August 2017 By Punya Srivatsava Nature reconnects us with our source, heals us emotionally and physically, and helps us flower as complete human beings, says Punya Srivastava It was a nippy October morning in the year 2014. I was somehow moving forward, dragging my tired feet and weary body on an uphill climb. It was an excruciatingly arduous trek of several kilometers for an unprepared citygirl like me. I was on an official tour to cover a residential workshop in the Tirthan valley of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. The group was returning from a trek to a waterfall at the height of 7000 feet. By the time we were back to our retreat centre, most of us were out of breath, looking ready to collapse. I had pulled a muscle in my right thigh and had to complete the return journey limping all the way back which further increased the soreness, making the whole ordeal even more painful. There was no provision for a pain-relief ointment, pain killer, or a hot water bag at the camp. However, as I made my way to a solitary boulder amidst the gushing waters of Tirthan river by which the retreat space stood, and dipped my feet in its tranquil water, I could feel the knots of pain in my body loosening. I sat there for a good 30 minutes. Later that night, I crept into my sleeping bag and fell asleep gazing at the star-studded sky and listening to the playful melody of the river which was just a few feet away from my tent. I woke up around 4:45 am sans an alarm clock, feeling refreshed. To my amazement, the stiffness and soreness that had plagued me the entire previous day was gone, leaving behind just a niggling, mild discomfort. This was a miracle! Never had I ever been healed of any pain or ailment so promptly without any kind of intervention. And then I recalled that sublime experience of pain ebbing away from my body as I sat with my feet dipped in the balmy waters the day before. The healing power of nature had unraveled itself in an astounding way! Cradle of comfort This planet is the only home we know (as of now) and Nature, our first and foremost mother. Just as a baby finds comfort in the soothing embrace of his mother, humankind, along with other living species, has been finding repose in Mother Nature’s bountiful lap since eternity. Almost each one of us has inhaled the deeply fortifying prana-laden air, drenched our parched throats with abundant gulps of refreshing water, and rejuvenated our senses under the cool canopy of shady trees. We have felt the caresses of dew laden grass beneath our feet, basked in the radiance of a sunny day, enjoyed the playful breeze teasing our hair, been intoxicated by the heady fragrances of seasonal blooms, and feasted our eyes upon breathtakingly beautiful natural scenery. Let’s recall, when was the last time we savoured these delicious moments in the company of nature? “In our modern, highly developed culture, nearly all of us are highly estranged from our true nature, and consequently, from the nature around us. From the time we are little children, we are taught to set ourselves apart from all natural inclinations so that we can control, modify, and restrain them. We have learned to be suspicious, even afraid, of any form of wilderness. Some of us are unabashedly destructive of our environment. Others want to protect, manage, and be good stewards of our resources. Still others of us conjure up idealised images of ‘nature’, a pristine paradise when left untouched by human hands. What none of us seems to want, what we all resist, is to admit that we are inevitably, intimately, and irrevocably part of Nature rather than apart from it,” writes renowned psychiatrist and theologian Late Gerald G May in The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature. Isn’t he right? Last few centuries of modernisation have robustly claimed spaces not only in the tangible world, but also in our inner cosmos. Unlike our predecessors, we have been finding ways to keep nature out of our lives. Our routine and habits ensure minimum interaction with nature. We are turning into a generation that is reluctant to welcome the rains, winds or sunlight into their tastefully done homes and workplaces lest they ruin the sophisticatedly crafted interiors, or tamper with the remote-controlled environment. This separation from nature has further led us to fear its wilderness. “We are born to live in harmony with nature - that is our deepest desire, and yet we have created a life where the opportunities to be in the lap of nature are minimum,” rues Shashi Bhushan Singh, who along with a group of people has set up a small farm - Sadhana Path (or the Madman’s Farm) in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. An engineer by profession and an MBA degree holder, Shashi was all of 31 when he decided to bid adieu to his short career in the corporate world, after having spent almost equal time in the NGO sector. Who can contest Shashi’s observation? Don’t we all eagerly look forward to spending our vacations in the refreshing company of nature? But what we all fail to realise is that each day of our lives can have the same refreshing, rejuvenating, unwinding feel, only if we become mindful of the natural elements waiting for us outside our tightly shut windows. “Human divergence from the natural world appears to have occurred in parallel with technological developments, with advances in the 19th and 20th centuries having the most significant impact, fundamentally changing human interactions with nature. In its most literal sense, this separation was made possible by the construction of enclosed and relatively sterile spaces, from homes to workplaces to cars, in which modern humans were sheltered from the elements of nature and in which many, particularly people living in more developed countries, now spend the majority of their time,” says an entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, written under a paper titled Biophilia Hypothesis. Bouts of Biophilia American biologist Edward Osborne Wilson introduced the concept of Biophilia- the urge to affiliate with other forms of life. The term suggests that “humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.” German born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, describes Biophilia as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive.” We might have gone from living in nature’s lap to spending only few minutes in its proximity, yet, ask anyone about his or her favourite peaceful moments and they would invariably talk about an idyllic time spent in nature. This is so because even though grown, inherently, we are that same child who, seeks the solace of his mother’s embrace amidst a carnival of tantalising distractions. “Nature has been my life, my mother, my teacher, my mentor and my healer,” says Mumbai-based CA Jyoti Deshpande. Suffocated by her hectic urban life (decorated with ornamental, manicured lawns), Jyoti decided to practice permaculture in 2011 on a piece of land in the Rajgurunagar district of Pune. Today, Chaitraban not only boasts of an organic farm and a farmhouse, but also an abundant forest. Recounting her love for nature, Jyoti says, “She is my mother because she lovingly caresses me every time I struggle with low spirits and nurtures me with abundant greenery at Chaitraban. She is my teacher and mentor because she gives me hope when I have none, and shows me the way when I am lost. She has a beautiful way of subtly teaching me things and showing me the right way, when I wander. She is the healer of mind and body because she touches my heart with her ever gentle touch in many, many ways.” Hari and Asha Chakkarakkal too left city to live a life of sanguinity in the woods. The couple has been creating ripples across social media for their off- the-grid life amidst a self-cultivated mini forest in a little town in the Kannur district of Kerala. Both of them are environment enthusiasts, and when they started their lives together, they decided to build for themselves a life which was energy-efficient, deeply connected to nature and sustainable. They sought help from an architect friend to materialise their dream on a piece of 34 cents of land. Their breathing mud walls allowed them the luxury of doing away with ceiling fans and other such contraptions. The architecture of their house invites huge shafts of natural light inside, lending the ambience an airy and spacious feel. Their land produces fruits and vegetables, which they believe should grow naturally. They do not till the land and the only time they use a shovel is while planting. Migratory birds such as the paradise flycatcher, the monarch flycatcher and the white-throated rock thrush pay them visits regularly. There are many people like Jyoti, and Hari and Asha who have found their ‘home’ amidst the flourishing, giving abode of nature. Kolhapur based award-winning architect Shirish Beri made for himself three different houses cocooned in the wholesomeness of nature. With an earthy and soothing farmhouse in Nadhawade, a rustic yet comfortable beach house in Deogadh, and an aesthetically appealing lake house in Andur – all in different districts of Maharashtra – Shirish is living a life of serenity and tranquility. “After my graduation in architecture, I asked myself – what kind of life I would like and the answer was immediate – a very simple life that is as close to nature as possible. Another reason was the immense contribution of nature to my work as an architect and life as a person,” he says. No wonder his philosophy of life gets reflected in some of the best works he has done as an architect. “It is difficult for me to design anything in which Nature is not an inherent part. Can this
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