An Unplugged, Nature-Positive Life is a 250-year-old Idea with Fresh Relevance for Today

Yo-Yo Ma summed up my motivation for starting The Unplugged Club in a recent New York Times interview

“What if there’s a way that we can end up thinking and feeling and knowing that we are coming from nature, that we’re a part of nature, instead of just thinking: What can we use it for?” Ma said.

He’s started an initiative called Our Common Ground, using music in nature to reunite us in pursuit of a common future.

Turns out neither of us was unique or original in this approach. It’s an idea that’s come full circle in the last 250 years, first proposed by the Romantics in the late 1700s.

Radical Poet William Wordsworth – Who Knew?

A number of writers contributed to the development of the nature positive concept, but English poet William Wordsworth is credited as the most influential writer about nature positivity. Affer he returned to nature in his birthplace, the Lake District in northwestern England, and immersed himself in his own world of writing and poetry.

Wordsworth and his fellow writers would be pleased at their legacy.

Fast forward: Nature-positive was the buzzword at the 2021 G-7 summit in Cornwall, England and the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal that adopted an ambitious framework for protecting nature late last year.

Sustainable on Every Level

The G7 leaders definition: “A nature positive approach enriches biodiversity, stores carbon, purifies water and reduces pandemic risk. In short, a nature positive approach enhances the resilience of our planet and our societies.”

In other words, a nature- positive approach vs. the current nature-deficit approach.

Wordsworth would likely have said the health of human society depends on a healthy relationship with the environment – a thoroughly radical notion for the beginnings of the industrialization era.

From One English Writer to Another to Us

Then there’s this crystallizing thought from author Robert Macfarlane in his book Mountains of the Mind:

“…to be reminded of a truth about landscapes: that our responses to them are for the most part culturally devised. That is to say, when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there… We read landscapes, in other words, we interpret their forms in the light of our own experience and memory, and that of our shared cultural memory.”

While I’ve long understood that many of our ideas and thoughts are not our own, but absorbed from the cultural tradewinds, it’s mind-blowing  – and humbling – to realize that I inherited my view of nature from a group of poets who lived 250 years ago.

3+1 Resources for You: Long and Short Reads on a Nature Positive Life

Books, articles, tips, tools and advice to help you unplug.

Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World by Jonathan Bate. A fresh introduction to his work and modern biography of the poet who changed the world.

Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane. How cultural beliefs shifted over 300 years to fixate on the mystery of the planet’s highest places.

William Wordsworth and the Romantics anticipated today’s idea of a nature-positive life in The Conversation.

Our Common Ground Yo-Yo Ma’s initiative to reunite people and nature with music in nature.

2 Questions for You: Consider Your Bond with Nature

Reflections, questions and ideas to consider to break the digital impasse.

Pretend you’re channeling Wordsworth, who knew that being nature-positive was tied to having a livelihood and sense of self and community intrinsically linked to your native place.

1st Q: How deep is your bond to nature?

2nd Q: Is your sense of self and community bound to the place where you live?

1 Action for You: Trigger Your Sense of Place

One small step to start the change.

Name one natural phenomena – lightning flashes over the mountains, the darkness of the forest, that unmistakable smell of earth after rain –  that triggers your sense of belonging, of place.

Nature View

Amazingly, studies show that looking at photos of Nature calms your mind, reduces stress and increases concentration. I’m happy to share my view with you!

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home. ~Gary Snyder