When Nelson Mandela was released after twenty seven years in prison he went into the bush, into nature to readjust, to recuperate and prepare for his life in the public arena.
It is said that Saint Bernard, the great reformer, lured the learned cleric of York, Henry Murdach, into the woods, “where the beeches and elms taught the monks wisdom”.
We were taught to be suspicious of nature, both our own nature and the world around us. Nature was dangerous and not to be trusted. Use it by all means but don’t trust it. We are were encouraged to live in the ‘super-natural world far removed from the dangers of raw nature.
We have much to learn from the natural world. If you spend any time in nature you realise there is a pace and a rhythm in the natural world. Animals don’t become workaholics and get anxious if they are not being productive, achieving something. Nature is productive when it needs to be and quiet when it needs to be.
For example, lions can spend eighteen hours in deep rest and then out of that rest comes a different rhythm, an intensity of movement as they hunt. They hunt efficiently and with total focus.
They don’t spend their rest thinking about being efficient or being really efficient wishing they were resting – they are always just where they are – this is the essence of wisdom – to be where you are and to allow action to arise out of that being when the moment comes.
We are still hard wired to nature. Our ancestral instinctive tendencies are alive and well despite being neglected and denied by our culture. It would be strange if our ancestral world was completely erased from our genes. Our mental and physical well being is deeply affected by nature. A view of a parkland leads to a decline in fear and anger and promotes a feeling of peace. Walking a beach has a deeply calming effect. While sitting in our refectory, I am drawn unconsciously to the window and beyond to the trees, shrubs.
Patients recovering from surgery who can look at trees recover quicker and need less medication for pain or anxiety then those with a view of buildings. Dental patients able to look at natural scenery register lower blood pressure and reduced levels of anxiety.
While these are only fragments of evidence they do suggest that human nature is still genetically encoded from the time we lived intimately as part of the natural world. Nelson Mandela knew this connection and knew where he could best prepare himself for the gruelling public life ahead of him.