVER before in human history. And the impact of this fact will, inevitably, profoundly shift how our children, and our children’s children view their connection with and within this natural world.
In his excellent, and well-researched West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief, Steven Kotler posits that “what we believe governs what we see.” Basically, our belief systems (from religious, to spiritual, to biological, and back again) govern our perceptions—and what we perceive is the real world—Reality—is nothing more, or less, than what we believe. Kotler’s concern, same as mine, is grounded in the current trend that has the human species moving farther and farther away from the natural world. In essence, we are ignoring or shunning basic biological imperatives that allow us to see, to create, to value interconnections in the very natural world from which we came.
Not so, you say. Our children (and some of us) are making connections and raising the collective consciousness through the strategic use of internet technologies, globalization, and instant access to information. Yet in this environment of overwhelming information access, our human-animal brains are being put to the test.
Kotler frames his argument about the origins of our belief in both current and older brain research and studies. Much of our “human-ness” comes from our ability to manage both “logos” and “mythos.” Logos—or logic—is “information of the no-nonsense variety: practical, clinical, scientific, secular.” Mythos—or myth–is a “way to give meaning to events that exist beyond easy context.” We are deeply entrenched in a culture that celebrates logos, bringing to mind the line and cultural motifs from The Matrix, “The world as it was at the end of the 20th century”. A culture that, by and large, now shuns myth. Myth was long believed to be an outward representation/explanation of our inner selves. Our creation of personal “myth” explains the inexplicable, allows us to describe the indescribable, gives us the context to make sense and meaning in a world of random suffering, pain, and death.
In the current scientific climate, however, subjectivity is out, and objectivity rules. When we are confronted with glaring economic issues, complex political initiatives, and public health conundrums—there are those who utilize logos in its myriad forms to find “a solution.” Yet when those situations involve environmental paradoxes where human wants and needs trump multiple species, or when whole cities or nations of suffering humans seem to become “an issue”—that is our logos attempting to usurp our mythos. We don’t connect, we think.
For all of that thinking, we are still losing ground in certain ways—and our connection with ritual is one of those. If you watch the elaborate mating ritual of the Bower Bird during this last month’s seminal Discovery Channel series, Life , or the battle of the Giant Bullfrogs, or the painstaking (and multi-year) guidance a mother orangutan provides to her child, it becomes easy to understand that all of the natural world is governed by ritual. And, yes Virginia, we are part of that natural world, too.
Meaning, for humans, is created through layers and layers of ritual. This evolution of ritual eventually created a schema, or thought pattern, that made us want to know why something happened. This desire to know why is one of the characteristics that make us uniquely human. The “logos” sciences have helped us tremendously in this area. I am happy to know that my toddler son’s runny nose is actually caused by a virus that my preschool son brought home and somehow shared with him (think prolific nose-picker) and not by a malevolent spirit (though I do wonder what possesses the nose-picker, sometimes…).
The cognitive imperative to seek out “the answers to life’s persistent questions” is not only the charge of Guy Noir, it is inherent—biologically and neurologically—in each one of us. Because of this, we have to reconnect our kids with nature because—without it–they are actually losing part of their evolutionary intelligence, health, and disrupting their neurochemistry.
For example, if a child is completely disconnected from the food cycle, and has no idea that the meat in front of her was once living—or if that child knows that the sandwich she is eating was once, in some other place and time, a living, breathing turkey, yet she has no experience with “Turkey”—how will she be able to truly know to ask why. (Why am I eating this? How did this turkey live and die? Why does turkey taste so terrific? What will happen to me when I die?) And when she does bother to ask why, she’ll find a number of nutrition charts on line that define the essence of “Turkey” as its caloric value and place on the food pyramid…but nothing that allows her to experience “Turkey” in all of its squawking, fluffing, and preening glory. Nor will she be able to find anything that will give her the respect, understanding, and empathy toward a once living creature who has now arrived in a neatly package, hermetically sealed, plastic container on her lunch tray.
We are short circuiting our brains because we cannot make connections to the very world that has sustained us for the last 6,000 years. Candice Pert writes in her book, Molecules of Emotion,
There is a plethora of elegant neurophysiological data suggesting that the nervous system is not capable of taking in everything, but can only scan the outer world for material that it is prepared to find by virtue of its wiring hook ups, its own internal patterns, and its past experiences.” If our children scan the world in 50 years, and haven’t explored and played in the outdoors, then how will they ever understand its value and seek to preserve it?
The current logic and trends say they won’t….but with the continued efforts and wisdom of camping professionals, educators, eco-visionaries, environmental activists, parents, youth development professionals, surfers, brain researchers, scientists, spiritual advisors, nature-lovers, active individuals, the health-conscious, and other progressive fields and industries—we are swinging the pendulum back to a more connected, present, and happier place: our backyards, parks, camps, natural recreation areas….our world.
Reconnect with nature.
Reconnect with others.
Reonnect with yourself.
Reconnect with wonder.
Go play outdoors.