Life

Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

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“I think that we are like stars. something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying, we’re actually turning into a supernova. And when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before.” C. Joybell C.

Hydrogen is formed into helium, and helium is built into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulphur - everything we're made of. When stars get to the end of their lives, they swell up and fall together again, throwing off their outer layers. If a star is heavy enough, it will explode in a supernova.

Our bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies.  Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.

The residual stardust finds its way into plants, and from there into the nutrients that we need for everything we do—think, move, grow. And every few years the bulk of our bodies are newly created.

We tend to think of our bodies changing only slowly once we reach adulthood. In fact, we're changing all the time and constantly rebuilding ourselves. 

The skin, for example, is our largest organ. To keep alive, our cells have to divide and grow. We're aware of that because we see children grow. But cells also age and eventually die, and the skin is a great example of this. It's something that touches everything around us. It's also very exposed to damage and needs to constantly regenerate. It weighs around eight pounds and is composed of several layers. These layers age quickly, especially the outer layer, the dermis. The cells there are replaced roughly every month or two. That means we lose approximately 30,000 cells every minute throughout our lives, and our entire external surface layer is replaced about once a year.

Very little of our physical bodies lasts for more than a few years, something we might find hard to grasp each day as we look in the mirror. But we're not fixed at all. We're more like a pattern or a process. 

The spiral in a snail's shell is the same mathematically as the spiral in the Milky Way galaxy, and it's also the same mathematically as the spirals in our DNA. It's the same ratio that you'll find in very basic music that transcends cultures all over the world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Every tissue recreates itself, but they all do it at a different rate. We know through carbon dating that cells in the adult human body have an average age of seven to ten years. That's far less than the age of the average human, but there are remarkable differences in these ages. Some cells literally exist for a few days. Those are the ones that touch the surface. The skin is a great example, but also the surfaces of our lungs and the digestive tract. The muscle cells of the heart, an organ we consider to be very permanent, typically continue to function for more than a decade. But if you look at a person who's 50, about half of their heart cells will have been replaced.

Our bodies are never static. We're dynamic beings, and we have to be dynamic to remain alive. This is not just true for us humans. It's true for all living things.

Cells die and rebuild all the time. We're literally not what were a few years ago, and not just because of the way we think. Everything around us does this.

Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

Read more: Living with the stars: how the human body is connected to the life cycles of the Earth, the planets, and the stars. Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver.


Nothing is born, nothing dies

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Sometimes people ask you: "When is your birthday?" But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?"

Ask a leaf: "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

If you ask the leaf, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the leaf being born. Before being born it was the meristem in the mother oak. Or it was the acorn that had fallen onto the soil. It was also the sun because the warmth from the sun helped the acorn grow. The rain is there too, helping to nourish the mother tree and help it thrive. The leaf does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later, the leaf will change into decaying organic material. If you look deeply into the ground you can see the leaf. The leaf is not lost; it is transformed into compost, and the compost is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the latte you drink. Today if you drink a latte, give yourself time to look at the latte and say: "Hello, leaf! I recognise you.”

Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. Only when we touch our true nature can we transcend the fear of non-being, the fear of annihilation.

Nothing is born, nothing dies.


It’s a dog’s life (why connection is better than drugs)

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Imagine a dog in kennels waiting to be rehomed. We see the video on Facebook telling us how sad and depressed the dog is, and how it sits, staring, into the corner. The solution, they say, is company and a new home. We are shown how the dog’s mood has lifted when it finds a family, has company, and someone to take it on walks.
 
We are shown how company, connection, and attention have transformed the dog’s life.
 
Now imagine that same dog, sitting in the kennels, forlornly staring into the corner. Imagine the staff asking the vet to come and see the dog because they think he’s depressed. The vet says that the dog appears to have a chemical imbalance in the brain, prescribes some drugs for him, and sends him back into the same kennel, alone. The vet says he will assess him again in a month. The dog goes back to staring into the corner.
 
Most people would agree that this approach would be crazy. It’s obvious that it’s both the environment the dog is in and the lack of connection that are making the dog depressed. It doesn’t need drugs, it needs company, connection, and hope.
 
Yet isn’t that the way we treat people? The person who is depressed, living alone, or with people they don’t emotionally connect with, goes to the doctor to ask for help. The doctor decides that the patient has a chemical imbalance in the brain, gives him some tablets, and sends him back into the very environment that is making him ill. Obviously, the doctor can’t say “Here’s your new forever home” to his patient, but he could consider that maybe the patient needs an opportunity to connect with other people and to get outdoors. Even just once a week they could benefit from some wild art therapy, or even just a walk with people they can connect with.

Two waves forward, one wave back (surviving adversity)

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My daughter spotted a little sea creature struggling to return to the sea. We could see its little legs sticking out of the shell scrabbling about, trying to right itself and move forward. But then a wave would come and wash it back again.

“Please pick it up and help it,”my daughter pleaded. But, as I watched, I noticed something interesting. The tide would ebb away and the creature would again put all of its effort into moving forward. Then the  tide would come back and wash it back yet again but it never washed it back to where it started - it had always managed to move on a bit.

I stood and watched it, until, through sheer determination, it was back in the depths of the ocean.

Sometimes we have to downgrade for a while in order to upgrade. Sometimes we have to ride the wave and see where it takes us.

