Hidden Brain is an NPR podcast that is sometimes interesting, sometimes helpful, and often idiotic. I would recommend listening to this podcast, but only if you are prepared to skip over the idiotic ones. This particular episode was illuminating. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/hidden-brain/id1028908750?i=1000446746820
It wasn’t all new to me. I had already known about forest bathing for many years. I was surprised to find out that just seeing nature can have benefits to physical health, mental well-being, and even crime statistics for a city neighborhood. Perhaps my habit of looking at clouds and taking pictures of them isn’t only due to the fact that clouds rock. Maybe, without realizing that I was doing it, I was healing myself by connecting with nature.
A specific quality of clouds that appeals to me is that, wherever I go, even in the most polluted urban environments, I can usually look up and see clouds that are not soiled with human fingerprints. I will also look at clouds when I am in the middle of a search. A search for a lost cat or a dog can be very stressful in a number of ways. There are a lot of demands on my attention. I need to focus on the search dog’s body language. At the same time, I need to be aware of possible evidence, I need to communicate with the owner of the dog or the cat, and I need to watch out for environmental and safety hazards for my dog. While focusing on those many critical components of the search, I also need to sift through my memories of past searches to remember what happened in a similar situation and what data or results might be applicable in the current situation. Also, I need to try to not fall on my face as my dog drags me over uneven terrain and slippery slopes. With all of that business in my brain during a search, you would think that I might have enough to pay attention to without taking time out to look up at the sky. According to scientific research, it appears that my metal function improves by taking these 15 second breaks to notice the clouds. I thought I was just weird, which is fine, but it turns out that I may have been improving my mental performance with this quirky behavior.
When I went for a run this morning, my body felt tired, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be running as fast as I had been recently. I made a conscious choice, before I had even listened to the hidden brain podcast, to choose a trail through the woods for my run in order to at least enjoy nature, even if it wasn’t going to be the best workout. I did enjoy flying through the trees along the trail. I am certain that I benefited from not ingesting the typical car fumes on city streets.
As I was going to sleep, with all of the dogs packed around of me, I wondered if the health benefits of having pets were due to the same sort of thing. Scientific studies have shown that having a cat or a dog in your life can provide measurable health benefits. I wonder if it is the same sort of effect, connecting with nature, connecting with the sorts of environments that we evolved in. During my typical day, my pursuits require me to communicate with hundreds of people. This is unnatural from the perspective of evolution. For millions of years, humans only knew a handful of people. Now, my Facebook group for lost dogs has 14,000 people. I will typically talk to a family member or two, several friends, and about five people in crisis because they’ve lost a family member. All of that talking to people is a drain on my mental energy even if they are people I enjoy talking to. Being around dogs and clouds and forests rejuvenates me.
As we went to sleep in a comfortable bed, I scrolled through the pictures of clouds and dogs on my phone. I turned it off, and in the darkness, as I listened to Mu snore, and I felt Tino’s heart thumping under my hand, I imagined that we were in the middle of the forest, with no walls, only stars and clouds above, and the laughter of the owls. I was surrounded by my wolf pack, safe and secure.