Finding counterbalance in nature

Shortly, the public will be unable to reason or think for themselves. They’ll only be able to parrot the information they’ve been given on the previous night’s news.

— Zbigniew Brzezinski,
US President Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor
(Speaking of parrots, meet Mr. Magoo, the new office parrot!* He will be flying around the office the next time you come in to see us. Please wear a hat, and whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with “Mag-man”. He considers that a threat, and we will not be held responsible for his reaction to your threats, whether you intend them or not.)

(*Let me be the first to wish you a Happy April Fool’s Day!)

Brzezinski’s comment about television’s influence was in 1972! 50 years ago! The situation has only gotten exponentially more intense. Screen time is up. Behind the scenes, behavior manipulation through individualized campaigns is big business. Celebrity “influencing” is even seen in a positive light.

Studies from 50-plus years ago showed that just one minute in front of the television shifts brain wave activity. The brain activity slows down. It goes from our conscious waking state (Beta waves) to an idle state, seen when the brain is not concentrating on anything (Alpha waves). The slower pattern makes us more receptive and open to suggestion. It’s a mild trancelike state. The viewer is content to stay tuned and accept what is being presented.

Brzezinski wasn’t speculating. He had been educated on the facts of the matter. The moving images and sounds of telecommunication are intoxicants. All media is a filter and takes us a step away from direct sense perception; visual media is a drug. Pick your poison, the menu is robust: advertising, entertainment, news, sports, or all of the above.

We face a digitally-induced, brain-wave-altering epidemic. A lot of illnesses have followed the exact curve of TV’s arrival and spread. The obesity epidemic is one. (7 Ways Your TV is Making you Fat.)     


Media will forever be a part of our life, for better or for worse. While our brain slips into “idle” in front of the screen more and more, we need to promote and integrate the activities that counterbalance media’s influence.


A Finnish study of 6,000 urban residents has recently demonstrated the health benefits of regular time in green spaces. It was the amount of time logged in nature that was decisive. Two hours per week is the prescription. The results of this and other nature exposure studies are worth reviewing:

  • people need less prescription drugs. For instance, using prescription medication for mental health fell by 33% 
  • people self report higher levels of health and well-being 
  • the likelihood of using prescription blood pressure medication fell by 36% with urban green space exposure 3-4 x per week.
  • asthma sufferers were 26% less likely to need medications  
  • people reported relief of anxiety and depression 
  • a lower risk of hypertension and heart disease is demonstrated.

What is nature’s secret?

A researcher from UC Berkeley, Dr. Dacher Kelnter, suggests that nature’s main influence on us is its power to stimulate awe, which he defines in his research as “the subjective feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world and requires changing your beliefs.” (Keltner, 2009).

He has statistical analysis revealing that awe, more than any other positive emotion, is responsible for long-term, lasting well-being in his study participants. It’s almost a polar emotion to stress. Other researchers have shown regular feelings of awe can boost immunity and fight inflammation. 

There’s hardly a better way of seeking out awe than spending time in nature. It reveals that exercising on a treadmill or stair-master is quite limited compared to being out on a trail that has new sights and sounds every day, although I can see how every bit helps.


Beyond exercise is the cleansing and expansion that comes with nature exposure. The further step beyond nature exposure is the conscious appreciation and wonder at the little things experienced. It’s a trifecta that’s quite potent.


“A simple and powerful way to experience awe if you can step away from your desk is to take an ‘awe walk.’ Take twenty minutes to wander and be curious and observe the everyday beauty around you, even in a familiar place like your yard or neighborhood. In workshops, this instruction helps people to notice others, as well as places and things they might typically rush past — a bee flitting from flower to flower, for example. Afterwards, participants report feeling inspired, calmer, and better able to focus.”

— Fessel and Reivich; Harvard Business Review

There is so much to see and learn if we train ourselves to notice and lovingly observe the living, natural world. You literally don’t need anything more than your own backyard or neighborhood to participate. How great if it can become a regular practice! It’s so terrific to know the ubiquitous majesty of creation is one of the world’s best “drugs”.

That’s what’s on my mind for this beautiful early spring day.