And then, one afternoon, I realized I had spent the last two hours doodling around the house, making silly voices, snacking on nothing and unable to sit still. I hadn’t been outside all day. What the hell is going on?
So the world’s in lockdown, and folks are spending more time inside than ever before.
Now, prior to all this, I spent my days working as a forest school teacher who runs an outdoor adventure guiding company. I still very much am those things, but something is different.
One of the biggest conversation cornerstones we always talk about it is the benefit of nature connection to people. Kids especially. Can’t sit still in class? Send em to forest school. Mood swings and high stress? Take a walk in the woods. We’d usually talk about the increase in self-esteem and resilience to stress and adversity. We’d praise the level of improvement in concentration, creativity, cognitive development, cooperation, flexibility and self awareness.
Nature is the solution to 99.9% of things that we struggle with. Get back to the dirt, I’d say.
Having the benefit of being in the field, 8 hours a day almost every day, the lines begin to blur. Those benefits were my baseline. I was relatively always relaxed, had good levels of concentration, and was physically fit and limber. The only times I noticed a decrease in these areas was on my days off.
Suddenly, everything stopped.
Forest school shut down, guided trip groups cancelled their bookings, and I, along with everyone else in the world, was told to stay home.
Okay. No problem.
At first, I was outside a few hours a day, and things were relatively consistent. Then, stay home some more. Then some more, and then even a bit more than that. Before long, I was cooped up, like a wild animal in a cage, and didn’t know what to do with myself.
I was lost inside.
After a couple weeks of this, I, and others around me, began to notice a fundamental shift in the way I was. I was changing. The first things I noticed were my sudden mood changes. Soon to follow were increases in irritability and a huge lack of focus. I couldn’t sit still. Literally bouncing in my seat. Then, my body felt it. It probably felt it first, but I was so wrapped up in my head that I didn’t notice until my arms really started to hurt. Next, my legs stiffened up. Usually, my days would include practicing animal gaits, bounding around like bunnies and coyotes while we enacted animal stories with kids. Now, a few minutes of stretching in the morning if I remembered, followed by sitting, standing, more sitting, a bit of standing, and finally, more sitting.
I noticed my resilience to shock drop. Every piece of news, every change, every slight shift in something would set me off internally. Panic. That was not usual for me. Sure, what’s going on in the world is above average crazy, but prior to all this I’d typically keep a level head about most things. Not anymore.
My eyes started to hurt. I couldn’t see as clearly, and stopped noticing things in my periphery.
The lightbulb switched. Holy canoe. Is this what people experience all the time? I’m always grateful for my day to day work and way of life, but had become so accustomed to being wild that this struck me like a deadfall. No wonder young kids can’t sit still in class! To have this as the only option, with a 20 minute recess or a walk, is batshit crazy.
There were different levels of this, though.
Take, for example, my partner. She loves to trip. Loves to hike, loves nature, and knows how beneficial it is to get in the dirt. Day to day, though, she works at a desk, and so, this shift to working from home wasn’t all the intense. She still went for her morning run, we’d take the dogs for a walk, and for her, that was the usual routine. The only difference was working from home instead of at the office.
Next up, another friend of mine. He doesn’t care much for nature. He thinks sunsets are pretty, appreciates a rainbow, and works full time as an accountant. He’d take a five-star hotel over a tent anyday. I wondered how he was doing in all this. Was he experiencing the same jolt of lighning to the system that I was? Turns out, he wasn’t. He was as sore and stressed as he usually was. Nothing much had changed.
I wondered further. As humans, how far have we come from nature? How common are chronic disease, stress, lack of resilience, and the like? How disconnected from our wild selves are we?
At quick glance, very. Makes sense.
After an evening of acute realization that what I was experiencing was in so many ways not normal, and in so many unfortunate ways, very normal, I knew something had to shift. I started getting out more. Started engaging in work I enjoyed more. Started being really intentional with the time I spent outside. Gradually, I felt that ease trickle back in. Still, something is missing. I know we’ll be back on the trail soon, back into the filthy crevices of rock caves and things that awaken parts of us that have long since gone to sleep. Until then, I practice relaxing into the uncertainty. I practice new ways of seeing. I practice loving the things I took for granted before.
Until then, I am wild.