08 April 2020

[Ryan Ralston] - A RETURN

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Being outdoors, taking a walk in a park or a hike on a local trail, can have a powerful impact on our mental state. The intent is to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life and immerse yourself within a more natural environment. 
We exert great pressure on ourselves, sometimes unnecessarily, and as a result, our physical health and mental well-being suffer. Making good decisions about our overall health requires thinking more deeply about how we treat ourselves and others. Taking into consideration our personal beliefs will help clarify priorities. Focusing on our well-being is crucial as we contemplate the future and answer the question, where do we go from here? 
An ethos that does not take our health seriously, will itself not be taken seriously, moving forward.  
How much time spent outdoors is enough?

Our relationship with nature has historically been one of imbalance.  
As society grew, more and more resources were consumed for expansion.  This shift from rural to urban life led to a distancing from nature. While many remained connected with the environment, the need for additional resources began to change our regard for how we viewed our natural resources.
The growth of cities brought disparity between us and nature, and an obsession with convenience, that signaled a changing point of view on the environment.  With technological and industrial advancements, nature became something we no longer felt a part of, rather, something we could control. We removed ourselves further from nature, as cities became the primary place of residence, allowing the population to remain ignorant of the workings of our natural resources. We understand our impact on nature but tend to ignore its reaction to our presence.  This reasoning is a cause for the further division between man and nature.  
There are several ways in which we must reconsider a balanced relationship with nature, all require effort.  It is possible to encourage people to consider themselves as part of a larger picture through education about ecology. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century philosopher, author, and poet, maintains the position that the scholar is one who is educated by nature, books, and action. Nature is the first in time (a constant) and the first in importance (due to its consistency). Within nature, according to Emerson, is concealed the law of the human mind: know thyself, study nature, and become one. 
Emerson believed that conformity is a vice, the opposite of our need for self-reliance. We conform when we pay undeserved respect to things manmade and other status symbols, we show “the foolish face of praise.” Emerson criticizes conformity, even to our own past actions. Thus, his context for stating “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” There is both wise and foolish consistency, and it is foolish to be consistent, if it interferes with becoming one with our natural environment. 
Power is a common theme in Emerson’s early work. It is related to action, where Emerson writes a “true scholar grudges every opportunity of action passed by, as a loss of power.” Power is celebrated by the “bruisers” of the world who express themselves rudely and get their way. The power in which Emerson is concerned is more artistic and intellectual than political or military. For Emerson, nature is universal, like God or justice. Therefore, deserving of respect.

During the past two centuries, America’s farms have expanded, with equipment and chemicals replacing the manual labor of farmers. 
The embracing of industrialization and “factory farming” practices has not yielded fiscal independence for most farmers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Most American farms are taxpayer subsidized. 
Responsible agriculture requires good stewardship of our natural resources. We can not presume there will always be enough healthy soil and clean water to meet our demands. Our resources are finite, and we must learn to live on nature’s terms, not ours. 
Soil erosion and degradation, polluted waterways from toxic chemicals, the elimination of small farms, the decimation of the farming culture and their communities, and overproduction are all contributing factors. 
No foreseeable solution is possible until we begin operating within the limits of nature, and it must start locally.  The federal government has convinced farmers that hardship is inescapable, diminishing their optimism for the future, while limiting their opportunity for self-reliance and financial independence. 
Compounding these issues, is a cultural prejudice against those who chose a profession rooted in manual labor and technical work. Our economy has written them off as those who hold little-to-no economic value. 

While the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on our lives have been largely disruptive and negative, there exists one unexpected result to what we have been experiencing. 
A return to nature. 
The crisis will act as a burning catalyst to encourage more to rethink their approach to urban life. It will force us to consider alternative forms of living our lives, minus the trappings of expediency, technology, and industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of change necessary to move us from a society dependent on modern conveniences, to the controlled rhythmic ebb and flow found in nature. 
Hopefully {we} will avoid the harshest impacts of COVID-19 and again find balance with our natural resources. 
When hypothetical, worst-case situations become reality, one’s perspective on life becomes exact.

Life is short. Be more fearful of a life never lived. 
Invest in yourself. Find something to be passionate about. Be bold. Surround yourself with family and friends to love. 
Tomorrow is a long time away. Be engaged in the moment. Put down your damn phones! 
This too shall pass. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. Embrace this fact. It’s necessary. It’s how one grows. 
Be willing to alter how you respond to a situation, this gives you control of what is happening. 
Keep a good attitude. Be patient. You don’t need the answers to all your questions immediately. 

Nature is a great healer. It restores and revives. To benefit from its healing capabilities, you must connect and allow yourself to be healed. Whatever the reason for your stress, nature offers the opportunity for quiet contemplation.
There is something therapeutic about nature – the beauty of the untouched, the solitude, the simplicity – an atmosphere inviting you to look within.
It stirs emotions and induces a reflective state. It cleanses your mind.
Anyone who has spent time outdoors, especially in the mountains, understands the healing qualities found there, unavailable in urban life. They may not be able to explain it, but instinct tells them it’s good for the soul. 
The healing found in nature begins with respect for your surroundings and the natural order at work. One must observe without upsetting the balance, walk without harming, and accept the notion of their insignificance. 
John Muir wrote, “…over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home…”
We have lost touch with nature; we have willfully alienated ourselves from it.  
Nature is a source of inspiration. The more time spent outdoors, even if it’s only in your backyard, the more attuned to life you become. 
Being outdoors will not make your problems go away. However, it does allow a unique perspective on the world. The simple act of being in a natural environment, affords the opportunity to view a stressor differently. 
The average adult spends three hours a day on their phone and another five hours watching television. 
So, how much time spent outdoors is enough? 
There is not a “one size fits all” answer, but the scientific consensus says two hours a week is the minimum needed for our bodies to experience the rejuvenating qualities found in nature. 

During this time imposed upon us by a virus, we must deliberately choose to disrupt the cadences of life and engage in reflection. We need an honest appraisal of our lives, as individuals and as a community, and reevaluate a return to “normal.” 

We must ask ourselves:
Is what we considered “normal” life before this pandemic worth returning to? 
Should we have ever considered those ideals normal? 
Why return to the infectious rhythm of self-indulgence? 
Do we continue to tolerate salacious headlines about immoral government behavior?  
Perhaps, for far too long, we pretended to be immune from these illnesses, and now, contending with COVID-19, we realize how vulnerable we are. A wound left unattended welcomes infection. It demands attention. You either address it holistically or accept the reality of your decreased survival rate. 
We are not bound by our old definition of normal. Our new mandate should be to disrupt it and build a new normal. 
Story after story is being published about the importance of those engaged in manual labor and technical work, the once forgotten, are now being hailed as heroes, the ones sustaining a failing economy. 
Before we make hasty decisions, let us step outside and use this time for honest reflection. 
With a unique background, body of work & first hand look at the inner workings of society & the justice system, as well as an appreciation for the arts & literature, Ralston is a True Friend to Freedom in the GA Piedmont.