We are connected to the natural world
The other day my step son said to me, “Thanks for making me go outside. If it were up to me I would probably stay indoors too much and I know it is good to be outside.” I loved his insight with that comment. Even as a generation who is born into this world of climate controlled, mall shopping and indoor virtual realities, they know that there is something important about going “out there” once and awhile. When I was a kid, my parents would also tell me to “Get outside!” Some of my favourite childhood memories are of building tree forts, damming creeks, making plywood jumps for our bikes or spending the winters building snow forts and toboggan runs. When I think of my most fond memories, they were rarely inside but rather outside playing.
Thinking about my step son’s comment, I wonder how he knows, “it is good to be outside?” Is it just because we tell the kids that it is good for them to breathe non-recycled air and expose their faces to some sunlight or do they actually feel some innate connection to the natural world? I like to think that there is still a vestigial part of us that feels this connection. I do worry that if we do not teach our children about their connection to the planet, the solar system, and the universe, they not only fail to see the symbiotic relationship but they run the risk of feeling disconnected from life.
When I was a kid, my mom, my sister, and myself would head to church every Sunday. My dad chose to not come with us and would always say, “My church is in the mountains and my God is everywhere.” It wasn’t until my first existential crisis as a young teen that I understood what he meant. My dad is still very much connected to nature. He is the kind of guy you want to be with should you find yourself lost somewhere in the wilderness. He intuitively knows where magnetic north is and understands the workings of the natural world.
So many of us view ourselves as plump masses of tissue bumbling through this life separate not only from each other, but separate from this planet, solar system, and universe. If you do a quick study of the origins of our solar system and planet, you quickly realize that all living things here today got here by evolving in our environment. As the environment changed, those who adapted, survived. How then are we, as the title of this article suggests, “Connected to the natural world?” For starters, our anatomy and physiology has evolved to allow us to utilize the oxygen in our environment to produce energy. During our tree dwelling evolutionary phase, as our food sources became more scarce in the tree canopies, we developed our upright, bipedal gait and opposable thumbs to hunt, gather, pick, and later use tools to cultivate our food.
But there are more subtle ways in which we are connected and influenced to evolve with our ever-changing environment that affect us all the time. Some cells in our skin are perfectly adapted to convert ultraviolet light to vitamin D. When ultaviolet light strikes are our retinas, a signal is sent to the pineal gland in the brain to start producing melatonin. Melatonin and vitamin D are potent antioxidants and melatonin helps to regulate sleep cycles. The pineal gland is a small (pine-cone shaped) structure deep in the middle of the brain. In addition to producing melatonin, it contains small amounts magnetite. Magnetite is a molecule containing iron which responds to movements in a magnetic field. It just so happens that our planet is enveloped by a magnetic field and as both plants and animals move, the small magnetite molecules undergo a slight rotation which provides plants and animals with a geomagnetic sense in space. In other words, both plants and animals have the ability to detect magnetic north and thus know our approximate geographic coordinates.
Like the ability to wiggle our ears or spread our toes, even though our anatomy is still in tact, our ability to use it is fading. So, while we have magnetite that provides us with signals of position, we have de-trained our ability to notice the signals from our brain. In addition, the Electrosmog in our environment has likely interfered with our ability to detect the minute rotations of magnetite in our brains. Many other animals still feel the earth’s magnetic influence. Many animals like deer, elk, and cows when grazing as a herd, will align in a north-south direction. Many animals such as pigeons, honeybees, bats, monarch butterflies, turtles, etc. rely on magnetoreception to find their way home.
Another example of our connection to the natural world is our brain waves and Schumann Resonances. Our brains continually produce a small electromagnetic field that can easily be measured as brain waves. We divide brain waves into: delta (0-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-13 Hz), beta (13-30 Hz), and gamma (25-100 Hz) brain waves. Alpha brain waves are the brain waves produced when we are relaxed and have our eyes closed. It is thought to be the prime state for learning new information. Schumann resonances are the background frequency of the planet created by the regular, cyclical events of lightning strikes around the planet. Most of the daily lightning strikes occur in south-east Asia, Africa, and South America. There are approximately 50 lightning strikes every second. Since each strike may be tens of thousands of volts of electricity, the electrical discharge travels between the surface of the earth and the magnetic field. This measured frequency, approximately matches our brain waves.
A final example of our subtle connection to the natural world is the connection between the sun’s solar flares and health effects. There are numerous scientific studies which have found correlations between solar flares and health effects such as: heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes. In addition, there is evidence showing an increase in car accidents, people making major purchases, and stock market fluctuations with solar flares. The sun’s solar activity is also cyclical with peaks in activity every 11 years. We are near the approximate peak of activity now.
While we may not be aware of it, we are significantly affected by our environment. The further we remove ourselves from the natural world, the less we can be affected by these subtle forces which have helped guide our evolution. The connection to our natural world is real. It not only has the ability to shape us over evolutionary epochs but it can have immediate effects on our health. As a passionate wave lover, it is interesting to note that the average frequency of ocean waves on a moderately breezy day is 8 cycles per second – very close to your breathing rate. The next time you are outside take a big breath of nature in and acknowledge your connection to all living and non-living things. If you have any ability to influence children, remind them to get outside and go feel the breathing of the planet.