Scientists say that the human brain of today has evolved only marginally from the brain of our cave dwelling ancestors of 30,000 years ago. Could this explain our sometimes random impulses to seek out danger? We have a primal mind that requires stimulation after all.
This Spring, a friend and I hiked across the Seven Rila lakes a few hours from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. On our descent we took an unplanned alternative route back to the chairlift that left at 4 pm with no exceptions, we’d been repeatedly told. By 3:40 we were two mountain tops away, the chair lift was a speck in the distance and the adrenaline kicked in. Visions of being stranded in the wolf and bear laden lands engulfed our minds and we leaped across the rocky terrain and propelled ourselves with force across waterfalls that we’d previously dithered over. It was the most exhilarated I’d felt since I walked into the Amazon alone one year previously. It was wild, we were baron, free and vulnerable. All we had were our senses and our speed. And, we made it.
George Monbiot, in his book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, talks of a Dutch agricultural technician that came to work in the oilfields in the Brazilian rainforest, “Here was a man who had leapt over the edge, who had abandoned comfort and certainty for a life of violent insecurity. His chances of coming out alive, solvent and healthy were slight. But I was not convinced that he had made the wrong choice.” He explores the rewilding phenomenon, not only of the wilderness but of our domesticated and over-civilised spirit.
Now, we’re not all destined to be heroic thrill seekers, sometimes my thrill seeking goes as far as cycling the longer, less lit route through the park at night instead of the conveniently lit high street. Daring or not, these experiences awaken our starved senses and they teach us in a unique and spellbinding way.
Being lost in nature teaches you to stay calm in the face of danger. To think on the spot. To be totally and wholly in tune with your surroundings. It teaches us to control our nerves. And to overcome challenges – whether it be an icy passage, rocky mountain or a flowing river – when we triumph it leaves us feeling empowered. It builds the awareness in us that we can overcome challenges in our day to day lives too. It allows us to go above our nerve. “If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve,” wrote Emily Dickinson.
City dwelling provides us with a plethora of cultural activities to awaken our senses. Art, dance, sport, comedy, the list is endless. Buzz and action fill our life whilst nature sits quietly by, so its easy to forget it. Yet, to reach a state of wellbeing a holistic approach is recommended and what could be more natural, more right than learning from what evolved alongside us or millennia before us.
By succumbing to it we let nature roll its magic over our souls and we gain access to its earthly age-old wisdom.
Meander, wonder, find yourself lost and follow in the wise words of William Wordsworth: “Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher.”