It’s almost Memorial Day and the place where I’m camped near Moab is being flooded with people making one of their few trips a year out camping. As I’m watching them setting up it makes me contemplate the human need for a connection to nature which is so obvious in this annual ritual. As vandwellers and RVers we know how many people buy RVs and then almost never use them; usually on Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day–and sometimes not even that much. Nature has an almost magnetic pull on us that we can’t resist but the reality is that we soon find ourselves disconnected from it again no matter how good our intentions.
If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. Eleonora Duse
Recently I was going for my normal daily walk and something happened that put me into a philosophical mood, and I’d like to share it with you. Cody and I had just left our camp and gone about 5 minutes down the trail when we were passed by a group of folks on their ATVs who were out for a ride. I didn’t think much of it at the time because where we are near Moab is a Mecca for off-road vehicles of all kinds; ATVs, motorcycles, Jeeps and just about every kind of motorized Off-Highway-Vehicle you can imagine. We just kept going on our walk.
Along my daily route is a high-point on a rock out-crop that I try to climb every day. There is just something about high-points that have a primal attraction to the human soul. Our ancient ancestors were all attracted to high-points where they could search out game for dinner or to watch out for enemies and predators who might do them harm. Ever since then they have had a magnetic pull on all humans, and I’m no different—twice a day I climb to this high-point for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. From the vantage point of the rise I can see far around me and everywhere I looked I saw RVs that had ATVs or Jeeps parked beside them and also many mountain bikes. I could also see far up and down the dry riverbed of Courthouse Wash which is what brings them here.
Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers – for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. ~ Osho
Often, the silence of the reverie I fall into as I survey the beauty all around me is broken by the scream of those noxious motors. On this particular day, as I was climbing up to my perch on the rocks the group of ATVs that had passed me on the way out drove by as fast as they could go down the wash. That seems to be the magic attraction to them, the high speed they can attain.
As I stood on my little hill it occurred to me that those guys on the OHVs must feel sorry for me, “Poor guy has to walk; he must not be able to afford to buy one of these great machines.” As I thought about them I wondered to myself what did they get for the deep debt most of them went into to buy them and for putting up with the stink and noise of the beasts? And the obvious answer is that they get to cover a lot of ground in little time really fast. On my daily walk I usually go for about 45 minutes and since I am a fairly slow walker I only go about 2 miles. However, these guys really zoom through here so in 45 minutes they can cover probably ten times more distance or roughly 20 miles. But, do they really get to see or experience the country they are traveling through?
When I walk, I make it a point to try to connect deeply with the land under my feet and all around me and savor all it has to offer. I want to participate in the big vistas of the terrain but also the smallest flowers and insects and everything in-between. Beyond their obvious beauty I want to know if they have a message for me; a lesson I can learn. I suspect none of that is true for the ATVers flying across the land.
Now this may seem like just another rant cursing off-road machines but that really isn’t what I’m intending to say. They are just the back-drop of what I see as a much more common and profound problem with our culture today and that is people who are just going through the motions of living but not actually experiencing any of it directly: modern life is very shallow. (Let me make it clear that I do know people who are connected to nature and themselves and also love their ATVs–they are the exception!)
My question is, why would they go camping in nature with their main goal to drive over it at 30 mph on a screaming, stinking machine? When they aren’t flying over it as fast as possible, they are in their McMansion on wheels listening to their generator and watching TV or out talking to their many friends. Can they really hope to experience nature that way? There is a great deal of scientific evidence that points to our disconnection from nature as very bad for our bodies and much worse for our mental and emotional well-being (see the suggest reading list at the bottom of the post). In other words being in nature is healing and therapeutic and being separated from it makes us sick in every aspect of our lives. And we instinctively know that to be true because most of us have the urge to get back into connection to it.
At the core of our being we miss our connection to nature and know being separated from it is killing us so we do the only logical thing and go camping—unfortunately, when we are there we stay as far away from it as we possibly can! Why?
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles. ~Anne Frank
I believe it’s because we are terrified to be alone and quiet with the thoughts in our heads and the feelings in our hearts. Lack of connection to nature is so damaging to our minds and emotions we must escape from them in every way we can so we fill our daily lives with constant distractions of noise and movement. The noise drowns out the voices in our head and the motion distracts us from the feelings in our heart.
This is especially evident in our addiction to electronic devices. Think about your daily life, is there a moment in it that is not full of some kind of distraction? Or worse, do you find yourself constantly “multi-tasking” just to be really sure you are never alone with your thoughts and feelings?
I think this is the best explanation for the huge popularity of RVing and off-road vehicles. We can actually be in nature and hope to get a little healing from being in it, but we can also insulate ourselves from the possibility of confronting our inner selves while we are there or in any way touching nature. In other words, it’s the perfect way to take the noise, movement and distraction of our city lives into nature with zero risk of being alone with our inner demons that society inflicts on all its members:
- High levels of terribly destructive stress.
- Anger and resentment at most people around us.
- Worried for the future.
- Tormented by our past.
- Unwarranted fear of personal harm.
We find ourselves in a Catch-22; society is slowly killing us on the inside, but the chaos of destruction they cause in our hearts and heads make us fearful and unable to take the only medicine that can heal us: connection to nature. Even worse, Society has only one real solution to offer, take a pill. Fortunately I think nearly all of us know that isn’t an answer at all. We need something to slay the dragons in our head and hearts and silence the voices that are killing us. That thing is nature. (However, there are times when our bodies and brains are physically broken and pills are the very thing we need–when that’s true, get them first.)
No doubt there are many ways to find healing in nature, but the one that worked for me, and that I recommend to you, is make a radical leap and get as far away from the source of your illness as you possibly can by living in a car, van or RV. Vandwelling leaves you no choice but grow closer to nature! I know how scary and full of difficulties that is because I’ve gone through all the fear and the problems. I’m not denying it’s very hard, all I’m saying is it’s well worth it, and I can assure you that it works; there is healing for you in nature. A life that is happy, joyous and free is worth it!
However, if a leap of faith is too hard for you, I’d encourage you to start right where you are and do everything you can to reconnect with nature and through it to find your true inner self. You can start by simplifying your life as much as you possibly can and eliminating all the noise, distractions and movement that keeps you from your authentic self. Because your demons don’t want to be exposed, the path will probably be terrifying and difficult and things will get worse before they get better; but it in the end it will be worth the cost.
The reason we celebrate Memorial Day is to remember the many veterans who gave their lives in service to our country—and that is something we must never lose sight of. But I suggest we also make it a day when we celebrate our rising from the figurative death of disconnection from ourselves and nature. Make this Memorial Day, not just another day of hiding and running away from yourself, but the first day of a whole new life of transparency and connection.
Suggested Reading List:
You don’t have to take my word that nature is good for you and civilization is bad. I strongly recommend these books to get rid of all doubt in your mind. Click on the link to get them from Amazon:
Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality