Everything in the natural world is connected. All living and nonliving things in an ecosystem work to create balance and live in harmony with the natural cycles of their environment. The biggest singular mistake of post-industrial age societies is to view humans as something apart from nature.
“…they key to the wisdom of his ancestors and their knowledge of change is that they did not separate themselves from the world, as we have done today. They did not separate one experience from another. They did not separate art from science or spirituality from everyday life. From the movements of the stars to the cycles of weather, all aspects of life were viewed as part of the mix, as facets of that one continuous experience.” -excerpt from Turning Point by Gregg Braden recounting a direct conversation with a Mayan Elder.
All you really have to do is look at the way we design cities. The infrastructures that are created to house the largest concentrations of humans are not designed in harmony with nature. We build wall to wall concrete and glass so high it blocks out most of the sky. Roads designed with preference to the automobile over the pedestrian and few spaces for people to aggregate, socialize, and interact. At night the city is pumped full of artificial light and buzzing with constant noise so we never really get to turn off and shut down. They are, seemingly, designed specifically to negate and nullify our relationship to the natural world.
We’ve evolved shelter from the environment to the point that we no longer have any relationship to nature.
In cities we are pushed to the unnatural, mechanical pace they demand. We move too fast, rest too little and ride a continuous undercurrent of chronic anxiety. And we wonder why our society is wrestling with every manner of neuroses, psychoses and behavior disorder imaginable.
We don’t have to live in the woods without modern conveniences to recognize and connect with nature. But our health and the quality of our lives can be improved if we can find ways to understand and develop our animal relationship with the biological and environmental cycles of the natural world.
When was the last time you looked up at the stars long enough to track their movement across the sky?
Rediscovering our connection to the land is about finding context for ourselves within the natural environment we inhabit. There are ways, in the country or the city, to recognize and integrate ourselves into the natural world. Most of which is just a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the importance of these cycles in our lives.
The civilized world seems to run on an endless flow of artificial light. In bigger cities street lights, signs, traffic lights, store fronts and office high-rises seem to never cease their incessant glow. Light pollution is pretty widespread even in suburban areas where the ambient glow from thousands of tightly packed, cookie-cutter houses work with poor air quality to greatly diminish our view of the night sky.
The constant onslaught of artificial light also affects our natural relationship with our Circadian Rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm refers to a 24-hour cycle of recurring physiological changes in all living things. It governs our sleep cycles, peak active times, cell regeneration and recovery, hormone production and can even influence hunger.
Circadian Rhythms are governed internally but are also affected by external stimuli like light, temperature and sound. Living in an environment where light and sound never disappear in a typical 24-hour cycle and temperature is regulated at a biologically balmy 70-75 degrees our Circadian clock can be knocked way off schedule. Disruption of our Circadian clock can result in a variety of issues like Shift Work Disorder, BiPolar Disorder and insomnia as well as inhibit our ability to fight disease and recover from trauma.
If you work a late shift in an office or factory, there’s probably not a lot you can do about this except quit. But for most of us we have the opportunity to self-regulate our light situation. Studies show that using only natural light during the day and limiting exposure to artificial light when it’s dark can bring us much closer to our natural Circadian Rhythm and improve our health. Even using candles or dimmers to utilize soft light can be much healthier than full strength artificial light any time of day.
On a larger scale, and even more fractured by modern living, is our connection to natural seasonal transitions. Other than the arrival of Pumpkin-Spice-Everything and Christmas decorations as early as October, do we change our behavior much through the seasons? Unless you live in a rural setting, we live our lives inside climate controlled houses, cars, offices and stores. Lights are on so we barely notice the shorter days. Grocery stores offer all our favorite foods regardless of the season. We have all but eliminated seasonal living except in the most extreme climates.
So who cares? Why should we pay attention to the seasons when we don’t have to?
Short Answer: It’s a more natural, healthier way to live.
Our superior adaptability as a species is part of what has allowed us to achieve the level of dominance on this planet that we have. Unfortunately, it has led us to a point where we turned our back on the very practices that got us here.
