Why we must all learn from nature


Why we must all learn from nature

If we take the time to look, we can see time and time again that the natural world has a pretty good record for doing things in an efficient way. Take an old growth forest for example, it is a closed loop system where nothing is wasted, everything has a purpose and every single organism works towards the overall health of the forest. When everything serves the bigger picture like this we can see that both the individual species and the larger ecosystem thrive. It's not just the forests either, the oceans are the same, truth is, the whole planet's doing it. The whole planet, that is, except for one lonely species....humans.

The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.
The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.

On the surface it doesn't seem like we've done too bad from this tactic, the human population has, after all, surged to over seven billion people. The problem is, the more we have grown the more our ecosystem has suffered. As much as we try to pretend we aren't, we are rather reliant on that ecosystem to survive.

I believe that most people, if they are truly honest with themselves, will admit that the state of the world isn't great, that there is room for improvement. We don't need to go into all the details of what's wrong, we're all aware. We're all posing in a giant, worldwide, selfie, pretending life's #amazing, when away from the camera we all know something's not quite right. Our absence of action comes not from a lack of education about the problems, but from the fear of being the only one willing do anything about it. It's like we've all come to the end of a great party but no-one wants to start cleaning up until they see someone else do their share first. And that's just the problem, for some reason, living a greener, ethical, low impact, or whatever you want to call it, lifestyle is associated with making a big sacrifice. But is that really the case? Sure, it's hard to live a low impact lifestyle and have millions in the bank, but then, the happiest people I know are not the ones with the most money. The happiest ones are those who live simpler lifestyles, the ones who follow their passions and more often than not, the ones who spend the most time outside in nature.

The more time I have spend looking into this, the more I believe that it's not just about living a simpler life. That is undoubtedly part of it, but it's actually about living a life that is more connected to nature. If we allow ourselves to realise that we are part of the natural world, we can start to learn from it. Instead of trying to change our ecosystem to make it work for us, we can work with it. I know this may sound quite an alternative or "hippy" view but it really shouldn't be. After all, the natural world is really the only guide we have, its what some cultures have been using for thousands of years, observing the natural systems, learning from them and adapting to them.

There are many examples of this philosophy existing and being successful in mainstream society too. The Barefoot Running Movement is a direct result of noticing that the human body has evolved to run. Why spend money on the latest impressive cushioning and supportive shoe when you have a pretty good body that can do all that for you? The answer is that we don't, we just need to look at relearning a natural technique for running. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred on simulating the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It has proved very successful as a way to create truly sustainable landscapes, communities and even businesseses.  Zero Waste and Tiny Home Living are growing in popularity from people realising that living a simpler, more natural way can lead to more freedom and more happiness. Further down the scale there are people like Ido Portal, and Wim Hof who are using natural techniques to make amazing progress in the fitness, health and well-being industries. Even the hugely successful Japanese Bullet Train's design came from an observation of the natural world. The shape of the train that allows it to travel at such high speeds is replicated from the beak of the Kingfisher. The engineers noticed that the Kingfisher was able to dive into water and create almost no splash. By copying it's shape the train became more fuel efficient, more aerodynamic and much quieter.

We can see this approach does work in a variety of ways, so why limit our use of it? What else could we learn from the natural world?

Movement: If you've ever taken a dog for walk you may have noticed a distinct difference between how dogs move compared to the person walking them.  They run, jump, stretch, roll, they are constantly moving, they rarely walk at the same pace everywhere. It's the same for all animals. Any animal that can perform a movement often does. We don't. We have the ability to swim, jump, climb, run, perform an array of somersaults, in fact, we're the most versatile movers on the planet. However, the majority of us do not utilise this ability. Observing the natural world in this way can emphasise how important it is to incorporate this varied movement into our lives. Running, climbing, swimming, stretching, dancing, balancing, acrobatics, by doing a wider range of activities you are replicating a more natural version of yourself which can lead to you becoming fitter and healthier.

Patterns: The natural world is made up of patterns. Seasons, weather cycles, symbiotic relationships, it is built on this foundation.  We spend so much time observing the patterns in the natural world but rarely look for patterns in our own lives. If we start to identify the patterns in our own lives we can use them to learn a wealth of things about ourselves, our passions, our efficiency, dietary issues, our energy and our moods.

Diversity: There is so much diveristy in a natural ecosystem. The more diversity the healthier the system. But yet a vast proportion of our society embraces segregation. This comes in many forms, from immigration, to class systems, to our friendship circles, even to our hobbies and the way we make money. If we use the natural worlds example it suggests we will be healthier and more sustainable by embracing diversity.

There are so many ways we can observe the natural world and learn from it. These are really just a random selection that I decided to write about today. I have been using this mindset privately ever since learning about Permaculture and I've found it to be extremely useful. It's easy too. You just need to start to ask yourself "What would nature do in this situation?"

It is a simple solution to a complex problem and it can be used for every aspect of our lives, if we have an open mind. It's a pretty effective bull-shit-ometer too. The next time you hear about a new diet or exercise regime, ask yourself "Is this a natural way for humans to eat/exercise?"  No? Ignore it and move on.

It might seem a little far fetched to think that by embracing something like natural movement we can help solve some of the world's problems. I would agree. But if we see that the natural way of doing something like this benefits our health and happiness, it can open our minds to try something else. The next thing could be eating real, organic food, reducing our waste, or working less hours. It's all connected. If we can show that working alongside the natural world allows us to thrive, then more people will be tempted to adopt this approach. We don't need to wait for others to make sacrifices before we change if by changing we become happier.


"Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

Bill Mollison