We as humans often live and act as though we’re separate from our environment. We call ourselves the most intelligent species on the planet when in reality we often prove that the opposite is true. Rather than looking after our earthly domain, we instead figure out more and more ways of damaging nature and depleting resources without a clear plan on how to make the Earth, our only home, great again. The image that comes to mind is that of a man in a tree, cluelessly sawing off the very same branch he’s sitting on. We are recklessly damaging our beautiful planet, while also fully relying on it for our survival.
We like to consume, and we don’t like to think about what happens after we consume. We are taught that thinking hurts and that someone else should do it for us. Aristotle once taught by engaging his students in thoughtful discussion, whereas today young minds are instructed to memorize and solve problems through a limited range of methods, which we tell them are the best. I suppose it’s really no wonder that many of us don’t think at all about the world beyond our own full stomachs.
To quote Agent Smith, a fictional character from the 1999 film The Matrix, “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.” At times it certainly does seem that way. Thinking of the planet Earth as your home, it would be fair to imagine a dwelling that is falling apart and in desperate need of repairs. You try to tell yourself that everything’s fine, even as the floors are collapsing beneath you, and the roof is caving in over your head. Sure, you may tell yourself, things will be okay during your lifetime. But what sort of house will you be leaving behind for your children and grandchildren? Are you teaching every one else to do their share of chores and repairs while you sit with your hands under your butt, playing video games and watching movies all day?
It is imperative of every species on this planet to prepare its offspring for various seasonal weather changes and to pass on vital skills that will ensure the survival of their species. And yet we, as humans, seem to teach our children less and less each year. This might not always seem the case, given the growing amount of homework being piled onto children every year. Yet when you ask kids about what they’re being taught, they often seem unable to apply what they’re learning in school to everyday life or the real world. If the only value of learning is the impact it has on our lives, then what is the value of this constant memorization? Other than, perhaps, creating a society that is complacent and easier to brainwash…
This certainly is a grim view of reality. However, one can look to the Māori people of New Zealand for the hope that change is, in fact, possible. The Māori are an indigenous Polynesian group located in mainland New Zealand, whose views of health and wellness can teach us all wonderful new ways of approaching our relationship with our environment, as well as our own mental health. To put it simply, the Māori teaches that nature heals! They emphasize the interconnected view of well-being that goes beyond physiological health alone. In their view, health and well-being have many dimensions, which include being connected to nature and our communities. How can we pretend to be happy when our animals, rivers, oceans, and everything around us are dying? How many pills can we take to numb ourselves to the devastation we’re causing to the natural world? Or are we simply lying to ourselves, hoping that some new miracle drug will help us cope with the lack of purpose and meaning in our lives?
At one point in time, human beings very nearly killed the Kākāpō, the world’s fattest parrot, living only in New Zealand. Some 40 years ago, scientists feared that there were only 18 of the Kākāpō left, all of them male. But then miraculously, a new population was discovered, and since then serious efforts have been underway to rescue the chubby bird from the brink of extinction. Today the recovery program counts 147 adult Kākāpō birds, nearly triple the population at the start of the program in 1995. These flightless parrots have a teddy bear-like quality, waddling around like ducks with faces that resemble owls. In addition, Kākāpō can live up to 90 years, and are the largest parrots on Earth! And to think that we very nearly killed off this beautiful and unique species of bird, permanently.
Scientists have found that more than 65 North American plant species have gone extinct since the days of European colonization. We’ve also lost 22 species of frogs throughout Central and South America, 15% of the world’s mite species, and 17 freshwater fish species from Lake Lanao in the Philippines. Sadly this is only the beginning of the list. When will we realize that we are truly interconnected with the natural world around us and that its slow death is a tremendous burden on human health and happiness?
Here are a few tips to help you realize how interconnected we are with nature and how important it is to live in peace with nature:
Tip 1: Be Wild
Learn from Brando Yelavich, a young New Zealander at the frontier of new ideas, who realized just how truly interconnected with nature we are. In his book, “Wildboy: The Journey of Brando Yelavich,” the author describes his experiences with severe depression, mental health problems, and addiction. Traditional medicine and treatment options were not helping, and so in 2013, he decided to take a 10,000-mile journey along New Zealand’s coastline. Yelavich hunted, fished, and survived in nature for a total of 18 months. He was able to greatly improve his mental health problems and lived to tell his story of self-discovery, as well as our deep connection to nature. Perhaps our persistent attempts at disconnecting ourselves from nature only hurt us in the long term. When was the last time you took a walk outside or did any physical activity for that matter? We should all explore life beyond our couches once in a while.
Tip 2: Forest Bathe
Lower your blood pressure and cortisol levels, improve your concentration and memory, and boost your immune system by… spending time in nature! Scientists from all over the world tell us that plants release chemicals known as phytoncides, which can benefit us in all these miraculous ways! Spend time in nature and enrich your home environment by surrounding yourself with at least a few live plants. Sure, you may not have a green thumb, but if there are so many health benefits to gain from our green friends, then why not learn how to help them live and, in turn, let them help to heal us?
Tip 3: Plant a Tree
Spending time looking at trees and contemplating their lasting beauty can help reduce our stress levels as well as improve our mood. Many of us elect to chop down the trees in our yards, viewing them as nuisances that break and shed leaves, which we consider damaging to our lawns. How many of us ever re-plant those lost trees? We always seem to want to count on our governments to fix our problems for us, yet so often this is like sitting on a tree branch and watching a woodcutter saw off the limb that’s supporting us. Instead, let’s take matters into our own hands. Plant a tree, help a tree grow, and teach your kids to plant trees. There is still time to save the Earth – one tree at a time. There are many organizations and individuals trying to plant trees to help with environmental problems such as climate change, but you can also help as an individual, and reap the benefits to your mood and well-being. Doing good things makes you feel better. Just like planting trees!
Tip 4: Breath
The green monsters that we like chopping down so much, aka trees, produce the oxygen we need to survive! As they grow and breathe, trees pull in the carbon dioxide produced by our technology, which would otherwise contribute to heating up the climate, and instead spit out oxygen, on which humans and animals alike depend to live. Some of us can’t make it a single minute without oxygen, and doctors tell us that at 4 minutes of oxygen deprivation, our brains begin to die permanently! Clearly, oxygen is something we desperately need in our lives. So be sure to breathe while we still have it. Take a deep breath, relax, and meditate on our constant need for oxygen. Then go back to Tip 3, and plant us a brand new tree! If breathing makes you feel good, then breathing and planting a tree will make you feel even better!
Tip 5: Be a rebel
Scientists tell us that having a sense of purpose lowers depression rates and improves overall perceived satisfaction with life. This means that when you feel your life has meaning, you tend to ignore the things you dislike and focus instead on the mission that’s ahead of you. When you’re able to achieve the important goals in your life, you tend to feel fulfilled and complete. So why not be a rebel, and join a group in your area that helps our planet live?
By helping our planet and choosing a mission with your time (a mission that really should be adopted by all of us), you will feel more fulfilled and satisfied with your own life. By rebelling and choosing to be a part of something larger, you will make new friends and meet new people, and realize that there is so much work to be done to help save our planet. The kākāpō might be safe for now, and it’s true that people tend to help those animals who are “cute” and charismatic with a greater sense of urgency. But what about all the species that never had a chance to survive, simply because they weren’t as “cute?” We are all interconnected, and our environment is a part of us. Being part of the solution helps not only yourself but also countless generations to come. Let’s imagine a better Earth where we all do our part to preserve and protect our only home!