What is it that feeds your soul?

Harvest Moon

Reflecting on this image, I thought about how, at various times of the year, farmers enrich the soil to get desirable results. It led me to consider what I do to enrich my life. And am I sufficiently engaging in those experiences and environments?

Movies, television programs and commercials show people having fun, but seldom do they show people engaged in activities that are enriching. Lately, I’ve noticed that in some cities the preference of park boards has been to provide facilities for recreation—picnic shelters and benches, playgrounds, merry-go-rounds,  playing fields, volleyball courts, golf courses, canoeing and walkways where vendors can set up for special occasions. Other cities place more emphasize on managing the natural environment.

The Metro Park system in Columbus, Ohio has as its stated mission, “To conserve open spaces, while providing places and opportunities that encourage people to discover and experience nature.” In one of their brochures I learned that each year, “More than 7 million people enjoy quality outdoor times in the parks, and more than 180,000 people participate in free nature education programs.” Nature first, human recreation second. Over the years, I’ve driven a hundred miles from Cincinnati to Columbus and back to photograph in those parks. Although there are picnic and play areas, the primary attraction of their parks is nature, largely undisturbed by man-made objects and structures.

Certainly, we who live in urban areas need outdoor places where our families can have fun. But we also need well managed and maintained wilderness places where the spirit can be renewed, where we can walk through tall forests and gorges, meander along creeks and discover meadows, ponds and marshes, diverse ecosystems where birds, reptiles and animals are protected. When in nature we can breathe better.

A recent study at the University of Michigan found that walking in nature improved short-term memory, restored mental energy (reducing fatigue), relieved stress, reduced inflammation, improved vision and concentration, contributed to sharper thinking and creativity, boosted the immune system and reduced the risk of early death. Didn’t we already have a sense of that? We say a walk in nature “re-charges our batteries.” We come away feeling “charged,” enriched with fresh inspiration and clear thinking. Also, the satisfaction from experiencing nature is like having a drink of water after being very thirsty. 

There are many sources of enrichment, such are family gatherings, education, books, movies and varieties of mass media. In our modern society, these sources can also be a distraction. Enrichment that from stillness, contemplation and meditation requires us to guard against the urge to play with our electronic toys, engage in social media or create projects motivated mostly by fame or fortune. Why do I continue to write this blog when the audience is limited and small? Why do I research, write and self-publish novels when the subject matter has limited appeal? And why do I continue to make and self-publish photograph in black and white? Because these activities are enriching, they feed my soul.

Of course, the sources of enrichment vary from person to person. Just as some plants thrive in nitrogen-rich soil, others abhor it. The challenge is to discover the experiences and environments, even the people and social situations, that feed our soul. And engage them regularly.

Everybody needs time to reflect and contemplate, and the most inspirational and peaceful place to do so is in nature.

                                                           —Akiane Kramarik, Artist, “Prince of Peace,” an interpretation of the face of Jesus


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