What is it about sunlight that makes us feel better? And what is it about being outside, in the sun, that improves even an already good day?
I’m not a sun worshiper as such. I don’t find just lying in the sun appealing or even relaxing, though there are days when taking a few minutes to stand in a sunny place can fix a lot of little things in both body and mind. I can do that for maybe five minutes before I get uncomfortable and restless and have to get moving again. I’m just not one to sit still very long unless I’m at some task that absorbs my effort and energy in that way. But open the door and let me out, and I immediately feel better, even when I was feeling well and happy inside.
It seems to me that being outside gives one a perspective that is of human scale. A large part of civilization’s problems, I believe, center around a world that has grown too large, too crowded, too unmanageable because everything has grown beyond what the human in each of us can comprehend. It is a matter of scale.
In the beginning, when our brains were first able to encompass the idea of past, present and future, the world we experienced was on a scale we could comprehend. The smallest thing we knew was an insect or a seed; the largest, a tree outside the cave or a distant mountain, a river or lake or even an ocean. In between were other humans of all sizes, and animals and plants, insects and seeds, all manner of natural things that had size and shape our brains could comprehend. Millennia later everything has grown except, perhaps, our ability to feel comfortable with it all.
Yes, the Grand Canyon is bigger than any other ditch, Mt. Everest far taller than any other mountain, but one approaches them slowly, from a distance. You don’t turn a corner and find it in front of you. Not so a man-made structure. You turn a corner and there it is. If you are on foot approaching a mountain in can take a day or more to get to it. You can see it getting bigger as you approach it, can get used to it, even. It is a matter of scale. In a car or a plane what is ahead can be behind you in a matter of minutes or hours, not days or weeks. You don’t approach, you confront.
So when we go outside and stand in the sun, surrounded by trees and hills and even mountains or canyons, we are in a place where the scale of things is familiar, so we relax our anxieties, put aside our discomfort, let the warmth and light of the natural world lead our thoughts and emotions into comfortable, familiar places. The sound of the wind, of birds and frogs and scurrying animals doesn’t startle or cause fear. Instead we are soothed, warmed, protected because we understand our one-ness with the world around us, on a scale we can see and hear and feel.
It restoreth the soul.