I was recently listening to a podcast on the migratory pattern of birds. This process was an absolute mystery for many years, until natural philosophers (or scientists as they were later called), began to notice some rather odd patterns: during certain portions of the year birds would gain a significant amount of weight, would grow restless over time and would take flight at night inside the cage, sometimes crashing miserably against the walls. There seemed to be an automated desire to flee, to cross the oceans and begin anew. It turns out that most animals share this primal, instinctive desire for exploration. We do too…and I can prove it.
A few years back I was dealing with a very strong bout of anxiety. I kept waking in the morning with a strong feeling of dread, even though everything in my life was as good as it could be. I modified my diet, went to see my doctor, and began a journal to document my stress level and eating patterns. I tried this for several weeks, but nothing changed. No improvement. At least nothing I could easily pinpoint.
The first clue as to the root of the issue arose slowly. I started to feel this strange desire to go hiking. Wait. What? Hiking? What the hell does hiking have to do with anxiety?
Not knowing what the connection was I began to think about the benefits of spending time outdoors: Stress levels are reduced. The air is pure and usually cleaner than inside the home. There is sunshine, and flowers, and birds, and…wait, wait. Rewind. Sunshine? Hmm…Does sunshine have any effect on our body other than burning the crap out of the skin? According to my research it does, in the form of an all-pervasive hormone called Vitamin D which is created by the skin when exposed to the sun.
My immediate response was to have the doctor test for Vitamin D and to find out what the connection is between this vitamin and mental state. After quite a bit of time spent with my browser I learned that very low levels of Vitamin D could lead to anxiety and even depression. I started to wonder what my level was and to wait impatiently for the results. Three days later they came in. The outcome: 18. An entire 12 points below the baseline.
Armed with this new-found knowledge I started walking every day shirtless during the summer. My numbers slowly rose and with it went most of my anxiety.
Amazing huh? Yes, amazing indeed. But what is truly amazing is not the power of the sun to heal, or the effects of Vitamin D, or even my Google research prowess, it is the incredible capability of my mind to direct the body (through dreams and suggestions of the unconscious/subconscious) to actions that yield whatever is needed. I needed Vitamin D, so my unconscious began to send signals on where to go and what to do in order to acquire it.
The main lesson, and obviously the one I failed to heed, is the fact that we are a part of nature. I am a part of it and so are you. We are not meant to live in concrete cages. We were born to roam, to travel, to experience. We were placed on this earth to feel the sun caressing the skin, to breathe the soft breeze of Dover beach, and to swim with the dolphins.
We are like those gorgeous nightingales in cages, always yearning to take flight, our minds pushing us in unseen ways to move about while we continue to stress about work, bosses, and daily commutes. Most of us rarely crash against the edge of our imaginary cages, but when we jolt while falling asleep, is that our mind practicing a jump? Is it practicing what we never give it, so it doesn’t forget? Do some of us grow plump preparing for a long journey that never happens? Waiting for a hike that never materializes? Do you realize how similar we are to birds? To animals at large?
I often wonder how much healthier people would be, how fit, how happy, if they listened more often to their internal mechanism and spent less time shuffling paper and sitting on their office chairs, couches, and cars.
The main lesson is: always listen to your body, it knows more than any doctor or scan imaginable. Even a nightingale knows that.