Biophilia: Love of nature is an evolutionary tactic

Shameem Akhtar | Updated on: Saturday, August 03, 2019, 06:43 PM IST


When I had finished the vipassana course, after each time (I have done it thrice, each time at Alandi, a small energy spot in Maharashtra) I would inexplicably feel the need to hug all the animals and birds. The trees. An urge to hug the mountains and the rocks. It was inexplicable. No, it was not part of the course. But something restored itself in me, I believe, to its original state. That we as humans living in the city forget. And it was as if sitting on my butt, and thinking nothing but how stupid my mind was, helped restore something of an original intent common to all human beings.

The Buddha called it metta — unconditional love for all things. Since Vipassana is a Buddhist practice, it all naturally tied up, in retrospect. But there was no description of it, in the practice, except this definition. For me, the wonder was in feeling it pure and simple. A large hug, towards all things. When that flows, it is as if you are one with the whole world. There is always a gap between theory, practice. And finally, experience, which cannot be verbalised.

It is interesting to know the West, the rationalist part of it, has actually seen that as part of an evolutionary tactic. Biologist O.E. Wilson coined a new word for this: Biophilia, the love of humans for the rest of the world.

There is a lot of concurrence between the spiritual and scientific world. Unfortunately, the superstitions that surround the former tend to put off some people. But metta and biophilia appear to be the same thing.

Intriguingly, several independent studies by different branches of western sciences conclude that biophilia may actually have been an evolutionary tactic.

Here are some things which may convince you why feeling a connect to nature can help heal and restore you. And you may find that these are actually hard-wired in our brains and we may unconsciously choose things around us that subtly remind us that we are part of a large circle of love that includes all things wise and wonderful, animate and inanimate.

Natural patterns: Research done by architectural organisations has established that homes that have natural patterns woven into its décor or structure had a deeply restorative value. The patterns could be simple and non-intrusive – like bee hive, or whorls in shells, or swirls in a tree trunk.

Natural experiences: Interiors which had natural drafts of air had more restorative value. Large buildings with a standard temperature control were sterile spaces, whereas those which had fluctuating temperatures or movement of air (even manipulated by electronic devices) had a healing impact.

Sounds of nature: Having the sound of water, tree rustling had a similar calming effect, including on patients. However, this had to be done with wisdom. In places where there was a problem of water, hearing the sound of water running could unconsciously trigger anxiety (which again shows how we are tied to such aspects of nature at a deeply intuitive level). So, there having a different sound may be called for. There was not a standard rule: rather, these choices seemed intrinsic to the area from where the person originated.

Natural buildings: Homes built with local materials, and with contours natural to the surrounding landscape again had a healing impact. This may explain why the crime rates and sickness levels are high in cities around the world – the sense of unnatural disconnect that large sprawling cities may be contributing directly to this.

Shinrin-yoko: This is a Japanese term, now famous around the world, which means forest-bathing. That is to allow yourself to walk through forest simply to soak your senses into all the forest experiences. It is an idea that is catching the imagination of people around the world for its healing aspect.

What you can do to get a forest inside your workplace or home and your life:

- Strategically placed indoor plants is a good way to bring a bit of nature into your homes.

- Have paintings that have natural textures, patterns, or scenes.

- Have natural sounds (as fountains) or over gadgets to play in your spaces. Several long natural sounds are now available freely, for such streaming.

- Choose holidays or organise offshore events that have nature as a backdrop rather than crowded cities.

- You can even have videos of nature streaming – water falls, soft clouds drifting, oceans etc – in your spaces for a given period of time.

- Aroma oils – not mixtures – but earthy ones, are also said to have similar affinity to nature.

- Instead of hanging about a mall, choose a walk in the park, or along the beach.

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Published on: Sunday, August 04, 2019, 06:30 AM IST