At a time when the ugliness of the world feels ever-present, finding beauty is less of a luxury and more of a necessary antidote to modern life.
hen endless domestic chores tie us to the mundane, constant communication jitters our brains, and the depressingly grim nature of world events brings us down, the beauty of nature can shock us and plunge us back into awe at life.
These days are tough. It’s as if the pandemic has altered a subtle inner balance that many of us had, flipping the switch from glass half full to glass half empty. Recalibrating this change in our balance will take time and effort. Fighting the endless stream of bad news by finding things that make us feel good will also take effort.
The day I feel the weight of the world the most is Monday, when the tasks of the week lie endlessly ahead of me. I think of the tightrope walk I have to do while juggling plates to make it all work. Horrific news events and climate change catastrophes hitting our planet like juggernauts are enough to send me back under the covers.
Tortured and harried, I headed to the beach Monday morning, primarily to walk the dog but perhaps unconsciously to seek some solace in the beauty of the Atlantic. I went head first into the wind and followed the dog as he leapt across the expanse of Kinnagoe Bay in north Donegal not far from my home. Ours were the only footprints on the beach and I noticed this as I left my own footprints in the sand.
As I watched the waves break, something started to unwind. A lightness began to creep in. My muscles began to relax. I looked up instead of down. The ferocity of the waves threw a light spray into the air, giving the beach an otherworldly, almost mystical appearance.
I turned my face to the sun and closed my eyes to absorb every last ray. I had started my walk when my thoughts weighed on me like a heavy burden. Just the act of putting one foot in front of the other while observing the color of the sea, the patterns of birds flying over the beach, and the incessant movement of the ocean felt like the load was lifted.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that modern technological life had alienated us from “the dark, maternal, earthy ground of our being.” As we put on our hiking boots and lift our faces to the day, perhaps we can reconnect with the groundedness of ourselves.
This beauty around us is also balm for world-weary souls. It’s like a natural remedy to overcome painful feelings and override an inner narrative that tells us the world is an unsafe place and getting worse.
According to Shane O’Mara, Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, we are intrinsically rewarded when we take a walk in nature. “We know from a variety of studies that people who go for a walk in their local park have lower levels of stress hormones than people who don’t go out regularly,” he says.
Professor O’Mara, who wrote a book – praise of walking – points to new research surrounding a recent phenomenon called “The Awe Walk”. Here, as we walk, we consciously look for small wonders in the world around us. It has the effect of enhancing the mental health benefits of our walk.
He says that we are all capable of experiencing those feelings that make us feel centered in the world. By looking up and out at the world as you walk, instead of keeping your head down and trudging on, you leave yourself more open to this type of immersive walking experience.
Taking time out surrounded by nature may sound like a Pollyanna approach to big problems, but psychotherapist Stella O’Malley is adamant that we don’t ignore the importance of nature’s beauty. She says it not only reminds us that there’s more going on in our lives than the domestic routine, it also gives us a broader perspective.
It’s difficult to stand on a beach while the waves pound the shore without being awed by the power of nature and feeling that sense of a greater whole. Gazing out at the vastness of the ocean makes you feel small, not in a derogatory way, but in a way that puts the size of the world and your place in it into perspective.
Award-winning nature author Barry Lopez wrote that every place is just itself and never repeats itself anywhere. “Miss it and it’s gone,” he said. By getting outside and paying attention, we can find those little moments of wonder that bring so much to our lives.
As I walked along Kinnagoe Bay and looked out at the islands of Jura and Islay, I strained my eyes to see what appeared to be black dots moving at high speed just above the horizon. As I watched, I could make out a flock of birds flying in formation. Another large flock flew close behind.
The brent geese were returning to their winter quarters here at Inishowen and I had witnessed their arrival. If I had blinked, I would have missed her. I would also like to pay attention to these small miracles in everyday life. That kind of beauty is necessary.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/in-this-time-of-chaos-natures-healing-power-has-never-been-so-important-42031304.html In this time of chaos, the healing power of nature has never been more important