2014 Calendars – I’ve been asked by a lot of folks whether I will be doing another calendar. The answer is yes! I will be announcing the details (similar to last year) in September.
~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~
What follows is a condensed excerpt that I wanted to share from a longer essay that I have been working on. I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts, personal experiences, and other articles that resonate with these ideas! Feel free to leave a comment below, or send me an email.
It happens to all of us, probably more than we’d like. After trying to concentrate on a difficult task for several hours, we become mentally exhausted, leaving us easily distracted, irritable, and impatient. That familiar state of mental exhaustion is referred to by psychologists as “directed attention fatigue,” and is the biggest obstacle we face when trying to lead a productive and meaningful life. It may seem peculiar that something so integral to the human existence would suffer from fatigue, but from an evolutionary perspective it is in fact quite reasonable. Being in a state of intense concentration for an extended period of time makes one rather vulnerable. Should a bear suddenly appear, we would like to know about it immediately. Being easily distracted by such events would have been crucial for survival several thousand years ago. In modern times however, for most people most of the time, bears and other dangers are no longer a concern. Instead, we are distracted by interesting, yet often unimportant events – advertisements, spam mails, tweets, phone calls, cute cat videos, etc. These distractions have gotten significantly more common thanks to the Internet (which, ironically, was a product of countless hours of directed attention).
Fortunately, there is a simple, free, and universally available solution to this unfortunate predicament: spending time in nature. This is not a recent idea, in fact, Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect, journalist, and conservationist, recognized the cognitive benefits of nature in the 1800′s when he wrote:
“Natural scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.” (Olmsted, 1865)
More recently, this idea has been formalized and dubbed Attention Restoration Theory (ART) by Stephen Kaplan in a 1995 paper. ART asserts that “restorative environments” (eg. nature) catalyze the recovery of directed attention fatigue, and the theory is supported by several scientific studies. Incredibly, similar results have been found by showing participants images of natural and urban environments. In a 2005 paper, Rita Berto summarized that for an environment to be classified as restorative, it must be:
– a place that is away from everyday demands
– a place that is fascinating, where you can discover and be curious about things
– a place where the activities and the items are ordered and organized
– a place that is very large, with no restrictions to movements; it is a world of its own
– a place where it is easy to orient and move around so that you can do what you like
Directed attention is critical to our ability to step back, synthesize information, make a plan, reflect, and even act appropriately in social settings. Science, literature, art, philosophy, and even religious practices were built on, and continue to depend on, our ability to sustain focus for extended periods of uninterrupted time. The very essence of humanity is a product of our ability to direct attention, and thus, our ability to replenish our mental stores.
Thanks to the work of countless conservationists, the US federal government has preserved millions of acres of land under the Wilderness Act, for us to do just that. Incidentally, the Wilderness Act will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year having been signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The trouble is, our wilderness experience is under attack. Urbanization is no longer constrained to the land, and the wilderness is no longer protected from it. The very air we breathe is saturated with urbanism, transmitted over the invisible electromagnetic waves that carry our beloved 4G signals. Every year newer, faster, bigger, and better smart phones are developed, and internet connections reach farther. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape, both physically, and emotionally. Remote mountaintops, once the sacred temples of wild places, are now becoming 4G hotspots. Although many rejoice in the constant connectivity the internet offers, living in an urban society without access to restorative environments will lead to a state of constant mental fatigue, resulting in an irritable, impatient, forgetful, and constantly distracted society incapable of solving complex problems. Our only hope of survival is to preserve, cherish, and experience true wilderness on a regular basis.
On that note, I’m headed into the North Cascades wilderness with Aubrey!