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Is the pandemic teaching us about human rewilding?

The pandemic has earned its spot in the history books and this point in time will be discussed and speculated over for decades to come. From the impact to our economy to the systemic failings in governments around the globe. The world is no longer the same.

I’m interested in how the human experience has been playing out

There is no longer the wishful thinking of what we could do with all that time if we didn’t have to go to work, a common day dream of being shut off from the world to catch up on sleep, jobs or having time to work on creative projects. Now we have it. Is it what you expected?

My assumption is, probably not, as there are other factors in play that don’t make the stars align for this once romanticised view of our world being on ‘pause’.

I’m curious to understand what’s been going on for people during the pandemic and want to understand more about people’s individual lived experiences. I surveyed 40 people who live in cities from around the world and here’s what I learned.

Firstly, there are far more important factors for us to consider than simply trying not to contract the virus, such as food, family, health, financial security, all of these components need juggling in a sea of constantly moving emotions.

If the world pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s that it’s highlighting what’s really important to our individual needs and wellbeing.

Enter the 101 guide to humans. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The model demonstrates to us that when areas of our pyramid aren’t met, it changes our behaviour. The lower down the pyramid the needs, the more important they are and if these foundational needs are not met then it makes the ones towards the top; self actualisation, creativity, self esteem and so on much more difficult to achieve.

As we are very quickly finding out, when these foundational factors are uncertain, things start to get weird and it forces us to re-prioritize what’s truly important and necessary in our lives.

My main aim from the survey was to learn more about my own assumptions, that being in ‘lock down’ is going to make people think differently and more deeply about their connection with space and nature.

I live in the countryside so my access to space and nature is very different from someone experiencing the pandemic in a city and therefore any assumptions I have are already skewed.

I learned a lot, and the key point that needs addressing first is although there are clear themes in what people are experiencing, this is not the same for everyone and these mostly include the extremes. “We may be in the same storm, but we’re all in a different boat” . Some people are cruising through this pandemic, even thriving and for others their entire sense of self and entire future lays very uncertain.

For example, some folks have lost their jobs and income and are unable to pay rent as well as finding themselves in need of a food bank for the very first time. Additionally this increasing demand for food aid has placed a spotlight on the very need for them, yet for many, food security was already a very real and existing issue pre-pandemic. Are we now seeing bigger picture issues on a more macro level because they are affecting our daily lives more widely?

“This pandemic is exposing a lot of fault lines in the structure of our society in the US, and I think there are a lot of positive changes to come now that we know the possibilities (ie, clearly we have enough money to provide healthcare to everyone if we were able to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package out of nowhere).”

The pandemic has also brought awareness to our societal conditioning, phrases such as; cooped up, fidgety, restricted, caged, anxious, bored, lethargic, confused, frustrated, uncertain, demotivated were all used frequently throughout the survey.

“I feel slightly trapped in my house and it is intense with 4 of us under the same roof but I know we’re doing it for the right reasons.”

As humans, we were not designed to be restricted, ‘caged’, or live in overpopulated cities, no animal was. We evolved as ‘hunter gatherers’, living off the land, and the history of evolution still lives in every cell of our DNA. The need to be outdoors and have space to roam, fresh air to breathe, space to move is fundamental to our needs as humans. It’s no wonder being told we’re not allowed outside freely is making us feel all kinds of anxieties as previously mentioned.

Yet I did find it interesting to read from the survey responses, some folks, not going outside at all. I wondered if this disproves my assumption or highlights that the primitive senses we have, have been so severely dulled by modern day living that we’re happy to live domesticated?

The pandemic has put a slow down on some of our frequented distractions, consumerism, junk food, booze, work etc often addictive and very distracting which have resulted in an overstimulated population often living in ‘fight or flight’ which, is an exhausting state of mind for any body to cope with. We see evidence of this in global health statistics, chronic stress disorders, a global mental health crisis and we now live in a world where there are now more obese people than those starving.

Our connection to nature during the pandemic is pointing us in the right direction, reminding us that we are part of nature and part of the ecosystem.

I am not implying by taking a walk in the park or leaning against a tree is going to fix all of these problems, but living more inline with nature is one factor that we can all incorporate into our lives.

And of course, we are no longer hunter gatherers but for the most, having awareness that being locked down in our homes doesn’t feel ‘normal’, is igniting feelings of being cooped up or restricted is making people rethink their connection with their living spaces, or the cities and towns they currently live in.

