2013 Wish – Go Out!

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Now that the holidays are over, that the cacophony of consumerism has been muted, that our bodies are feeling the excess of celebrating and that the believers in the end of the world have had to deal with a doomsday-no-show, in is time to look ahead and hope for wishful thoughts.

Last December, Outside magazine published an amazing article written by Florence Williamstitled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning”. The text was about how now science is slowly understanding and capable of explaining the positive neurological effects spending time in nature does to your brain and body. Armed with a battery of machines and sensors, scientists are able to identify the causes and consequences of lets say a walk in the forest. As I rejoice myself with the obvious conclusion, I worry of what is to come next. Williams is also aware of the danger, pointing that our “modern world” will try to put nature in a can, “feel nature without even trying”.

“Nature hates calculators.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…” Walt Whitman

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

Time in nature is more than chemical reactions. It is not just about our natural immune cells increasing every time we take a walk in the forest. Even if one day we are able to create a pill that will replicate the physical sensations of spending time on a beach, it will never do justice and bring the same benefits as the real experience. Nature is about breaking away from the chaos and anxiety we find ourselves so easily trapped in. It is a conscious effort of taking the time to relax. It is about making a choice of values and priorities. In this era of smart phones, computers, tablets, constant connection to the web and relentless solicitation to consume, these decisions to “disconnect” from this overbearing artificial stimuli does more than engage the neurones and immune systems, it is also one of the most rewarding sources of creativity.

And Kevin Charles Redmon writes precisely about this in his article: “Put Down the iPad, Lace Up the Hiking Boots

The results, which appear this month in PLoS One, were striking. Students who took the test after a four-day immersion in the backcountry scored 50 percent higher than their coursemates. “The current research indicates that there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realised if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting,” the authors write.

The study’s sample size was small and would best be repeated across several hundred subjects, thoroughly randomised. More importantly, the design doesn’t allow Strayer and his colleagues to pinpoint what’s causing the burst in creativity: is it the interaction with nature, the disconnection from technology, or both? And is physical exercise somehow involved? (Or could it be a flash of green?)

… Just how permanent are the neural ravages of Twitter, Gchat, and Gawker? Is a week in the Canyonlands every summer enough to restore our atrophied attention spans—or are we, the meme generation, totally hosed when it comes to consuming art more complex than a GIF or longer than 140 characters?

I have written before about the lack of imagination in today’s children. The topic is nothing new. A quick search on the web reveals many studies and articles, whether in the Washington Post (Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?) or Psychology Today (Children’s Freedom Has Declined So Has Their Creativity). Richard Louv is obviously well known with his “Last Child in the Woods” book, which has become close to a cult classic.

So my wish for 2013 is that we forget a little about trying to understand too much what happens when we go to nature and that we simply go because it feels good, because it does us good. I wish that we would stop this obsession to quantify everything and start just believing in common sense. I wish that each one of us makes a conscious decision to disconnect at least one day of the week or one day of the weekend, and go out – outside the city, go smell the fresh air, go Shinrin Yoku, go swim, go hike, go see the mountains, the beach, the forest, anything really, as long as you away from any screen.

Verwegen

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Looking out the window, sipping on a warm cup of green and mate tea, with a dash of local honey, this rainy afternoon in the country, just outside of Munich, is perfect to ponder on these past events of 2012, and wonder on the ones awaiting ahead. These last three weeks have been filled with happiness, joy, sadness, anger, good and bad news. I have laughed, cried, meditated, danced, and walked for hours in the forest. I have eaten, drank and enjoyed the pleasures of the German table without an ounce of guilt. I have met new incredible people and had to say goodbye to others dear to me. As the holidays are coming to an end, that the 13th baktun has passed, marking the end of the “Great Cycle” of the “Long Count” in the Mayan calendar and consequently the beginning of a new cycle, I want to take the time to write down my wish for this new year.

