Celtic Thought: Overcoming Nature Deficit Disorder & You


If you imagined the life of the ancients, ancient Celts and Druids, those from yesteryear, you would probably be imagining an idyllic rural village, sparsely populated, and with plenty of open-space, greenery and fresh air.

Corraidhín’s father was a fletcher, an arrow-maker and spear maker to his (Celtic) tribe, the Durotriges, and so it was apt that his only son should be called Corraidhín, ‘little spear’. Many years past and Corraidhín’s father wanted to mark the time that his boy would became a man.

On his sixteenth birthday, at dusk Corraidhín’s father led him into the thickest part of the wild, huge forest, and there blindfolded his son and got him to sit on a tree stump. The instruction to Corraidhín was not to take off the blindfold, nor move off the stump until the sun came up, when his father said he would return. If he survived the night, then he would be welcomed back as a man.

Corraidhín did as he was told, and could hear the noise of his father’s footsteps retreat into the distance. Soon he noticed the air temperature drop. The moisture from the moss on the tree stump had now soaked  into his undergarments. It was cold, damp, smelly. Animal noises seemed louder and closer, and they sounded like big animals, too. This worried him. Corraidhín also noticed a myriad of fragrances that filled the air – some fragrances were sweet and delightful, some (and it worried him) were the results of nearby animals defecating. Not too good, he thought. He was even more stressed, worried.

Corraidhín’s sleep was intermittent and light, interrupted by sounds of the forest – animal noises, animals scurrying nearby, hoots, growls, barking.

Cold and damp, sometime later Corraidhín sensed sunlight on his face, and as instructed he could now remove the blindfold. He had survived a night in the forest, and learned something more about nature, about really experiencing it.  With the blindfold off, Corraidhín blinked to focus his eyes – there were the plants that were so pungent, birds that had squawked all through the night and animals that had disturbed his sleep…and there about thirty feet away was his father slumped up against a tree, with a blanket around him, keeping an eye on his son.

And, today? If you imagine life today in the twenty-firstLee century, with the majority of people living in urban areas and living hectic lives, you would probably think of high-rise apartments, no gardens, and less than fresh air. Even those who are fortunate to live in rural areas may find themselves racing around and not interacting with the local environment, such is life today for many.

Lee and Fiona woke up, as the alarm clock bleeped loudly, intrusively. It was 6.30am. Hurriedly, the vied for the toilet, then the bathroom,  hastily dressed themselves, and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Through the window they could see the glow of the sun which was still ten minutes away from rising. They gobbled down breakfast consisting of porridge and coffee, and each consumed a slice of toast as they rushed down the garden path on their way to work, oblivious to the built-up environment around them.

It was a fifteen minute walk to the train station, and they knew that they’d probably arrive with a couple of minutes to spare before the 7.45am train arrived. They were stressed. Today was going to be a busy day for both of them. Annoyingly, the train was fifteen minutes late. They were even more stressed. Fiona ‘phoned ahead to reschedule an appointment or two. The train seemed to crawl along. Even more stress for both of them.

Finally the train arrived. Now to wait for the bus. The first bus was full, and so they had to wait. Stress upon stress. They could do nothing but to wait for the next bus, and hope. People in the queue jostled them, and complained.

With a little time on their hands, Lee and Fiona could smell the fumes from passing cars, the noise of a police siren several blocks away, and the smell and mechanical noise of a refuse vehicle as it emptied nearby bins.

The bus arrived, and they got on – it was soon full, and they endured the thirty minute journey squashed together like sardines. Eventually, they arrived at their respective. offices. Offices that had air conditioning – no smell at all, really, except where the smell of antiseptic filled the air (used by cleaning staff on desks etc an hour before staff arrived). There were no plants, no windows, just fluorescent lights, and the clatter of computer keyboards being struck incessantly. Work commenced in  their small, work station-booths, grey, ‘clinical’, clean and ergonomically designed for maximum output.

This ‘distancing’ between modern people and nature – something that the ancients, ancient Celtic, Druids and others wouldn’t have experienced – this ‘challenge’ is called nature deficit disorder.

Nature deficit disorder, whilst it’s not a medical term (and what follows is not medical, but informational), is said to be real, and affects many people today. Could it be affecting you?

Nature deficit disorder is a phrase first used by Richard Louv in 2005, in his book, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, which centres on the fact that people today, and especially children, are spending less time outdoors due to fear etc or because of nature knowledge deficit (another challenge in its own right) resulting in a wide range of challenges such as behavioural problems.

Many with natural deficit disorder:

  • have undue stress,
  • find it difficult to relax adequately
  • are not getting enough rest,
  • feel uneasy in wide open spaces,
  • have a fear of nature and/or strangers, unnecessarily,
  • have sleepless nights etc.

Nature deficit disorder is a real challenge for many people, especially but not only those in urban areas. Ofcourse, balance is needed: we live in a technological age and benefit immensely, and may not be able to avoid technology due to our work, and indeed may not want to avoid it completely. But, a balance between the grey of technology and the green of nature is needed, and it seems for many people it is the latter that we’re missing.

‘We inter-breath with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans.  They are part of our own body.’  Thich Nhat Hanh

But there are ways to deal with nature deficit disorder, and these are:

  • taking time to go for walks in a forest, or to spend come time (a ‘green time’, say, on a Saturday is a good habit, or a lunch hour, sometimes) in a city park if you’re in a rural area,
  • a week camping (or glamping), or staying at a bead and breakfast place in a rural area,
  • play outside (maybe, tennis in the park etc?)
  • go for river walks
  • contemplate/meditate in a quiet areas
  • visit a city farm or a botanical garden
  • do something different that gets more air in your lungs, your eyes seeing more green, and coming closer to the plant and animal kingdom.

Ofcourse, none of this is ‘rocket science’, but it’s worth considering for two reasons. Firstly, it’s easy to slip into being so busy that we encounter nature deficit disorder even without knowing it, until we feel that unnamed malaise, that ennui, that irritability taking hold. And, secondly,  one we’re aware of it, we can take steps: be intentional, diarise times to spend in nature areas mentioned above, and also maybe do some of the things mentioned below.

‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’  William Shakespeare

In addition, and maybe secondary efforts to overcome nature deficit disorder, you might also like to: read books on nature and those that have trekked in some wonderfully picturesque areas of the world, to create a small potted garden on a balcony, buy a few green plants to put around the house (especially in areas where you tend to want to relax or spend most time), or have a special ‘nature table’ (with a few plants on it, stones or pebbles or sea shells, mementos from holidays etc), perhaps even meditate on a forest landscape (real or imagined).

These are secondary, but have the advantage that they can be put in place very easily, may work for you if you find it difficult to leave the house (whether  that’s because of time constraints, working hours or physical immobility etc), and can only be a positive addition to those in the primary list, above. They cannot hinder and may, too, be beneficial.

‘Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.’  Charles Cook

So, why not reclaim your ‘right’ to nature, wherever you are, right now and reap the physical benefits. And, then there are spiritual benefits, too, as in nature we may (re-)discover the One, the Source that holds everything together.


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