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Whenever I have a problem to solve or a question to answer, I like to go for a walk, preferably in natural areas rather than on city streets. Have you tried it?
It’s not so much that I actively ponder the problem or work on a solution while I’m walking, but rather that I find ideas just come to me. Sometimes I am almost bombarded by them. In a more urban setting, I’ve found, this seldom happens.
I’m not alone in this experience, and there are probably several explanations. But they all relate to the difference between “country” and “city” and how our bodies and our minds react to each of them.
According to Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah said during one of his long periods of imprisonment: “I have not gazed on verdure for nine years. The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.” – quoted by Adib Taherzadeh in The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, Volume 3, p. 416.
Since we are ourselves made up of both a physical body and a nonphysical soul, this message isn’t about avoidance so much as it is about balance. We might ask ourselves—how much time every week do we spend on our bodies? The next question then becomes: how much time do we devote to our souls? We needn’t deny ourselves the positive aspects of cities and the joys of urban life, but we should ensure contact with the countryside as well.
We must care for man’s two natures; for as the material man makes certain demands for food and raiment and if not looked after suffers, even so his spiritual reality suffers without care. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 96.
This is not an indictment of cities. I fondly remember my own years living in large cities, and those were fun and stimulating times. Urban life offers business and commerce, cultural opportunities, and wondrous signs of material progress and growth. Though now I live in a small town, I still enjoy visiting large cities, appreciating what’s distinct about each and having new experiences. One part of my brain is stimulated and excited by it, and I would not want to be entirely cut off from occasional access to a city.
On the other hand, I find myself fulfilled and receptive to insights in the countryside. Free of the distractions and noises of city life, I can think. Sometimes it even seems that my brain is breathing, if such a thing were literally true.
While there, I can hear and otherwise sense a connection with nature and my own essence. Removed from the distractions of busy streets and the energy of so many other people, I am more receptive to inspiration and less eager to judge my own thoughts. An idea too easily put aside on a busy day finally gets time for consideration. A problem too complex to solve when I’m surrounded by noise or activity has a chance to percolate toward a solution. The temptation to possess things is replaced by the opportunity to acquire ideas.
With the general trend toward increased urbanization, effects are being noted. In 2012, Tony Dokoupil wrote in Newsweek Magazine: “It is well established that city living—with its constant noise and lack of solitude—is linked to higher rates of insanity.”
This doesn’t mean we are all doomed, but it cautions us to leave our cities from time to time and encourage the same for the younger generations. Some city kids have never even seen stars—as just one of the causes of “nature deficit disorder.”
Whether we live or work in cities, villages, or something in-between; wherever our daily lives take us, at the very least we can spend some time in green spaces. We can enjoy city parks and greenbelts. Within our own homes we can create some sense of countryside, too. Even the smallest city apartment has a window where plants can thrive, and recordings of natural sounds can be played. This is better than nothing.
The important thing is to give our mind and our spirit time to roam, to think, to meditate, to be at home in the natural world. Our bodies will be thankful, too.