Deep in southern Patagonia, far from civilization, a wilderness guide tells his group about an old native tribe called the Yaghan. The tribe lacked shelter and roamed naked through unforgiving terrain, in relentless arctic weather, and dove deep into frigid waters to catch food with their bare hands.
It’s a life most Americans can’t fathom, yet this guide from the Australis expedition team, Patricio Martinez, says with certainty that these natives had a good life. How does he know?
By the patterns carved into their spears. According to Martinez, historians believe that the simple fact that these indigenous people found time to relax and decorate their spears amidst all the environmental stressors indicates they were at peace with the rough life they lived. So if the idea of sitting in the woods and whittling a stick sounds like a boring waste of time, consider that it might actually be the key to gaining perspective and acceptance over the pressure cooker of life.
According to Rob Jordan of the Stanford Woods Institute, city dwellers are 20 percent and 40 percent more likely to develop anxiety disorders and mood disorders, respectively, compared to rural folk.
In the wilderness, being present is built into every moment. Even the most discerning cynics would be fully captivated in the presence of giant redwood trees. "It helps us to remember that there are things that are bigger than us and can break us out of rumination, negative thought patterns, and keep us grounded in the present," says Trailtalk Therapist, Megan Perry, CMHC.
And in the middle of nowhere with little more than a pair of socks, shoes, and a cold drink of water, all of a sudden a cold tuna sandwich tastes as transcendent as tuna carpaccio. A soft patch of grass under a hundred-year-old tree—more exclusive than the best table at brunch.
There's no choice but to unplug in the wilderness—good thing, since the daily routine of checking emails and news feeds just to keep up with the world might actually be keeping people from engaging with it. Miles away from any wifi signal, here’s some space to clear all the mental clutter. And re-emerging into civilization, may invoke a new appreciation for all the luxuries people take for granted everyday.
Challenging oneself to live even just for a short time without modern conveniences can awaken untapped creativity. Anyone who’s ever lost pieces of a tent has had to use some ingenuity to keep a roof over their head for the night. And hiking a mountain and getting that bird's-eye view of the world—more rewarding than zoning out to the TV while traversing on a treadmill.
No need to trek to the most remote corners of the world to experience the solitude of nature. Whether it’s a couple of hours driving to a National Park, or right in the backyard, it's easy to cultivate wellness from the wilderness even without traveling. Here are some simple tips:
Notice the way life moves all around
With honking cars and reverberating cell phones, it's easy to become desensitized to birds singing and flowers swaying in the wind. But taking the time to notice those things even just on that minute long walk from the car to the office is a really easy way to pull oneself into the moment and reconnect with nature.
Whatever you like to do, do it outdoors
Cooking, eating, building things—almost everything is better when you can simultaneously soak up the sun, feel a cool breeze, and breathe some fresh air. Pro tip: leave cell phones inside. Everything will be just fine.
Pitch a tent in the backyard
Sleeping under the stars then waking up to the sound of wildlife—even ones as common as birds and squirrels—starting their day, instead of a blaring alarm clock is a special kind of luxury that could never be truly replicated indoors. “Nature has its own rhythms and sound which almost always align with our own because, after all, we are a part of nature too,” says psychologist Peg Burr, LMFT.
In an evergreen forest, another wilderness guide tells his group to touch the trunks of the local trees, swearing that their life energy is palpable. Each person does it without question. Where the forest meets a cliffside, everything speckled with chartreuse-colored moss, the only thing happening is a trickle of a waterfall—and for a moment in time, that’s everything.
Photo credit: Kristopher Kinsinger via Unsplash