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Time outdoors can help mental health

“Life is all about you and not at all about you. Now, that’s two opposing thoughts and yet both of them are true. How can you experience everything you choose to do while observing the experience you’re having from a higher view?” – Zhu

These past few months have allowed time for much reflection of my life. At 26 years old, amidst a pandemic, a social revolution, and while living paycheck to paycheck, I have finally figured out why I am the way I am, what I truly enjoy and what I truly don’t, what I need and what I really don’t. Yet I have also figured out that it is not only I that matters. “Your life is all about you and not at all about you.” Go ahead and say that out loud, let it sink in. There are many ways you can interpret that quote, but the following is how I have interpreted it.

Life is made up of interactions. You meet people, pass by them, smile perhaps; but you do not know their life. You do not know all of their other interactions and how those interactions have shaped them. You only see them in that one instance at that one time. What they do and say in that moment can, in turn, affect you. Our brain uses these interactions to reason and make sense of others. I have learned, and am still learning, how to manage those interactions and not let them take up too much of my emotional capacity.

I find this phenomenon very similar to electrons throughout the universe, bumping into one another; otherwise known as a branch of quantum mechanics. The probability of an electron going one direction is 50% while the probability of going the opposite direction is 50%. Random yet predictable interactions; we know those electrons will interact with each other just not when or where. We humans are the same as those electrons, yet we are also different. They are a simple particle while we are sophisticated. They are without emotions and we are very much with. We can hurt, love, cry, and laugh; electrons cannot.

When you realize this thought or concept, your life changes, at least mine did. My fears, anxieties, and woes are still present, but a blossom of acceptance and understanding has now appeared. I can acknowledge why I interact the way I do and understand why others interact the way they do. There are two sides to every story yes, but there are infinite interactions behind those stories.

In school you are taught many things like plate tectonics, evolution, plant life cycles, food chains, decomposition, and how they drive the natural world. Yet to really understand the magnitude of these things is where my enlightenment has come from. As I sit in front of my phone scrolling through memes on Instagram, there are beetles, worms, and maggots digesting a dead deer in the forest outside my window. Their droppings go into the soil and leave nutrients behind. The fertilized soil can now produce healthy plants if seeds should choose to settle there. The plants can grow and become food and produce oxygen. And that is just locally. Realizing that those types of interactions are happening throughout the world is humbling. Probability is steering the wheel, all while I was scrolling on my phone.

Living in the unknown, focusing on the interactions that haven’t happened yet, and worrying about when they will happen can only hinder progress. Be afraid yes, express those fears, and contemplate consequences, but realize that the result will not end you, or what you perceive is “you”. Your life is all about you and not at all about you. Some days it is harder to practice this notion. Living in an age of constant media updates from across the world is important but exhausting. It can cause your mind to go from peaceful, to turmoil, to anger, to tired. I was having trouble coping with the endless flux over the past 10 weeks. So I began to change my interactions. I often go out for a walk, usually with some of my dog friends, and I actively observe things I encounter outside of my own mind. I see frogs swimming in drainage ditches. I hear trees blowing in the wind and creaking as if they are sore. I see fungus and wonder why it decided to grow there instead of a different place. After my observations I then reinforce everything I have just absorbed by acknowledging it is all alive and is constantly in motion no matter what is happening in my life. This process keeps me grounded and in control of my emotions.

It is peaceful here, in this realm of clarification. I used to shy away from heated topics because it would make me too angry or sad, or upset. I stayed in my emotional bubble. But over the past 5 years, I have had many new interactions and my thirst for knowledge has grown. Thus my bubble needed to burst; my life was all about me and not at all about me. I have become more empathetic to all beings, to those like me and also those very different. I have to acknowledge my partner Derek here, because he is one of the big reasons why I have changed so much. He shares this similar mindset, always striving to see the inner lining and remain calm and collected.

I can try to will outcomes, hope they end in my favor but ultimately they are out of my control. I do however, have control of my interactions. I can choose how to interact; aggressively or passively, passionately or carelessly. I prefer to interact respectfully no matter what. If I am met with something that pleases or upsets me, I trace the interactions, usually with internal questions. Sometimes my interactions are met with criticism, hatred, love, praise, confusion, or belittlement. It is okay, because my life is all about me and not at all about me.

There is probably a word or philosophy already in existence for everything I just described, but I am not adhering to something that already was. I have learned what is best for myself and how I process things. These ideas have all come to fruition for me in the past 10 weeks. I write in hopes you may take something away from it or at the very least learn something about me as it is my end here as Audubon’s seasonal naturalist. The natural world is full of interactions happening all the time whether we realize them or not. You are in control of only your interactions so take the time to make them count, reflect, and learn.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

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