The Feeling Of Awe Is For Everyone - The Years Project

The Feeling Of Awe Is For Everyone

By Sania Qureshi

Connecting with nature helps our social, physiological and emotional life. Being outside has numerous health benefits, including improving the quality of our lives. The American Hiking Society has collected studies that show activities like hiking and taking walks outdoors can reduce the risk of various health issues like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and many other health issues. We are connected to the environment in a multitude of ways even if we don’t notice it. 

Being out in nature also produces a “feeling of awe” that many of us may have felt before but didn’t know how to describe. The Outside Podcast talks about how just being in nature helps reduce and improve your overall well-being. This feeling of awe is described as “an amazement we experience during outdoor activities that can singularly lower stress levels and create positive emotions.” Anyone can go out into nature and feel this emotion. To get this feeling, you don’t even have to set up a big hiking trip – studies show you can simply walk outside and experience this. Just walking into a green space could offer a natural stress relief. 

It is important for everyone to have a connection to nature, as parks and green spaces are beneficial to us mentally and physically. We all deal with stressors in our lives and nature is known to benefit many people who experience depression and anxiety. Especially during times of the Coronavirus, it’s been an important goal for many to enjoy nature and walk around. This simple relationship with nature could also spark a call to action for people, like it did for me. A research study showed that connecting with nature is also linked to engaging in environmentally responsible behavior or pro-environmental behavior. Forming a connection to nature can be helpful to fight climate change by engaging  people with their actions towards the environment. Being out in nature can help implement ideas of taking care of nature as well, like picking up trash, recycling more, or vocalizing yourself by bringing awareness to climate issues on social media. Even if a person is not directly taking climate action, spending time in nature can help them care more. 

 To me, when I first started intentionally spending time outside to be in nature, it was like I was meeting a new friend. Just like when you start spending time with a new friend, nature also creates a new sense of excitement as I learn more about them and about myself. The experience of intentionally spending time outside (for the sake of just spending time outside) was new to me and I started to understand what the “feeling of awe” actually felt like. 

When I started my hiking journey I was a teenager, and it wasn’t actually clear to me if it was a hobby that I would keep pursuing. On the trails, you usually meet other people along the path. A lot of hikers greet you with a simple hello while walking in the opposite direction. I realized I was originally uncomfortable because everyone who I crossed paths with was white, and I am not.  It was difficult for me to picture myself being one of the people that might cross my path. As a South East Asian teenager who was new to this activity, it made me feel out of place, like I did not belong. 

As I grew older, it was important to me to be transparent to myself and really align with my thoughts and interests, like hiking and environmental activism. I have found other BIPOC that have become role models and have helped me strengthen my love for nature. Social media has become a great platform for many diverse nature advocates. Among the avid hikers I follow, Jolie Varela, the founder of @indigenouswomenshike stuck with me the most. Even though I am a non-indigenous person, I was able to connect with Varela over the idea of feeling underrepresented in the hiking community. 

Indigenous people like Varela deserve to feel safe and welcome on trails and in nature as they are the first stewards of this land. The land is sacred to them and holds their creation stories, burial grounds, and ceremonies. Most Indigenous people have a connection to nature because of their culture and history, but colonization has caused an erasure of languages, history, place names, and connection to their sacred land. Valera’s instagram is influential because she brings awareness to erasure that’s occurred and also encourages more Indigenous people to connect to nature. To me, it’s especially important to educate myself about the area I’m hiking in by making land acknowledgments (by using the Native Land app), learning about the history of the area and supporting the local Indigenous organizations and businesses. Varela and I experience different emotions when we are outdoors, but being connected with the outdoors is something that anyone should be welcome to do.

Along with Jolie,  other BIPOC are holding space in the outdoors as well. I have been following Melanin Base Camp and Latino Outdoors,  two organizations who both have been working to get more communities of color to connect with nature. Melanin Base Camp, (@melaninbasecamp), specifically shares pictures of BIPOC enjoying the outdoors and shares those individual’s stories. They are an organization using their efforts to create a movement to diversify the outdoors. BIPOC should be allowed to feel safe even in nature, like every white person who loves to hike. There has been this ideology, even in my community, that hiking is only a hobby for white people, but that ideology itself is causing us to be complacent with environmental racism. The numbers might be smaller than the white majority but BIPOC hike and enjoy the outdoors too. We’re out there too. 

Latino Outdoors, (@latinooutdoors) has also become a community of Latinx connecting culture with the outdoors community. They are able to discuss important issues within their community and also enjoy and bring awareness to how beneficial being outdoors is. Through networking, they become members in the community and as well as volunteer leaders who provide mentoring activities for youth communities. 

These influencers and organizations are showing up and holding space for BIPOC in nature. As a Person of Color myself, it is comforting to see other BIPOC be a part of the outdoors community. As we’re able to show our own representation on social media platforms, more BIPOC will be able to feel welcome to enjoy outdoor activities free of judgement and erase the stereotypes that were laid out before. Since more BIPOC environmentalists are coming forward, more issues like lack of access to green spaces, will come to the forefront of the climate crisis.  That bond to nature will help everyone be more engaged in the environment and participate in caring for nature more.

With climate change becoming the main issue surrounding our environment,  it is important for everyone to have some significant connection to nature. Seeing more representation in the outdoors industry can be the start to help BIPOC be more comfortable in outdoor environments and eventually get people to speak up about the effects of climate change because they are prevalent everywhere. These spaces need to become inclusive to everyone no matter what race or ethnicity. As more people connect with nature, more people will also start caring for nature.