The completely awesome health benefits of being around trees

July 30, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

“We like to be out in nature so much because it has no opinion about us.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Is it the extra oxygen? The helpful filtering of countless pounds of CO2 though all those sun-dappled branches? The calm, timeless majesty that mocks your whiny urban ego and resonates somewhere deep in your bones, almost despite yourself?

Damn right it is – it’s all that and more: the abject beauty, the deep stillness, the fact that most trees of any serious heft and stature have been around long (often very long) before us, some shooting their first roots well before Jesus, before Rome, before most forms of civilization whatsoever (oldest living tree, so far as we know: about 5,000 years) – it all comes together, as science once again reminds us, to make us happier. And healthier. Because of trees. I mean, clearly.

It’s not news because it’s obvious. It’s news because it’s so goddamn sad.

It’s news because so many millions live nowhere near a good, healthy clump of trees, much less a deep, funky forest that, within minutes of entering, works some feral voodoo on your id and makes you realize, with a profound karmic thump, “I just might have this rat-race thing all wrong.”

How could being close to this every day NOT improve every aspect of your cells, your breath, your life?

How could being close to this every day NOT improve every aspect of your cells, your breath, your life?

It’s news because, you might safely conclude, a large portion of our problems, from violence to anxiety, tribalism to fundamentalism, result from a very specific type of rupture, a savage disconnect from Source, from nature, from something other than money or technology or who can invent the most useless billion-dollar startup.

It’s like the ocean, yes? Or the night sky? That intensely meditative, soul-kneading feeling you get when you stare out at the stupefying vastness from the shoreline, your eyes falling off the horizon and your heart becoming dizzy from the churning, looping, pulsing nature of existence? Feeling extremely tiny and fully meta-conscious, simultaneously? Realizing there is nothing to fix and all is for naught and that, in truth, in the nature of enlightenment?

Trees are like that. Except greener. More accessible. More intimate. Show me someone who doesn’t like to trek through the woods on a fine spring day or a calm winter’s dusk, and I’ll show you someone who watched “The Blair Witch Project” one too many times as a silly ‘tween. Poor thing.

And science is backing it all up, over and over again. Hell, even taking a mini-break to look out the window at some nature is, they say, “good for the brain,” even though the brain has almost nothing to do with it. It goes a bit deeper than that, you know? Wider. I mean, obviously.

Still quaint, though, how science tries to quantify the unquantifiable, as if it were possible to measure what is essentially a spiritual or energetic experience – AKA something that, by design, defies any such capture.

LSD. Ayahuasca. MDMA. Magic mushrooms. Mindfulness meditation. Intuition. Kundalini rising. Spiritual awakening. Science tries so hard to get at it all, to capture divine experience or “god,” to understand how a single encounter with the transcendent or the deeply mystical can transform a person forever.

Never works. They can only go so far. They measure a few chemicals here, some brainwaves there, a cluster of neurons that light up in the prefrontal back-country. “It’s all in your head,” they like to surmise, which is as savagely delimiting as it is divinely insulting.

Here’s the thing: As any good mystic will tell you, it’s often about vibration – or rather, a severe mis-alignment thereof.

See, the average modern human is a tangled, toxic mess of ego and forced desire, ill health and manic wants, a madhouse clump of fears, doubts and perceived lacks surrounded by a hundred apps to organize it all into neat little piles of “Everything’s F—ked” and “I’m Never Satisfied.”

In short: we’re overdosing. On ugly, low-vibrating nonsense, on concrete and chemicals, a billion screens, reality TV shows, lousy foods, snarling politicians, gun violence, vesting schedules. It’s exhausting.

And nature, of course, pulls us back. Restores. Resets the vibration. Resolves the fragmentation, brings equilibrium and (at least a little) perspective. And trees are, you might say, uncannily skilled in this regard. At, essentially, slapping you back awake. “Oh right, trees!” we say with a deep and grateful exhale, strolling in a forest.

And sometimes, that’s all you really need.

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Mark Morford

About Mark Morford