As it is with most of my writing, inspiration comes to me spontaneously – while out and about, lying in the bed, in the shower, on a hike or paddling the river. It happens when my mind is at ease, when the clutter of life is filtered out and I am left alone with my thoughts. It happens when I welcome the silence and let the power of creativity works its magic. A word or a thought will find root and slowly start to attract others. Patterns will emerge, connections will appear and finally an idea, an opinion, a statement is formed and I suddenly find myself with the desire to write and share it.

This time, it was the combination of a fascinating talk over the beauty and complexity of the German language and a series of emails between one of my E.PI.C. advisors, Earl de Blonville and myself, about exploration and current expeditions.

Back in 2005, I started an online video project called ibrido. The word means hybrid in Italian. I chose that name to highlight what I thought was the path to our future. To successfully adapt and assure our survival, we, as a society, would have to find an equilibrium between wisdom and technology, between the freedom of the individual and the responsibilities of the community, between seeking personal gain and aiming for the common good of the society. In other words, to survive, our species would have to hybrid itself, applying strong values and principles from the past to opportunities technology would create in the future. It didn’t mean that we would have to deny technology and go back to live like caveman, but rather embracing the future with a wisdom acquired over time. It meant creating a new and wiser future.

In the world of exploration, not to undermine and discredit the work, dedication, and courage of every explorer out there, it seems though that the only thing we have been able to do is to look at the past and either seek to complete unfinished expeditions or simply to recreate them. Our idea of finding back the essence of exploration has been to stripped ourselves of support and technology and isolate our quest. While I agree on most of the topic, I find that we are missing something really important, something called VERWEGEN!

The German language has many words to sometime define slight variations of the same word. In this case, on Google Translate, the word BOLD can be translated into fett, kühn, mutig, fettgedruckt, dreist, verwegen, kräftig, wagemutig, tapfer, unerschrocken, plakativ, vermessen, unverfroren, grob, or tolldreist, depending of the meaning intended.  Verwegen comes from the german word “bewegen” – to move, to take action, to move quickly. As I have been told by a friend: “Verwegen has a certain naiveté, a certain charm to it. It is a state of mind, to hold the head up high with open eyes, facing whatever comes your way with a little smile, ready to take action with a dance.” In English the word “bold” can either be positive or negative, but verwegen has solely a positive connotation. It is not about ignoring the dangers, but to welcome them with an optimistic attitude. It is about believing in our capacity to handle the unexpected and to “boldly go where no one has gone before”!

Polar PodSo for my wish, I would like for us in 2013 to become “Verwegen Ibrido” (bold hybrid)! I want to see bold ideas that use technology but that are managed and structured around older values and principles. Confused? Let me give you a concrete example – Polar Pod, by Jean Louis Etienne. Drift the Furious Fifties on a 100m/330f, 720 tons platform. This project is modern yet captures the essence of exploration. It is grand and bold, yet simple. It celebrates time, drifting, moving with the elements, yet under the power of technology. I want us to become creative and use our imagination to rediscover our world. We don’t need to recreate the past to find the essence. We can inspire ourselves from the past to create the future.

Another example for me that illustrates the wide range of possibilities offered to us is the Whale Hunt by Jonathan Harris. A fascinating photographic project that combines technology, human spirit and extreme environments.

The E.P.I.C. expedition is also rooted in this spirit – navigating and exploring the seas, powered by the elements, yet maximising the current and upcoming technologies to educate and inform the public.

Yes there is a need and value to embrace the “primitive” way of exploration, the journey of man in nature, but let it not be at the detriment of our capacity to create new ways of discovering and sharing our experiences. Lets be bold, lets be creative, lets imagine the impossible, lets be optimistic, lets be VERWEGEN!

“For we are known for being at once most adventurous in action and yet most reflective beforehand; other men are bold in their ignorance whilst reflection would stop their onset. But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what lies before them, danger and glory alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it. For the whole Earth is a sepulchre of famous men and their story is not only graven in stone over their native land, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.”

Thucydides, From Pericles’ funeral oration, History of the Peloponnesian War