Another book recommendation that showed up on my Kindle recently was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’d seen the book at the store and on the Internet, but I had no idea what it was about except that it said it was the history of homo sapiens. Kind of a broad topic, but it was on sale, it sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot.

It’s been a while since a book has had such an impact on how I view the world. Since turning forty a couple of years ago, I’ve become very introspective…more so than normal. After four decades, what have I actually accomplished? Does it actually matter? My faith has been able to carry me through moments like this for most of my days, but recently, even that hasn’t been enough.

What Sapiens did, or rather what Harari did, was take most of what I think I know and really challenge the fundamental way I’ve approached life and its meaning. I’m not ready to make a bunch of judgments right now about whether that is good or bad, and I don’t necessarily think he was right about everything he wrote. I’m still in processing mode.

One of the sections that got me thinking the most was about happiness and what that really means. It’s actually something that I’ve been dealing with a lot lately anyway. I’m a pretty happy person for the most part, but I do question my existence and purpose occasionally. I don’t suppose that is completely unusual. It’s the answers that I give myself lately that are different now.

More and more, I want simplicity. I want to take things in and enjoy them for what they truly are, not based on what someone else has told me to think. With our social media dominated society, that’s some trick, and it’s something I haven’t quite mastered yet. I’m a work in progress.

When I took my kids to The Houston Museum of Natural Science a couple of weeks ago, we stumbled upon an exhibit called “Biophilia: A Dialogue of Nature, Art, and Science.” The artist, Christopher Marley, used various animals and plants to create art. I’m not much into looking at dead animals, but it was well done and fairly interesting. It was also kind of a surreal experience, for me and the kids.

Unbeknownst to me the idea of biophilia has been around for a few decades. It’s the thought that we innately seek out nature. Throughout the museum exhibit, there were captions and explanations about what we were seeing and why the artist chose this medium of expression. One explanation in particular caught my attention.

Whether or not one allows for divine origins in humankind, no one can dispute that the material of which we are composed differs so little from those of non-human life and other earthly elements as to make us biological siblings at the very least…

For this reason, we unwind on weekends by hiking, going to the park or working in the garden… We are rewarding ourselves with a family reunion of sorts…we are seeking renewal in the pure, primeval condition of creation and our lives are more balanced and purposeful when we return.

Christopher Marley – Biophilia

This may not be a revelation to anyone else, but this was a totally different way of thinking about WHY we as humans feel refreshed after being outside. Most people do tend to gravitate towards the outdoors when we need to relax, but in my own experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an outdoor wilderness to do the trick.

I’ve been in Louisville for the past week or so grading essays for AP US History. As sadistic as that sounds, it is a great experience. But it is also exhausting. When I needed to relax and unwind a bit, I found myself in the same place over and over…in a park along the banks of the Ohio River watching the water go by.

Cityscapes with their trees, benches, and birds can be just as relaxing in a pinch if it allows you to clear your mind and hit “reset.” I think in a way we have adapted to these types of surroundings the same way the animals whose habitats we have taken over have had to adapt. The birds and squirrels can’t complain that we took most of the trees and their natural environments. Instead, they build their nests where they can, and they make do. The idea of nature has evolved a bit.

I keep my workout equipment in the garage…in the heat and humidity of southeast Texas…even though we have room in the house for it. And when I’m done lifting weights, sometimes I just sit there and relax…and swat dragon flies and other flying pests. I guess in a sense I’m (unwillingly) sharing my environment with these small creatures, even if I’m not the best host in the world. I suppose I should be more understanding of them as they buzz around my head.

After all, they are just trying to adapt to their surroundings the same way we all are on a daily basis.