Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How to Marvel at Nature


Do you remember the first time you ever marveled at nature?  I mean, a time when you saw something so stunning and awesome that it literally took your breath away?  

I was fourteen at the Cliffs of Moher on a family trip to Ireland.  Standing so close to the edge of those amazing rocky cliffs, seeing the waves crash against the bottom of them repeatedly, and feeling the wind rushing around me as I stood there, I was completely awestruck.  I could hardly breathe for the splendor of it.  It made my heart feel something it never had before...pure, unadulterated wonder.  It was marvelous.  And for the first time, I marveled. 

I've been incredibly blessed to have visited a number of other places which caused me to marvel.  Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef.  Sky diving over a mountain range on the South Island of New Zealand.  Standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon.  These are places where no words will ever do justice to what you behold, and no matter how many pictures you see of such a place, experiencing them firsthand will amaze you still.  

Needless to say, these experiences comprise my extraordinary life, not  my ordinary, everyday life.  The act of marveling at nature, however, is not something we need to have endless amounts of time or money to experience.  There are amazing things to behold right outside our doorstep.  

Aristotle said, "In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous."  

He's right.  In every part of creation, there is something that points to more.  Something bigger than ourselves.  Something that can, if we are patient, evoke those feelings of wonder and marvel.  

But what's so great about marveling at nature?  Why should anyone try to marvel?  Most of us barely have time to get a breath of actual fresh air during the day, let alone time to search for something deeper in nature.  

Well, I've already shared 7 benefits of getting outside here, so let me start by telling you that a 2012 study by Logan & Selhub discovered a ton of really cool and interesting stuff about nature and the brain.  If you're the sciencey type, feel free to look it up.  If you're not, you should just know this:  the study revealed that experiencing nature is "like a little drop of morphine for the brain." 
In essence, our minds can't help but respond positively when we spend time in the great outdoors.  

Making time outside a priority has been proven to lower anger, increase self-control, improve immune functioning, improve cognition, increase pain threshold, and increase the antioxidant defense system.  It basically, all-around ROCKS.  To me, it is apparent spending time in nature and intentionally examining what we see, hear, touch, taste, and feel is something we were hardwired to do.  

Now that I've convinced you (hopefully) that marveling at nature is something we can all benefit from, let's get to the how-to part.  Most of us don't go around ooh-ing and ahh-ing about everything we see when we're outside.  We're just trying to get the kids to the bus stop or get back from our lunch break on time.  So what are some ways to practice marveling, to slow down and purposefully notice what's around us?

First, try this:  set a goal for yourself to take 16 pictures this week, either on your phone or with a fancy pants camera.  Take 16 pictures outside of things you find beautiful.  You can take them all at once, or a couple each day of the week. Notice how you feel as you are seeking out beauty, as you seek to marvel. At the end of the week, share your pictures with one of your Besties (this is actually a cool thing to do with a Bestie or two).  For each photo, explain in detail, exactly what you found beautiful or interesting.  Why did you take this photo?  

Next, notice how you feel as you describe each photo.  Do you feel calm, relaxed, happy, awestruck?  Try to pinpoint your specific emotions.  After the whole experience is said and done, write a few sentences about how you felt or what you learned.  You can do this in a journal or in a note on your phone.  This will serve as your motivation to seek beauty and marvel again in the future.

Once you have a week of beauty-seeking under your belt, you can decide how often and in what other ways you would like to marvel at this beautiful world we live in.  You could make it a goal to take one picture everyday of something in nature you find lovely.  If writing is more your thing, you could keep a journal in which you record your experiences of natural beauty.  You can plan a trip to a place where you are certain to marvel at your surroundings.  No matter what you choose, be sure to describe your experiences, either to another person or in writing.  Studies have also shown that recalling your experiences of natural beauty have some of the same mental health benefits as your first experience of it.

Henry David Thoreau said, "There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature."  They truly don't call it the great outdoors for nothing.  I love how being outside and intentionally noticing what's there evokes feelings of calm and wonder, no matter where I am.  It refreshes my soul in ways that few other things do.  

May you all find a little more of yourself out there as well.  



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