I thought about what would have happened if we had picked it up and helped it on its way. What if that had happened all its life? What if someone had always been around to help it get where it wanted to go without it having to struggle? It would probably never understand how determination and effort can achieve the seemingly impossible. But, what if one day nobody came and the little creature just sat there waiting for someone to help? It would be afraid of the unknown, not understand that sometimes it needs to make an effort itself and so it would be stuck and would probably die. 

Sometimes struggling can make us stronger and more resilient.

People who live ‘safe’ lives, children who never have to do anything for themselves, people who are stuck in their ‘comfort zone’ - can they ever be truly successful?

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Why a wandering possession-free life is a natural way of living for humans

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Sometimes life just gets too cluttered.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring some new places. Travelling around has made me realise how much things weigh me down and how little I really need. It’s also made me realise how unnatural it is to coop ourselves up in a house with lots of possessions. I had too much stuff and I needed to cut down. 

Looking back at our ancestors, humans lived for tens of thousands of years as hunter gatherers and moved around all the time. Living a nomadic life meant that people had few, if any possessions. They just had what they needed and could carry, essential provisions such as water, vegetables, spears, bows and arrows. They didn’t need much else. The idea of owning things was alien to them and they shared when they could because it meant less to carry. They didn’t need to store things and no one owned any property.
 
They hunted when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and when food was scarce they moved on elsewhere.
 
Hunter gatherers also had a deep regard for nature. To them woods, for example, were full of magic and provided warmth and shelter.
 
Then, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture brought stable food supplies and hunter gatherers began to settle and build permanent dwellings that eventually morphed into the complex communities we know today. Prior to this there were few, if any, permanent homes or villages. The Agricultural Revolution allowed them to settle but it was a demanding way of life, much as it is for many people today. The Agricultural Revolution paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and jobs that trapped people into living in close proximity.
 
In some ways having a permanent house and possessions can make us feel stable and secure - we know where we will sleep at night and where our next meal will come from. But it can also make us disconnected from our natural way of living - the way of life enjoyed by over 90% of our ancestors.
 
In a way the internet is allowing us to become nomads again. It gives us the opportunity to take our work with us and work from anywhere in the world. We can easily find places to stay in faraway communities where we can embrace local life and broaden our minds. It allows us to buy whatever we need from wherever we are.
 
Bloggers often share their experiences of travelling and living where they choose without the tie of a permanent home. The internet also helps us to spread the word about the benefits of minimalism and mindfulness. So, as advanced as the technology may seem today, is it actually taking us full circle and back to our roots and nomadic past?
 
We are stopping on a campsite for a few days and I’m sitting here in the doorway of my tent, feeling the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on my face, listening to the flow of the river, my dogs at my feet. And, as I type this on my iPad I think about how the internet gives us freedom, and how it can allow me to work from wherever I choose.
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A fear of the unknown

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I’ve always felt afraid of the sea. It is a fear of the unknown, of the hidden depths shrouded in mystery. More is known about Mars than our oceans (did you know that 95% of our oceans have never been explored?)

In the past, for me, the best therapists in nature have always been the woods and the mountains, the woods offering the wisdom and stability of the trees, and the mountains offering a sense of awe and belonging.

Yet now, as I am facing great turbulence in my life, it is in the ocean that I am finding solace.

My instinct took me to the sea. As I write this at 4 am, I am on the stony beach, and the sound of the gentle ebb and flow of the tide is calming my senses and helping me adjust and take stock of my life.

I watch the sun rise and marvel at the colours. I look at the stones on the rocky beach. The rocks remind me that life goes on. These rocks are all so much older than me. I pick up a stone and feel it’s smoothness and weight. This small rock may once have formed part of a great mountain, but it became displaced, and now finds itself on the beach under the protection of the great ocean, just as I am. As I look across the water at the flickering lights on the mainland, I appreciate the solitude this place offers, and also realise that I have a new therapist to whom I want to return.

Alongside the vastness of the ocean I spend a few minutes practising pebble meditation and cultivate spaciousness both inside and outside of myself

The sea is strong, survives turbulent weather and soon returns to its calm natural self. Just as the turbulence in my life will pass, and calmness and tranquility will come once more.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer.

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The wisdom of touch

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla.
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Spider webs are finely-tuned instruments and the information sent along the silken strands is controlled by adjusting tension and stiffness, very much like when we tune a guitar or violin.

Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies. Spiders will pluck the threads of their web, like a guitar string, and the resulting sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web. Spiders have poor eyesight so they rely on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information.

Things aren't much different for us humans. Our sense of touch is very similar to the way we hear.

The timing and frequency of vibrations produced in the skin when exploring surfaces play an important role in how humans use the sense of touch to gather information, drawing a strong analogy to the auditory system.

Imagine you get out of bed at night and feel the wall for the light switch. You slide your hand along the wall, maybe feel the doorframe and then the rougher wall surface. Eventually, you find the plastic feel of the switch. During this process, you build up a picture in your mind of the wall's surface and it enables you to make a better guess about where the switch is.

Using our hands like this enables us to use our sense of touch to gather information about the objects and surfaces around us.

Our skin is also highly sensitive to vibrations, and these vibrations produce corresponding oscillations in the nerves which carry information from the receptors to the brain. The precise timing and frequency of these neural responses convey specific messages about texture to the brain, much like the frequency of vibrations on the eardrum conveys information about sound.

"There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it."  Elizabeth A. Behnke.

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