What happens when we observe nature

The process of exploring nature, either through art or through simple observation, can set a number of things in motion in us humans. I want to talk about these effects today, and show why there are many positive aspects about being in and around nature and getting to know it better. I know that you as readers of this blog don’t need persuasion, but I’d like to show what paying attention to a single thing over a period of time can change and how it can affect us.

Observing is a process that lets us take a step closer to something. When giving the natural world our attention, we can note the patterns in a landscape or in a leaf, or directly see how animals behave. Through observing nature, we will come to know it better and get an understanding for natural processes.

Human brains are wired in a way that when we understand something, we’re more prone to like it (this process also works for people of course). From this understanding of nature can grow a deep appreciation of everything in it. The more you look at and understand details in nature, the better you will know and like these little peculiarities. You will begin to look out for them, and recognize them.

By looking close at aspects that might not seem interesting at first glance, you may find new appreciation for them – this happened for be a few years ago when I discovered that birds were more than strange-looking, weird creatures, but actually intelligent, funny, beautiful creatures that were sharing their wild lives with us right in front of us. I’ve never been a big bird-watcher or understood people who were before, but now I am, and I love learning more about it.

By looking slower at things we don’t know or didn’t find interesting before, or even by taking a closer look at things we already admire, a deeper love for the natural world can grow. This is a compassionate position from which stewardship can develop. If you feel passionate and very strongly about something, you usually want to help preserving it when it is endangered. This is a move from joy and understanding on a personal level, towards something selfless that can benefit a whole community or ecosystem. For me, this is one of the strongest motivations for teaching people how to get closer to nature through art – it can be a way to show them how to get involved.

There are other, more personal positive effects when observing nature. You usually grow calm and relaxed when you are in a natural environment. This has actually been verified in studies, although I believe most of us already know it to be true.

Nature can be observed everywhere. Even a single tree outside your window can give this effect. Imagine what a walk through the woods can do. Much like meditation, observing nature can work like an act of mindfulness. Natural environments calm our senses, relax us and reduce stress, and science shows they can even be beneficial for treating anxiety and depression.

Taking the time to observe and take in what’s happening around you slows you down and helps you to calm your senses. Wondering at the beauty and diversity in ecosystems can help to reset and quiet negative thoughts about yourself or others. It can help to achieve a moment of peace. And doing this repeatedly will change how you feel, think and act.

For me, observing and interacting with nature is a fixed part of my day, not only because I can see and feel the benefits, which I do, but also because I want to cultivate this feeling of appreciation and deep connection for me and others. Together with showing others (and myself) how to kindle creativity, this is one of my biggest motors in life.

If I have succeeded at making you at least a little bit curious about exploring nature today, or if you have experienced how getting to know the natural world through art, no matter the medium or the skill, changes something in you, then that makes me really happy and grateful. Now take that knowledge and show it to someone else.

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