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Pick Up A Rock: The Nature Fix

February 20, 2018


Pick up a rock. Any rock. You’ll feel better.

“When something bad happens, ” writes Karen Maesen Miller in Paradise in Plain Sight, “when you step into the quicksand of your gloom and doom, when your thoughts begin to race, when fear strangles your breath, despair wrenches your heart, and doubt suffocates the light right out of your day, pick up a rock and hold it in your hand.

Yes, any old rock will do. Any rock will bring you back to the here and now.

Faith in the here and now is faith that never leaves you. Besides, what else do you have to go on?”

Seriously? With everything that’s going wrong in the world? Why? 

There’s lots of research that’s come out about “Nature Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Fix” that indicates that time in nature “makes us happier, healthier, and more creative” according to  journalist and science writer Florence Williams.

These days, too often the glow of the screen captivates us more than the glow of the moon or the sunset. Do we even remember to look up to see the first or the final rays of the sun sending tangerine and fuchsia light into the clouds infusing the beginning or the end of our days with a golden glow? 

How is it that we have lost the get up and go to get outdoors for a walk in the woods or on the shore? How have we forgotten how good it feels to hear the birds in the trees, to see a cottontail munching grass, to catch unaware a deer or a lizard? How could we forget how nature challenges us to learn about ourselves and the world and provides us with opportunities for self discovery and knowledge? What does it mean for our society to lose our connection with nature? Could this at least partly explain our troubled society?

We need more “awe” in our lives — and not the kind of awe we experience watching cute cat videos or someone do some amazing feat in a YouTube. We need the kind of awe we get in the presence of nature– a vista, a waterfall, the tides…


Williams reports that while a trip to the local city park may be nice, it may not be enough: time in nature is not only pleasurable but necessary for our health and survival. We need to experience “awe.”

Japan has forest bathing and Korea has healing forests, writes Williams. If research shows that time in nature makes us healthier, happier and more creative, how can cities make spaces of awe and restoration, and how can people be inspired to spend more time in them?

Williams investigates this basic need in her 2017 book The Nature Fix  where she writes about her travels around the world to learn about the brainwaves of urban pedestrians in Edinburgh, the healing effects of river-rafting in the American West on veterans afflicted with PTSD, and more to provide the argument and models for restoration and awe. 

Credentials for Williams include being a contributing editor to Outside magazine and the appearance of her work in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and an award winning author for her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History a New York Times Notable Book of 2012 and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology. 

So once again, here’s the challenge I present:

  1. Try to get OUTSIDE in NATURE for 30 minutes on average a day. Watch the sunset or the moonrise or these out the stars. Go for a walk or climb a tree or get out or in the water — and leave your phone behind or at least OFF. As Williams points out, even five hours a month can have a significant impact!
  2. Go on a technology diet. Turn your phone OFF at least 30 minutes before you go to bed and 30 minutes after you wake up. Even better, put yourself on an even stricter technology diet. For students: can you at least keep your phone put away while you are at school or at least during class? Can you keep your technology off or in the other room while you eat or you study?
  3. Pay attention to what you consume — particularly when it comes to single use plastic. You might consider what you consume on the internet and what you consume for food and drink in addition to the packaging it comes in. Are you getting the nourishment you need? What is the impact of your consumption on the planet? Can you go on a carbon diet?
  4. Do something. Stop spectating. Participate in a beach, river, or trail clean up. Get involved in disaster relief fundraising or other projects like this one from Burners without Borders for victims of the recent fires in the Sonoma and Napa areas. Join a bike kitchen, an environmental advocacy group, or a protest. Attend and speak at a city council meeting. Make a difference.
  5. Educate yourself about environmental issues and environmental justice. Share what you learn on social media channels. Or even better, talk with people in person during gatherings with friends and family.

Here’s more about why we need to address technology addiction, nature deficit disorder, and our reliance on single use and other plastic.

How am I doing? Every purchase I consider plastic. Every day I am taking the dog out for a short walks, but since Arroyo Verde Park opened on Friday, we have gone there three times for 1-3 mile hikes. However, way too much screen time! It’s one thing to be writing or reading and preparing materials for teaching or for writing, but way too much time on Twitter and Facebook, absorbed by the latest disasters.

So again, here’s to the Year of the Dog! Let’s get outside and play!

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is trained in the rare Buddhist art of silk applique thangkas such as the one above and more to see here at her website. Leslie mentors students around the world through her Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program, and her Weekly Wake-ups like this one provide a thread of inspiration to set the week on the path to awakening.


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