The importance of being outside in the Natural World

Little Girl and Little Ethel

Last Spring, when the Mules were making their way through Palm Springs, a comment was made on one of our posts that the Mules were making bad choices. “Bad choices” is social worker speak for alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.

In none of these activities or addictions do the Mules engage. Instead, we practice the sacred act of walking and the spiritual engagement with creation the Natural World. This is not a bad choice. It is a wonderful choice. A choice created and made available to all from a Trump down to a weak little man and everybody somewhere in between.

The Mules read a Sierra Sun article titled “For body and mind: Neuroscientists ties brain health to outdoors life.” The article was about a neuroscientist’s research that being (living outside) was healthy for the brain. Well, duh!!!! The Mules have known that since the time of birth. That knowledge is imbedded in our bones.

This is why it is so important that the right to travel on and across this country using a multi-use public thoroughfare, open to all its citizens, be protected by all with extreme vigilance.

The Mules

Excerpts from Sierra Sun article:

Outdoor activity is often associated with physical well-being.

Being in the natural world also plays a vital role in mental health, according to Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco and a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research for nearly five decades.

When people are engaged in activities like hiking, Merzenich says, the brain is getting its own exercise, constantly assessing and reassessing the environment for everything from threats to making minute adjustments along an uneven hiking trail.

In the natural world, Merzenich said novel things and surprises trigger this super-charged state, but as people have built cities and more recently, turned their attention to digital devices, they are no longer getting the benefits of being engaged with their environment.

“Our brain is deprived a massive level of exercise by living in an artificial world. We’ve adjusted our local environment so that everything is predictable, we don’t have to think about anything,” said Merzenich.

“Common city life, you only see things in front of your nose and you no longer see things out in the world … you became very, very inadequate at detecting anything that’s surprising or novel. That’s really what we’re designed to do. That’s what our brains are designed to do, we’re designed to be masters of our physical environment, to be looking for the surprises in it that don’t fit, to be evaluating what they mean and what their value is to us. The natural world is just about the best possible way to find all of those surprises.”

With the emergence of mobile devices, Merzenich said the effects are worsening, especially for children.

“There’s no question that the brain of the average little kid right now is vastly different from the brain of a kid even 20 years ago, because the brain basically is plastic, and it changes itself as a function of how it’s engaged,” said Merzenich. “What the child is engaging in is a lot of rule-based behavior, working in activities that are largely rule-based. The kid is doing things that they enjoy and are not valueless, but they’re not the real world, and increasingly we take a sort of artificial approach to life. We don’t problem solve so much as we look up answers to things. We’re changing the way our brains are exercised and that’s changing us.”
By being deprived of the unpredictability and novelty of natural settings, according to Merzenich, people begin to suffer from disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“Human survival was dependent on being an accurate, fast interpreter of the meanings of things,” he said. “Another way of putting that is, that it’s an important form of exercise. If I degrade that machinery, I go into clinical depression. If I enliven that machinery, I have a life that’s vital and bright. There’s real value in exercising the brain.”

In order to employ this mental form of exercise, Merzenich’s advice is simply to get outside and be engaged in one’s surroundings, whether it is at a park, on a hiking path or at the beach.

“I tell people try to be a little bit more like a child again,” he said.

“There’s nothing quite so wonderful as being out on a forest path or being some place where everywhere you look there’s something really interesting — if you’re just open to it.”

Sierra Sun, August 16, 2019
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20 thoughts on “The importance of being outside in the Natural World”

  1. I saw you and your mules 3 or 4 years ago in Fresno. You had stopped at my son’s place for water for the mules. At the time I didn’t know what to think. I admire y’all

    1. Wow you seen him. I seen him once walking up the hill from Pala Rez to Temecula. At first I never knew who he was and though he was a crazy person, but I was wrong. He’s amazing person

  2. Saw you guys on Soledad Canyon Rd in Acton, CA 1/17/2023 ! I love the way you speak about being outside and being connected to this very beautiful place we all get to be in Called Earth. I hope you take care while out there and keep on Truckin’! ….or Muleing! I toma photo of your mule while in a moving car only to get a crisp clear picture of and I’m glad I came here to read about what it’s all about. Safe Travels and I hope you get to see a lot out there!

  3. Bless you to have the courage to travel with your great friends. There is nothing like it. Stay safe along these crazy roadways. When I was a kid a lady traveling as you are. Was selling post cards to help with expenses. She her two horses and a dog came by the Southern Pacific Livestock Feed Yards that use to be in Roseville, CA. My Father worked there. I’ll never forget her, she had a French name and so did her dog. God Bless you, stay safe and enjoy God’s great earth.

    1. I remember her! But I believe she was of American Indian heritage… she finally settled in Idaho ( I believe) with her tribal families.

    2. Her name was Annie Wilkins. She was 63 years old when she began her travels with her horse, mule and dog.

  4. I think of doing this kind of thing without mules. Do you know many people that live that way? Any recommendations? Thanks man. You’re awesome!

  5. Hi John,

    Yes, you are a blessing in the disguise of an old mule-driver. Thank you for reminding me that there can be far more to life than the straight-jackets modern day society would seem to want us all to wear, and to believe in! May your journey continue to be filled with the wonder, awe, and beauty that you seem to bring along with you wherever you go.

    Scott Perry

  6. They say you’re meant to be here for a reason. Well I believe I was meant to see the beautiful mules today. It’s almost like the brown one smiled back at me while the white one hid under the tree to avoid the rain and my picture. I was interested and came into this website. It’s a nice reminder to live a natural life and focus on our earth. I felt love with these mules. So thank you for sharing your journey.

  7. Hello,I happen to see you yesterday in San Lorenzo CA. & I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had to go back to snap a picture of the the man & his two burros crossing the street to show my boy’s & family…

    Safe travels 🤗

  8. We saw you today in Orinda/Lafayette and our curiosity took us here. Blessings on your journeys!

  9. To the team: my first inclination was to think…oh no!!!! What happened to the third mule, I only see 2🤷🏻‍♀️ After reading your info I feel silly!! I totally see/get you!! I walked 500 miles across northern Spain 5 years ago. It was a very amazing spiritual and social awakening I had. So “Buen Camino” to you my friend!! I saw your animals in the Raley’s parking lot today. I wish I would have stopped and found you for a conversation! “Buen Camino” indeed!!! I will be following your journey!!

  10. Dear Mule,
    You inspire and teach everyday by sharing your life’s journey, writings and lovely photos. You are a righteous human in this world gone crazy. I thank you for the many special moments of clarity and joy. Blessings and safe travels to you and your loyal companions.

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