This is my Brain on Nature

At the Academy for the Love of Learning, taking time and space for self-reflection is encouraged. We have beautiful alcoves, decks, and digs for meetings, quiet meditation, movement, dancing, or even hiding out to work without distraction.

For some of us this consent to slow down is an adjustment, and for others, a privilege. But most at the Academy would agree that balancing work with space for self-reflection leads to more creativity and productivity.

I’m responsible for serving fresh, delicious food to Academy visitors and staff who take part in our workshops, meetings and events. This has led me to cultivate a small garden outside the kitchen, which will expand to some waffle gardens in the swales around our campus. The opportunity to grow herbs and vegetables has expanded my workspace and allows for contemplation. Reflection moves into reverie when I’m outdoors and is quickly influenced by interactions with other creatures, like a volunteer squash that seems to be begging for water or a curved-billed thrasher that gives a cheeky whistle, foisting me out of my monkey-mind.

Being outdoors brings me into the present like yoga or meditation does for others. Learning from and honoring all life lends to greater acceptance of diversity and messiness, which leads to more intimacy and cooperation with something bigger than our selves. Interacting with non-human life is intrinsic to the human experience as all of humanity’s resources begin with nature.

E. O. Wilson once said, “Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the environmentalist view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view.”

Nature is not everyone’s most comfortable place for slowing down, but it’s where I go first. At the Academy, we’re fortunate to be situated in a spectacular natural setting, but an urban environment will have its wild pockets too—whether a tree, a bird’s nest tucked into the side of a building or blades of grass pushing up through the asphalt.

For me, being in nature is a great starting point for self-reflection and humility, and with it come the benefits of gratitude, hope, cooperation and generosity.