Monday, July 07, 2008

Can Nature Cure Technology Fatigue?

Split Maple Leaves

The greener the setting, the more the relief.

This is the tentative conclusion of new studies that explore directed-attention fatigue and nature's ability to provide restoration. Directed attention is the kind that purposely focuses on a task (like writing this blog post!). It differs from fascination, a meandering kind of thinking without particular goals, that tends to arise in natural settings.

While too much directed attention can encourage impulsive behavior, agitation, irritation...inability to concentrate, fascination helps a person work better and think more clearly.

The studies compare other types of relaxation like taking walks in urban areas, sitting quietly or listening to music to spending time in natural settings. The natural settings produce greater focus, more positive emotions and reduction of anger.

This explains a few things. It explains a statement I made to my spouse last year, while I stood gazing over brilliant green fields. It's so healing, I said. I feel like I'm actually having a physiological reaction. Maybe I was. It explains too why this past year of going outside daily was perhaps the perfect ending to the prior year, when I wrote a book and came out that experience with great lethargy, irritability, even sadness.

All this talk of the restorative power of green spaces makes me want to lie down in green pastures. Literally.

Split Maple Leaves Photo, by Sara. Used with permission. Info on nature studies is from pp. 101-103 of Last Child in the Woods.


LL's Designing with Biophilia in Mind
Maria's Small World for Not So Small People


Ann Voskamp's Finding Grace in Hard Places
Ted's latest book club post: Old Stone Church: Love

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Blogger Erin said...

Let the unschooling begin!

(Glee-filled visceral comment to be eventually followed by something deeper.)

8:44 PM  
Blogger Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

Good thoughts. I tend to let myself get way too involved in technology and focused attention activities, and then wonder why I'm so stressed and irritable. I need to make fascination a more deliberate goal. Oh, and leaving the laptop *in* the house when I go out to enjoy an evening on the patio...that would be a good first step.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I love green! I mean like green trees, green grass and meadows, just being out in nature.

For a suburbs that kind of borders a bit on urban, we do have lots of trees here. I enjoy all the green out in our little yard, and inside as well. But better yet when we can get away and enjoy much more of it.

But this makes plenty of sense to me. Reminds me when we go to my Mother's place in Ohio with all the many trees she's planted, in the country. I always remark on just how beautiful it is there. But some of this is probably going on!

9:31 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Wow, that's really interesting!

I usually go for walks when I want to relax. I like the exercise. But lying under a tree can be good, too.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I'm with you.
When do you want to pack up the kids and go? :)

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting but not surprising. I notice myself opting for the rec center vs. the park as a walking venue this summer - just habit b/c the rec center is so convenient. I need to get back outdoors!

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

born and raised in the Chicago area, my husband and i moved out to Colorado 8 years ago. it took me 7 of those 8 years to disengage from an urban identity that agitated and irritated my true wiring.

"i'm a city girl," i'd whine. "it's way too quiet here and there's so little culture and sophitication," i'd grumble. and then, ever so slowly, i awakened to what truly fed my authentic self. i stopped walking around with clenched fists and teeth and the aperture of my heart and my seeing began to open to the expanse of high-desert life along the Front Range. the language of the Black Forest ... of voluptuous stillness and silence ... of creatures great and small working the land ... became mine and somehow, the wild west tamed me.

Today, i look back on the bulk of my citified life and wonder at the tenacity that kept me as a stranger in a strange land. fascination in the natural? oh yes ... the kind that leads to love!

9:08 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erin... ah, yes! For us big people too. :)

Katrina... Indeed. It makes me muse about the effects of overprogramming for both adults and children. Full days at school followed by hours of homework. Full days of work followed by hours of evening email checking. You know? (Enjoy your technology-free patio, if you dare :)

Ted... isn't it amazing that this enjoyment might be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of our relationship to Creation?

Lynet... I thought you might find this interesting. Something about the science of it.

Andrea... Rockefeller here we come. :)

Dianne... convenience. Important word. These studies suggest that we might need to think more intentionally about how we design our homes and communities, to include convenient access to natural settings. (More on this over at Green Inventions maybe next week.)

9:15 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Sometimes Poetry... ah, you sneaked in before I pushed the publish button. :) I love your description of the gradual taming of your heart, the healing of your mind's eye. Poetic! (Not surprising. ;-)

9:17 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

That's what I like about fishing. It doesn't really matter that I catch anything. I went with one of my sons on Sunday night, and we both ended up exploring. I spent more time trying to sneak up on a photo opp with raccoons than casting the line. We just enjoyed being out there, and that fascination took priority over the directed attention that might have been given to our activity.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

We reviewed that book for our magazine and I found the premise, as explained by our reviewer, compelling and, well, fascinating. I have been meaning to pick it up and read it. This may have been the nudge I was needing.

I must say, all things considered, this year in the greener setting of NC has been happier for me than many a year in less natural settings. I find myself stepping outside once or twice a day to clear my head, and I sometimes stop working to watch a juvenile hawk hunt for worms in the grass. From what you have said, my guess is that we both, in our own ways, felt rather instinctively the truths that these tentative conclusions hint at.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can probably tell I'm naturally fascinated and have a hard time with the other kind of focusing attention resulting in obsessive-compulsive behavior or just getting up from the desk and...

