My son and I recently returned from a life changing trip to Costa Rica.
Neither of us had ever spent time in the jungle never mind within close proximity to its wild inhabitants.
A portion of our trip was spent volunteering at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Centre https://www.costaricaanimalrescuecenter.org/where we helped prepare food and clean the cages of animals recovering from human-wildlife conflict.
During our stay, I quickly learned that the jungle is most active at night. The humid air is heavy with the noise of macaws, howler, spider and capuchin monkeys, coatis, and a host of other unidentified creatures! At first it was impossible to sleep … but after a few nights, their calls in the night became music to my ears.
Our accommodations after the animal rescue centre were also in the jungle overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The orchestral music of the wildlife continued and so did my creative inspiration.
When we returned home, I looked at the journal I had written on the trip and was shocked by how seamlessly the creativity had come to me. I did a little research and here’s what I discovered.
When encountering animals in the wild, we often feel as though time stands still. We get lost in the moment as we observe their size, shape, sounds, color, and every move. We are intrigued and in awe. These experiences are powerful and can leave us feeling happier, calmer, and more energized.
Seeing wildlife provokes a deep sense of well-being that can lead to psychological health benefits. Our senses are heightened as we move into a state of flow where our thoughts and actions focus on spotting, watching, identifying, recording, and appreciating the wildlife around us.
Being immersed in nature and among animals in the wild helps us step away from our day-to-day worries, making us feel more relaxed.
Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and particularly creativity. It can also facilitate concentration.
Nature connectedness is associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly lower depression and anxiety.
Our distant ancestors were intimately tied to nature, as survival depended on finding food and being aware of predators and other hazards. As we have slowly shifted to urban lifestyles, many of us no longer have a connection to nature, beyond an occasional walk in a green space or park.
We seem reluctant as a society to heed the advice of scientists, especially when the advice conflicts with our traditional order of business.
While our brains are miraculous and amazing organs, they do get fatigued. The daily stresses of life grind us down, physically and mentally. This fatigue eventually leads to a loss of performance, and we forego creative or innovative ideas while making more and more mistakes.
The prefrontal cortex, which dictates how we act, make decisions, and interact with others, needs time to dial back and relax, just like an overworked muscle needs rest.
It is thought that being in nature activates the default mode network in the brain, which is normally engaged when we daydream or spend time in introspection.
The use of technology and multimedia has been shown to disrupt the default mode, highlighting the importance of being in natural environments.
Mobile EEG readings have found that when people are walking in nature, their brains indicate lower frustration, engagement, and arousal levels, and higher meditation levels.
Since this open, more meditative brain activity is linked with creativity, a relatively short amount of time spent among plants, animals and trees can have a large impact on the way we think.
Unknowingly my son and I both experienced this in Costa Rica. My writing, my thinking, and my focus were clearer and more creative. I see it clearly in the journal I dutifully kept during the trip.
Thank you, Costa Rica, for sharing your Pura Vida with us, and for opening our eyes and minds to the creative power of nature.
Full disclosure, now that I am back in North America, I am having tremendous difficulty falling asleep without the night sounds of nature. I cant believe how much I miss the music of the jungle.