Monday, August 16, 2010

The Restorative Power of Nature

A front page article in today’s New York Times describes a river raft trip in a remote area of Utah by five brain scientists. The trip’s purpose was to study the effects of nature on the brain. In more sophisticated terms, the purpose was “to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects."

Dr. Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and leader of the trip, believes that being in nature can refresh the brain. “Our senses change. They kind of recalibrate—you notice sounds, like these crickets chirping; you hear the river; the sounds, the smells; you become more connected to the physical environment, the earth, rather than the artificial environment.”

Other scientists aren’t sure why being in nature aids clearer thinking. One scientist, Dr. Kramer, thought that the exertion of hiking and rafting may play a role. In any case, all five scientists noticed effect on their brains such as the slowing down of time, the clearer perception of sounds and the lowering stress of being away from phones, email, and the Internet.

Here's another effect of being in nature: the restoration of the soul. The soul, our deepest self, is nourished and nurtured by the beauty and the silence of nature—especially when nature is understood as a sacred gift. Nature is one of those places where God can be encountered. Even though God’s presence can be experienced anywhere, it is in nature that we pause and listen. Unfortunately, God often gets eclipsed by the noise and multitasking of everyday life.

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