One respondent stated,

“I’m in a city, so not close to nature, and it’s really frustrating, because I feel like that would be super helpful right now. The little nature I get is when I walk to my new apartment and pass a small park along the way. I’m very much a city person but this is making me reconsider the whole having a house in the countryside idea.”

Another. “Feeling very anxious because I live in a small flat and I’m used to fresh and open air.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean post pandemic everyone is going to run off and live in the countryside, but it does pose us with opportunities to look at the spaces we live in, from access to a garden in our homes to rethinking the design of our cities to incorporate more green spaces, parks, outdoor gyms, or spaces that our children can play safely in. Intentionally weaving elements of the natural world back into city architecture and society has the opportunity to bring us back closer to our human biology.

Leicester in the UK has established a ‘pop up’ cycleway for Key Workers and wants to become known for its “tactical urbanism,” and Paris committed to permanently establishing 650 km of cycleway post lock down. “Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking,”. As we are experiencing in so many other ways during the coronavirus pandemic, change happens when it comes from the top.

From a more practical day to day basis respondents shared details of making home cooked meals with fresh ingredients, intentionally getting active and moving their bodies, resting and getting enough sleep to using more awareness when out in nature; hearing the bird song, seeing the spring flowers. And although we are restricted to our homes, this feels like the start of more conscious awareness. The beginning of a human rewilding perhaps?

Although it is pure coincidence that the pandemic is happening during spring time, the feeling that this is creating an alignment of a reawakening with the cycles of nature feels very real to me.

When asked to choose 3–5 words to describe how one feels in nature

If, like the survey respondents said, nature makes you feel like this? Happy, calm, alive, peaceful, healthy etc. How can that not have a positive impact on society and human wellbeing?

Yes, we have systemic changes in our governance that we need to address but in my opinion the big societal changes can happen in the grassroots of a community and the choices we make in our daily lives.

Whilst the world is full of worries and anxieties right now, it’s also full of hope and love.

I too am hopeful for the future, because the latter doesn’t make for change.

From my social experiment I have learned that you are hopeful too. When asked what will you put back in your life after the pandemic. Human connection, spending time outdoors for fitness and nature, as well as travel were mentioned in almost every response. All of these connect us back to what it is to be human and what’s important.

Individually, this is your opportunity to own your own change and impact a positive future for yourself and others both locally and globally.

We humans are very adaptable and we’re proving that right now, that by changing our daily habits, does have an impact. Where else can we apply these changes?

If we believe we will go back to normal or we can’t change then this will be so. #confirmationbias

“I felt like life had become way too fast and I wanted it to slow down. To that end, I’m thinking alot about what I can do to slow it down in the future. “

I will continue to battle with the thought that the pandemic is connecting us all together, globally, and that this shared experience for humankind is incredibly powerful bringing great opportunity for the planet. However, this also takes me back to the fundamentals of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you’re basic needs aren’t met, it’s unlikely you’ll have the head space to explore what these future possibilities will hold when the basic needs such as your home, food and financial security come under jeopardy.

My big takeaway is that when we remove work, remove socialising, remove nature etc it slows us right down and allows us to see and choose what is really important to us. We’ve been gifted with a new perspective. Whatever this may be for you, is unique to you. What will happen when we speed the world back up again? Does it stop being important or do your priorities shift.

The pandemic is showing us what is possible.

I invite you to take the positive and allow some time for reflection in the space you may have at this time, ask yourself, what will you put back into your life after the pandemic has passed. Let us look at what we have changed in such a short time, and imagine a world if we applied the same matter of urgency to our climate crisis.

Take away your Instagram filter and be present, show up for others and yourself, have conversations and listen, touch the earth, hear the birds and be alive. Allow yourself to continue your unintentional rewilding before the distractions start flooding back in.

I leave you with this. “Be the change you want to see in the world” Gandhi

Final note and thank you. Thank you so much to my global family and network for taking part in the survey. I know it was a long one but you persevered and I’m grateful. You were one of 40 people from 12 countries; United Kingdom, The Netherlands, United States, Mexico, Czechia, Australia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Austria, South Africa, Puerto Rico and a nomad.

If you have any questions or expanding thoughts please share them. This is a moving subject and there is lots to uncover and explore. I’d love to know how reading this made you feel and what, if anything you will do differently.

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