GULF COAST ZEITGEIST
A Gift From Mother Nature
number of recent scientific studies have discovered that spending time in a natural environment offers a buffet of benefits, from physical therapy to easing mental depression and even increasing altruistic behavior. Now a research team led by psychologist Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, reporting in the research journal Body Image, has demonstrated that strolling in nature—or even just viewing photos of it—engenders a more positive body image.
As to why exposure to nature could be having this effect, Swami suggested a couple of reasons: (1) “It might be that it distances people, physically and mentally, from appearance-focused situations that are one of the causes of negative body image;” (2) spending time in a natural outdoor setting “may provide people with cognitive quiet, which, in turn, may foster self-compassion.”
I would add a third observation that is shared by most of us living on the conservation-minded Gulf Coast: We are participants in a circle of life (as described by St. Bonaventure) whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. In other words, we are part of a dynamic process so vast and multi-creatured that our nearsighted human self-centeredness is put in its place (and left there!).
These research findings are timely as we move through a celebrative season of high holidays marked by festive dining and some serious shopping. When it comes to the matter of self-image we can easily get trapped in a paradoxical “box”: the more we eat, the more we need new clothes to cover the effects of the excess calories we’ve consumed. Perhaps now is the time to look beyond the image reflected in a mirror and go outside to look around.
While Mother Nature’s message is written clearly for those with the eyes to see, we “word-makers” can sometimes be awkward when trying to communicate. I recall hearing about a sign penned by an Italian businessman hanging on the door of his laundry in Rome: “Ladies, leave your clothes here and then spend the afternoon having a good time.”
Luckily, there are other occasions when we “get the picture” and then carefully choose just the right words: “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29).
So, this holiday season why not try some dining and shopping outdoors? To make your trips more rewarding here are some “store” hours: 1. Morning glories—open 5-6 a.m., close noon 2. Water lilies—open 7-8 a.m., close 6-7 p.m. 3. Daylilies—open 7-8 a.m., close 8-9 p.m. (And for those who like to shop ’til they drop:) 4. Dandelions—open 5-6 a.m., close 8-9 p.m. Dr. Randall Niehoff has been dining and shopping in Mother Nature’s place on Sanibel since 1991.