Wonder, Silence and Solitude

Taken from “Twelve Baskets Full”, a book authored by Fr Ricopar Royan

Distancing from Nature

A study conducted by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reveals that four out of five children between the ages of 8-12 in UK are not adequately connected to nature." The study team developed 16 simple statements like, "I enjoy touching animals and plants", "being outdoors makes me happy" and "humans are part of the natural world" to which these children agreed or disagreed. This is an alarming child-nature situation. The study followed a major stock-take of Britain's nature which found out that the majority of UK species are on the wane and one out of three have reduced to half in the last five decades. RSVB chief executive, Dr. Mike Clarke says, "Nature is in trouble, and children's connection to nature is closely linked to this." The findings declare that there is a correlation between the decline in wildlife and the disconnect between children and the natural world. There is a growing concern that children are alienated to the natural world. This reality deserves a special attention.

How does this distancing from nature happen to adults, culturally? An unusual study was conducted. The researchers turned to people and the cultural products they created. The study group thought the works of popular culture should reflect the extent to which nature occupies our collective consciousness. If novelists, lyricists or filmmakers have fewer encounters with nature now than before or if these encounters make less of an impression on them, or if they don't expect their audiences to respond to it, nature should feature less frequently in their works. The researchers listed 186 nature-related works belonging to four categories: general words like autumn, lake; names of flower (rose, bluebell), names of trees cedar, willow) and names of birds (hummingbird, spoonbill). Then they checked how frequently these 186 words were used in the works of popular culture, including books written between 1901 and 2000, top 100 songs between 1950 and 2011 and movies between 1930 and 2014. There was a clear and consistent trend: Nature features significantly less in popular culture today than it did in the first half of the 20th century and was steadily declining after 1950s.

Though we understand that this trend is due to rapid urbanisation which gradually eliminated natural surroundings and isolated people, the main reason is something else. The gradual emergence of TV, videos games, internet and the like became a popular pastime. These technologies partially substituted for nature as a source of recreation and entertainment.

The disappearance of nature vocabulary from the cultural conversation reflects an actual distancing from nature. This is a great cause of concern. Our cultural products, songs, films, art, stories not only reflect our prevailing culture and life experiences, they also shape it. Richard Louv says, "As the care of nature increasingly becomes an intellectual concept severed from the joyful experience of the outdoors, you have to wonder. Where will future environmentalists come from?”

Living in a busy and noisy world

We distance ourselves from nature and live in a busy and noisy world. All people today, business persons, politicians, market executives, priests, students, homemakers and social workers, seem to be saying that they are busy. Busyness, whether it is a matter of making money or earning for family or just doing what the boss tells you to do, has become an obsession. Time is money we say. We even feel guilty if we are not buys.Why this obsession with work and busyness? Are we just following the crowd and doing what everyone else does? Do we need to be busy to save the world?

Not just busy, we engage in a noisy world too. World Health Organisation reports that the safe sound is 55 dB when it is daytime and 40 dB at night. Unfortunately we spend most of our time exceeding both these safe sound limits.

Loud sounds can cause not only a loss of hearing but also other serious health conditions that include insomnia, mood fluctuations and even heart problems. Hence it is important to take stock of the noisy world round you. The most frequent sound pollution are vehicular traffic, loud music, industrial noise and even unnecessary and unending noisy conversation.

A survey was conducted in eleven countries which threw up some interesting statistics. Portugal has the highest amount of roadside traffic noise pollution. American children and adults make the loudest conversations. Background music was found to be the most prevalent source of noise in Italy. Australians keep a high volume in television sets among these countries. This exposure to high level of noise increases the chance of developing several behavioural and psychological problems. Anxiety tends to creep in due to the constant unsafe noise, which can cause irritability and even trouble interpersonal relationships.

Being busy in a noisy world has become a way of life. We fail to realise that noise and busyness distract us from the real world. It distracts us from God and his beautiful creation. It looks as if we are afraid from silence and solitude and tempted to consider it as out of fashion. Our distancing from the natural world and getting stuck to the busy world have a lotof repurcussions in personal and societal life.

Losing the sense of wonder

One of the important effects of us distancing from nature is that we lose the great sense of wonder. Where are we heading? In his scholarly yet practical book, "Last Child in the Woods," Richard Louv records an important comment about Paul, studying in fourth grade at San Diego, "I like to play indoors better, because that’s where all the electrical outlets are." It is not strange to hear such observations from kids in any society.The kids are so distanced from nature and all that nature offers. Some years back if kids stayed indoors they were considered odd ones, but today parents are reluctant to send them out of the house, in the name of safety, we are distancing our children from nature.s A child's whole world is viewed through the eyes of wonder and excitement. Children don't judge easily, rather they live in awe of life and view life through innocence and curiosity. We adults are result oriented.

We are worried about: What will happen, when it will happen and how it will happen. We want to have control over our life, our profession, our relationships and our future. Actually we don't. The worry to know the outcome has pushed us outside the magic of life. We miss surprises and we pass on this attitude towards life to our little ones and distance them from nature.

Losing the sense of wonder and seeing life as a mechanical one has serious consequences in life and in the world around. We fail to see the goodness and value in God's creation. When we don't look at the natural world with awe, we fail to understand the intrinsic value every creature possess. When we don't see this intrinsic value and goodness in every creation we tend to abuse them for our personal benefit. This is what happening in the world: the species extinction, deforestation and degradation of oceans.