2:02 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

You're talking about a Sabbath without saying "Sabbath", L.L. :)

Makes me think that a lot of the diagnoses of ADHD and ADD might result from a child that innately needs more mental meandering time. I am not trying to start a to-medicate-or-not-to-medicate debate, and I will never claim expertise on this subject. I have just observed my own children's mental capacities blossom when they become absorbed in "off the record" activities during our school day. My kids' ability to engage in some of the deep questions of humanity as well as simply regaining energy to tackle the rest of their math work makes me a believer in lots of down time for them to work out an understanding of the world in the quiet of their mind. Ethics or multiplication tables; whatever the occasion warrants.
Down time spent in nature is even better.

I believe we underestimate the value of a Sabbath for our brains . In our culture, with such an emphasis on being the best, the brightest, or the leader in our field, we forget what it means to simply live.
There is a real imbalance in the way we attack education and work- me included. Cramming a brain full of knowledge without time to synthesize and reflect... in a sense, to breathe... it just makes leaky brains.
And I have to ask, What is wrong with being second? Third? Fourth? 57th, even? Is there something inherently wrong with NOT being the labeled The Best? No one believes that it is possible to be the best at everything we set our minds to, yet many of us live our lives in hot pursuit of that very thing. (I noticed it in myself just the other day. Yipe.) No wonder we have ADD and the like!

Be still and know that I am God. Lie down in green pastures and watch the clouds roll by. Brrrreeeeeathe.
I can totally get into that.

*I recently read Gary Thomas' book, Sacred Pathways, which is sort of a self-test of spiritual temperaments and ways God has designed each of us to be drawn into deep worship. The Naturalist is one of them.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is fascinating and helpful information. I've been avoid my garden this year, but maybe that's exactly the thing I should be making time for.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

6:38 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Craver... sneaking a photo op with raccoons. Sounds... um... a little wild. I never have understood fishermen. :)

Nikki... I still have to pick up the book. This was excerpted from a copy of one of the chapters, given to me by the Director of a farm school that my kids are going to attend two days a week starting this Fall. I'm hoping that their experience at the farm will actually open up their imaginations. It's a beautiful place, green all around. And you, clearing your head by going outside. How I love it!

Sam... [laughing over here]

Erin... have you read the book? Curious. This chapter actually had a lot to say about ADHD. The research showed that time outdoors in natural settings did help these kids. Really marvelous, isn't it? Sabbath. By stepping into the green. Yes. A Sabbath for the eyes, that melts its way down into the heart. As for your thoughts about being 2nd, third and 57th, this was on my mind tonight. Indeed, we have gone wrong.

Ruth... ah, yes. Perhaps you will find some of your best words in the garden. Go. Dig. Breathe, as Erin says. Write. Rest. Smile.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Well, sure. Raccoons may be nasty, vile creatures at heart, but they're exceptionally photogenic. A fisherman can only change bait and untangle the line so many times before the camera lures him off to other things.

Either way, my son and I were in a sojourning frame of mind, making most of the journey rather than being fixated on the destination.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

No, I haven't read the book. Marvelous connection.

Tricky to find the balance between doing our work as unto the Lord by offering Him our best, and being contented that our best offering might land us in 57th place.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I believe!

1:35 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

I'm not sure I had thought through the impact of nature the way you describe it here. But your description echoes my experience.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

I know that there is nothing in technology touches my soul the way a crashing ocean waves do.

I've never been in awe by technology like I was standing in Yosemite a couple of years ago, taking in the giant redwoods and the majestic scenery.

Enjoying nature from a Godward perspective is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

12:16 AM  
Blogger Shosannah said...

I totally agree. I need a little dose of green every day.
And I notice also how much calmer and happier the kids become after spending a little time out in the country.

4:38 AM  
Blogger kirsten said...

amen, and AMEN.

He restores my soul (in those greenspaces).

11:57 PM  
Blogger christianne said...

this post made me smile so wide. especially the part about you laying down in green pastures, literally. i can so see you doing that. can i join you?

having just returned from a week of fascination . . . lazily surrendering to the lulling waves and the soft breeze and the sound of seagulls and the warming sun as i floated on a raft in the ocean for hours each day or sat on a beach and let the sun coax me to sleep . . . i can attest to the truth of this conclusion, too. never have a felt so present. never have i felt so fully inside my own skin and life.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, that makes so much sense. I even read somewhere once that our loss of physical connection with nature (no longer working the soil with our hands) has affected our health and well-being. The ground has certain nutrients that are usually lacking in our diets that we used to absorb through our skin, and certainly we know that sunlight helps produce seratonin. I even notice with my daughter (okay, and me, too!) that sometimes spending time outside changes her entire disposition!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Sharon Goemaere said...

What a great post!!!I have seen first hand how wonderfully restorative time spent in God's creation can be!For me berry picking at local farms produces an internal peace and calm akin to walking 45 minutes on an indoor treadmill!And I get the added benefit of sunshine and wind as well!Blessings~Sharon

1:31 PM  
Blogger Jim Martin said...

L.L.--a very good post. You caused me to think. In fact, I will be thinking about this throughout the day. Thanks.

9:45 AM  

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