I often withdraw to the wilderness; in the picture above, I was looking over Middle Fork Lake, camping near Kagevah Pass. I climbed to this area and saw no one, and the next day I climbed over the pass and explored the other side of the continental divide, and I saw no one. On the last day, I climbed some other passes and hiked 20 miles and saw no one.
When I do have friends who can go, I’ll take (and outfit) them (ask the poor folks at Christ’s Church in Billings how I’ve badgered them to accompany me, perhaps rather viciously at times, as badgers are wont to be), but often it is a solitary endeavor. It’s good for one’s well being, though. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. According to one study conducted by Stanford,
“One mechanism [toward increased mental illness] might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. Findings of the effects of a relatively brief nature experience suggest that feasible investments in access to natural environments could yield important benefits for the “mental capital” of cities and nations.“
These findings show that being in nature changes the way the brain functions at a basic level, shifting bloodflow, varying hormone levels, and altering our perceptions of life and ourselves. Parts of the brain that normally light up when we’re having negative thoughts stay quiet when we’re in the outdoors. In other words, being outside “benefits human cognitive function and mood.”
A meta-analysis (a study of a bunch of studies) by the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, published in 2018, came to the following conclusion:
“Exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are also more likely to report good overall health—according to global data involving more than 290 million people.”
Lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said:
“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood. We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”
Study co-author Professor Andy Jones, wrote rather strikingly, I believe:
“We often reach for medication when we’re unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognised as both preventing and helping treat disease. Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact[…] Much of the research from Japan suggests that phytoncides—organic compounds with antibacterial properties—released by trees could explain the health-boosting properties of forest bathing.”
I am exceedingly blessed to be able to spend so much time in a state like Wyoming. (I must mention that, just as the wilderness protects my health, so I wish to protect it.) The time that I have in the wilderness is always a time of learning, as well—about science, God, metaphysics, the world—and about myself. It is a time free of distractions. It is a land of steadfast habits, where I tend to the most basic things of life, which are often deeper and more meaningful in the woods where instant-gratification isn’t rewarded. It is a time where each day, you refine your life to what is needed—the best way to traverse boulder fields, the correct, habitual way to put together one’s nightly living environment—even the order of eating and cleaning. The improvements that these steadfast habits bring encourages you for the discipline that it took to develop them.
There are added benefits beyond, of course. You don’t have to worry about how attractive you are, or what anyone thinks about you, or anything negative akin to such lines of thinking. I spend that freed-up time praying; it’s amazing the prayers you can get in during a full day. I spend it reading (Kindle is a blessing), and listening to others speak words of wisdom from my phone—you can learn a lot just listening to people, even if they can’t physically accompany you.
What about you? If you enjoy the outdoors now, was there ever a time that you didn’t? Has spending more time in the outdoors helped you? Has it improved your life? If it has, and you have time, please let me know how. I am constantly curious.
It seems striking to me that Jesus spent so much time helping others, “Yet He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” —Luke 5:13
Why do you think that Jesus had that steadfast habit?
With love, always,