When I was living and working in London there were many times when I would have the urge to get away from the city. I needed to escape the blinking lights, the constant noise, the ever present pollution. At that time, my brother was living in Brighton. It too is a city but there was one big difference between London and Brighton: the sea. That’s why it was the focus of my attention.
I would take the short train journey to Brighton and sit on the pebble beach. With my back to the crowds of people streaming towards the pier, I would look out across the coast. There was the flat line of the horizon. There were the seagulls soaring in a cloudless blue expanse. There was the tremendous sound of the waves crashing against the shore. As I sat taking in the scene, the salty sea air would whip around me in unpredictable motions, dizzying and uplifting. An hour or two would stretch out and seem to stop so that I would eventually lose track of time. It was enough to just sit and be and let myself be taken in and enfolded by the seascape; the power of nature evident in the movement of the waves that beckoned both to lose myself in them and recover something lost living in the city. My senses were awake and my heart full. I felt whole and connected to nature.
Time spent communing with nature is a luxury for most of us who live in the modern developed world. Compared to even fifty years ago, the accelerated pace of technological change and development has transformed the way we live so that we spend the vast majority of our time in artificial environments in which there is little chance or time for connecting with nature. We spend our lives indoors in climate-controlled buildings and homes. We consume food that has been manufactured, processed and treated in industrialised farms and factories. The average person’s leisure and work consists of staring at a screen. Our instinctual selves, evolved over thousands of years to survive and thrive in harmony with the cycles of nature, have had to adapt to an onslaught of modernisation that has greatly reduced the quality of our lives. And so along with the vast changes to our lifestyles, we’ve seen a dramatic change in our health as a species: despite the fact that we now on average live longer, our global mental and physical health has deteriorated.