Daily Nature - Practices in the CityWritten by Gavin Humphreys
We humans are wired to be in nature.
If you’ve lived in the city all your life, you might not even think about it, but when our bodies and minds are denied this connection it affects us.
It can cause depression, higher susceptibility to stress, as well as other short and long term mental-health issues.
Roughly 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Us city dwellers need to take the initiative and face up to the disconnect.
In this blog, I have several suggestions for how to get a daily dose of nature.
By reconnecting with nature, scientists suggest there are several benefits. Stress and depression decreases for starters, as happiness and that feeling of well-being increases. In other words, a walk in the park can help you leave stresses behind, and result in you feeling darned good about life.
You are likely to have more social interactions and feel a part of the society in which you live.
Nature gives us all a feeling of meaning and purpose. It places us in the world of life (and death) and makes us feel part of something bigger.
It improves our mental ability to manage our life tasks. It prevents the burnout that many of us face from stressful jobs and busy lifestyles, and allows us to face the different aspects of our lives - work, family, relationships - with a clear head and fresh eyes.
Another important benefit you might feel is that connecting with nature has been shown to improve your sleep (which in turn is connected to your stress levels, social interactions, and physical health).
Nature has several positive effects on the way your brain works. Interacting with nature is suggested to improve memory and attention, give you more self-control (making you less likely to do things on impulse), increase learning performance, and also give a boost to your imagination and creativity.
How do I find nature in the city?
Living in the city, most of us are used to thinking of what we see in terms of pollution, brick walls, noise, neon lights, and tarmac roads.
But look a little closer and there is nature to be found, right here in the urban jungle.
Walk or cycle through a park every day
Even if it is not on your route; go out of your way. This is more important than arriving quickly.
If you take the bus to work, deliberately make sure that you walk through a park to get to the bus stop. It might double your journey, but this conscious effort will make your whole day more peaceful and less stressful.
If you have a dog, you probably already walk in a park each day - but do you really walk in the park? Take your time to absorb the nature around you - the ground you step on, the birds you see, the smell of leaf litter in the rain...
Keep a bonsai or potted plants
Cultivate growth. Literally.
A bonsai is an amazing way to do this. They are nature miniaturized.
Caring for a bonsai you have to touch the soil, trim the leaves, and learn all about how the tree grows.
They also help you to be zen, and disconnect from the stresses of the city - while being easy enough to fit into the smallest of apartments or office spaces.
If you want something easier to look after, there are many potted plants to choose from. You might also want to grow some herbs in your garden or on your window sill.
Sow seeds. Of course you can buy fully grown plants, but there is also something special in growing your plants from seeds. They won’t all come through, and many don’t make it to be fully grown plants or trees, but it’s all part of nature. And you are being part of nature!
By helping plants to grow, you will find that you grow too - in patience, compassion, gratitude, happiness, and more.
(A little disclaimer - some animals or kids are allergic to certain plants, check this out if you think it might affect you.)
Spot at least one wild animal per day
Yeah, a pigeon will do. Watch how they interact, how they bathe in the fountain, how they look at you.
But try harder. If you look up, you might see birds of prey, migrating birds, seabirds.
If you commute, by the roadside there might be a mouse, a roadrunner (or even a coyote if you’re lucky!).
Don’t only look, but listen: behind the sound of traffic, hear that baby birdie chirping to its Ma...
You might see ants coming out of their colony by the sidewalk. Perhaps there’s a ladybug in your window garden.
A squirrel could be climbing a tree in the park. There are bound to be some birds up there too.
Start looking. It’ll amaze you what can be found in our urban landscapes.
Look at the sky
This is a great way to see birdlife, but there is much more up there. Take some time to watch the clouds float by. Notice the different clouds on different days.
Why not sit on a bench at sunrise, or sunset, and just watch the colors change in the sky?
Then there’s the night. Are you able to see the moon or the stars? (perhaps not many with all the light pollution in our cities...)
Keep an eye on the moon, and follow it each day. What time does it rise and set? Know when it’s waxing and waning. If you live by the sea, note exactly how this affects the tides in your area.
Touch a tree
You don’t have to go full-hog tree-hugging - be as discreet as you want!
You could sit against a tree and read a book.
It could be a light brush as you are passing.
Or even better, take your time to notice how the bark feels and looks, how it’s different from the tree next to it, if it has any damage from humans, or maybe a lightning strike. Have a look to see if there are any birds, or squirrels, or bugs, going about their day up in the branches.
It doesn’t have to be a tree - just touch something living and growing in the outdoors! The grass. A flower. A bush.
It might be in a park, planted in the sidewalk, or even growing out of the brickwork. This is the awe-inspiring force of nature, even within the city.
Touch the tree or the plant and engage your other senses. Smell it, listen to the wind in the leaves, look at it closely.
You might have passed by a tree every day on your way to work, and never realized the beauty of it.
Go out in the rain
Deliberately. Enjoy the way it falls on your face.
If you get caught in a shower, let it be. Savor the sensation.
The pure joy of water falling from the sky.
And be aware of all our different weathers. None are inherently ‘bad’, that’s just a projection from your thoughts. Love them - the wind blowing your clothes, the sun, which can caress your face or make you sweat, and wrap up warm and get out in the snow.
You can even enjoy the sleet cutting into your face. It certainly makes you feel alive.
Making Nature Central to your City Life
All these ideas help, but it is up to you to decide how you can make nature a central part of your life in the city.
To motivate you, why not keep a journal? Record the nature you have seen, or the growth of your bonsai. Or challenge yourself to see how many birds or trees you journal in one year.
While a daily nature practice in the city is a great foundation, you might also want to explore new parks on the weekend, or take a break from the city once in a while.
But even if you can leave now and again, staying close to nature every day of the year is essential.
You will reap the psychological, emotional, and brainpower benefits of a daily dose of nature.
There is one final plus to leave you with: it will generate experiences. It will give you stories to tell - of people you meet, places you go, things you see, and new-found knowledge.
So go get your daily nature!