A Therapeutic Prescription: Go Outdoors. 12 Nov 2014

Fall is here, and nature seems to be on hold before its final blaze of autumn colors and transition to winter. The world is pausing, waiting, patient, and comfortable in its inactivity. Early fall, to a degree, is always thus. But recently the autumnal drowse was more pronounced, producing in me a similar mood. Unhurried and at peace, nature’s calm flowed into me, soothing and relaxing.

The endless cycles of the seasons are mirrored or heralded by shorter days and the positions of the stars and constellations. But like the interesting and somewhat comical question of whether the chicken or the egg came first, I’ve never decided whether the celestial display announces the seasons, or the seasons prompt us to notice the changing patterns in the sky.

For me, seasonal cycles have a calming affect, and they can for you too. Their predictable patterns are signs of stability in an otherwise rapidly changing, and somewhat frightening, world.

Who today takes time to experience the free therapy provided by the natural world? Certainly not families whose desire to maximize their children’s learning, playing, and experiencing, drive them into a marathon race by over-involving them in ballet, soccer, baseball, football, martial arts, piano, debate, dramatics, French Club, Math Club, and the endless demands to excel academically through enrollment only in advanced placement, gifted and talented, honors and early college course placement classes.

Jobs, too seldom fulfilling, demand continual production of products, tangible and intangible. Employees are often measured against ill-defined and poorly understood standards of performance by supervisors, themselves caught up in systems they only vaguely fathom and cannot articulate. The treadmill moves continuously, inexorably drawing us along, unthinking, largely unaware, as we go from birth through youth to old age and death.

The intensity of our manic search for better, biggest, and best deprives us all, youth as well as adults, of rich experiences. We are constant seekers, but with no clear goals, either short-term or long, and in this unending quest, we too often lose the prize, not having caught even a glimpse of the treasures we never knew eluded us. Our stresses build insidiously, gradually, subliminally, until finally full-blown, we feel crushed by them.

Uncaring, the world spins, and speeds along its orbit around the sun. The days pass, the seasons change, and our stresses grow. But do not despair. There is a solution to this illness-producing syndrome.

Go outside, look with eyes that see, and listen with ears that hear. Notice all that nature is presenting. Smell the air. Take a deep, relaxing breath. Don’t rush. Take your time. Watch the sun set and the moon rise. The later won’t happen until 10:38 p.m. this evening, but it will be more than half full, and glorious. Orion the Hunter is rising in the east. The Pleiades gleam high in the sky with Taurus the Bull, his bright eye-star Aldebaran just below them. Relax. Take John Muir’s advice and let peace “… flow into you as the sunshine into the trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Beauty and peace are found all around us: in the hush of night, and the delightful and therapeutic pause on a warm fall day, and in the gentle flutter of a leaf, and the blaze of goldenrod gilding our roadsides.

No physician’s consultation or prescription is required for nature’s emotional medication. No fees must be paid, with the exception of the painless loss of time too many sadly think is unconscionable. Do it anyway. The benefits are measureless. Slow down and reevaluate your priorities. Take some time for yourself. Life is short. Train yourself to gain pleasure from the moments or relaxing natural beauty that constantly surround you.

Be very careful that you do not find, at the end of life, that you have never really lived at all, only existed. The fields and forests, and the heavens above, are not just science lessons. They are nature’s rest homes, replete with peace, tranquility, and relief from life’s inane rat race. Take advantage of them. They are God’s gift to His over-stressed and priority-distorted sons and daughters in nature’s fields and forests.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.