Living with the seasons puts us in contact with the some of the most elemental cycles in the natural world. The poetic themes of birth and death, growth, abundance, and scarcity become a visceral, real-world experience. The harvest periods become pivotally important and we find ourselves thinking, planning and preparing a season ahead. Our lives become entwined with the seasons as we see Spring welcome new life and growth, Summer provide it’s abundance and then Winter settle heavily on as the world seems to go quiet.
Most importantly, as our bodies are brought in tune with seasonal changes our taste for seasonal food becomes more intense and primal. In spring we crave the nutrient dense fresh greens and early berries after the long, cold Winter. Summer is generally a high-activity season with long days for physical work and play and it provides high-sugar fruits, berries and veggies to help sustain the activity. Fall brings us the gourds and squashes with their thick skins and high-starches to pair with meats and fats that provide long lasting energy through the cold Winter months.
Eating within the seasonal cycles, eating what’s in season, not only provides us with targeted nutrition for the season’s challenges but it also narrows the gap between the farm and our plate.
I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that, with few exceptions, the produce we consume is at it’s peak nutritional value directly after it’s harvested. In most cases, the nutritional density diminishes quickly once it has been picked. The time it takes to make it to your plate becomes pivotal if we are going to get the most out of our food.
Living a healthier lifestyle really does mean living closer to nature, even if it’s just as a spectator. I’m not advocating we all leave our homes and live in the woods (although I think a lot of us would benefit from that experience) but we need take on the responsibility of understanding what Mother Nature does and how we fit into her world.
Those of you who live in smaller, rural areas or hunt seasonally for meat have a better understanding of how the seasons fit into your lives. But how many of us truly make mindful, seasonal observations and adjust our lives accordingly? How many of us celebrate seasonal traditions? How many of us look beyond commercialized holidays and pumpkin-spiced lattes to really feel the onset of Fall?
The Homework Assisgnment
I think we can connect more deeply with the world around us by finding more opportunities to experience the daily and seasonal cycles of Nature.
Seasonal influence is different depending on what part of the world you live in. To connect with YOUR seasons and how your community responds to those seasons you’ll need to get out there and be a part of it. This will be an exercise in mindfulness and observation.
Last year I began to recognize the flights of Fall geese that fly over my neighborhood in the morning to sun in the pond near my house. I hear them again every evening as they leave to overnight someplace else. I look forward to seeing them and will get up early to be able to watch them fly over in the morning and listen to them honk. To me, that has become my Fall ritual. Winters are about cactus fruit and citrus here in the desert, so our seasonal recipes include those.
Your Steader Challenge is to start a journal, or use Facebook, to record your personal seasonal observations. Record things you like or things you don’t like about the current season, do some local shopping and keep track of seasonal foods you enjoy and seasonal recipes you’ve tried, make note of seasonal wildlife patterns, weather changes or sunrises and sunsets. Anything you find noteworthy about the season is fine, but this exercise will make you more observant to the world around you.
What do your seasons look like where you are? How will that change once you start making an effort to live closer to the seasons?
About the “Foundation Series” lessons
Our Foundation Series course is part of your free membership and allows you to explore the fundamental beliefs and core concepts of homesteading in the modern world. You get two new lessons delivered to your inbox each week for a total of 21 lessons. Just like this lesson, each one contains the links to the previous lessons.
Be sure to keep an eye out for new lessons in your inbox each week!
Start with our Foundation Series overview: Introduction to the 7 Core Values of the Modern Steader
Here’s the list of previous lessons for your reference:
- 7 habits of highly successful modern steaders
- Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort
- The physical and mental challenges of the modern steader lifestyle and why it’s all worth it
- Why Connected Self-Reliance?
- 25 evaluation benchmarks for establishing your Self-Reliance Baseline
- Learning Self-Reliance: 3 ways to change your world view
- Drawing the line between Want and Need
- Pursuing a Different Kind of Knowledge
- The Knowledge Vault for Modern Steaders
- Lost Inheritance: How we are running the risk of losing some craft skills forever
- 7 sustainable practices your Grandma never taught you
- Hobbies to Homesteading: Why craft skills are essential for a steader