The last glimmer of sunlight dips below the mountains in the distance, and slowly begins to illuminate the clouds in the west. Yet James and I stand facing east, very still, awestruck as we gaze at the layers of color that stretch out before us.
Deep blue forms the lowest layer, with layers of purples and then pinks traveling from bottom to top, layered in a way that I had never seen before at sunset. And we were facing away from the sunset! We turn back around and are greeted by an unobstructed sky splashed with bright yellows and oranges, slowly giving way to shades of hot pink. It’s as if the sky were on fire. All at our desert campground were frozen in fascination witnessing this mesmerizing moment.
This experience, watching sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, is what I call The Nature Effect. You’ve felt it many times before, since you were very young. Countless times, in fact. And not just when witnessing a show-stopping sunset.
Have you ever wondered why we put plants in our homes or workspaces? (Sometimes even FAKE plants!) Or why we choose trees, sunsets, waterfalls, etc. for our desktop or phone backgrounds, or calendars? Why an Instagram account like EarthPix can have 12.9 million followers by simply showcasing Mother Nature’s artwork?
This points to something that seems obvious, but is easy to forget. Human beings have innate response to natural beauty. It’s embedded in our DNA.
The nature “effect” is more of an experience than a concept. And it’s personal. However the positive effects on our minds and bodies are universally beneficial.
Imagine you’re standing at the base of a massive Giant Sequoia tree. Its base is so wide that you can’t even see your family on the other side of the trunk. You gaze upward and glimpse rays of sunlight barely making their way through, crowded out by the treetops of this and neighboring giants, stretching to soak up the sunlight. There’s a sense of peace, a feeling of grandeur, almost a wisdom you feel as you walk amongst these 2,000+ year- old trees.
While we can imagine being in this place, we can only truly feel it when we are actually there, present to take it all in. The songs of the birds, the scent of the fresh forest air… it’s a complete sensory experience. We can scroll through the beautiful photos on our Instagram feed all day, but we need to BE in nature in order to feel it.
The Nature Effect gives us that, “Ahhh” feeling that makes us pause to take a deep breath. This is because the soothing, tranquil, and very be-here-now experiences we often find in nature relax us. At the same time, the awe and wonder of a beautiful place fascinates and energizes us. It can give us a thrill that rejuvenates our spirit. But you don’t have to be standing on top of a mountain, walking amongst the largest trees on the planet**, or be captivated by a spectacular sunset in order to feel this.
Fortunately, The Nature Effect is much more accessible than a trip to California’s Giant Sequoia groves. Opportunities to feel it are prevalent even for those of us who live in cities.
Why does this matter? For starters, spending time in nature is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to clear your mind. Free from distraction, your to-do list, and that ping of a new email, the pinball machine of thoughts begins to slow. Especially if you’re willing to put your phone away and really take the time to noticenature.
In this fast-paced society that easily leads to jam-packed schedules, time in nature is one the most reliable outlets to make you feel like a billion bucks.
I’m fortunate enough to be aware of how peaceful, how free I feel in nature. But this is not an Andy thing. This is a human being thing. We are inextricably connected to the natural world.
Notice how you feel when you’re conscious of the natural world that surrounds you, even as you walk down the street later today. Notice the characteristics of the beautiful places that you respond to. The places that make you think, I have to go there! Or, I have to go back there!
I believe we each have the right to ask for what we would like to see realized in our world. My desire is to live in a world where we (by and large) recognize and honor that we are not above or separate from nature. We are part ofnature.
After all, I believe that if we are to make any lasting change in how we protect the natural environment that sustains us, it will begin from a place where we are connected toour planet.
Once again, the way we respond to nature is a personal experience. So I end with this mini vacation for you:
Take a moment, close your eyes if you like, and picture he most beautiful place imaginable. Where are you? What do you notice about the characteristics of this place? What do you feel?
I believe that appreciation of the natural world unites us. So in the coming weeks and months, join me in noticing where you go in nature to clear your mind. Seek out that place that rejuvenates your spirit. I would love to hear about your experience of The Nature Effect.
** Several of the Giant Sequoia found in California are by volume, the largest trees (with the most mass) of any species of tree on the planet.