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Quiet Time: How Your Brain May Get a Boost from Time Spent Outdoors

Name one of the big payoffs for walking a remote trail, biking on a seldom-traveled road, paddling into an empty cove, pitching a tent a dozen miles from the nearest road.

It's the quiet. The stillness. The time and space to think.

Could a deep canyon elicit deeper thought?An opinion piece, "The Joy of Quiet" by author Pico Iyer, is an essay published last week in The New York Times that ponders an increasingly common wish among we 21st century types—a yearning to periodically unplug from the torrent of electronic information we constantly ingest yet infrequently fully process.

Iyer acknowledges a craving for quiet is not a new realization, but one he has recently revisited. He cites a book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist in general nonfiction, which mentions tests on people who have spent time in quiet rural settings.

Path to enlightenment?The subjects, Carr writes, "exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper."

Perspective

I concede I am a comparative simpleton in the company of Carr and Iyer, but their observations confirm some out-there realizations I have experienced on my own. Deep in wilderness settings, detached from persistent electronic information input, I am a quieter, humbler, more alert, more appreciative, more empathetic, more reflective being.

In the boonies the only news feeds I usually monitor are cloud movements and shifts in the weather. When traveling no faster than my 2 feet can transport me, with only changing landscapes to distract me, I'm free to ruminate without time constraint. Admittedly, I often spend a lot of that time thinking about food, but even my modest cranium makes time for deeper thought on more substantial topics.

Sally JewellREI CEO Sally Jewell, responsible for me and my 10,000 REI coworkers, maintains a New Year's Day custom. Each Jan. 1 she takes a 10-mile paddling trip into the south Puget Sound to mull over professional and personal objectives.

She's back at her desk now, refreshed, on task and potentially benefitting from the free-form hours she spent navigating mile after mile of open water. While my responsibilities are nowhere close to Sally's, I think what she does is smart. I catch the same kind reinvigorating rush after a day, or a week, spent in the backcountry.

Naturally we both soon plug back into the world around us. It's vital that we do, Iyer points out, but the balance people achieve by periodically detaching is important. "It's only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it," he writes.

Time spent on trails grant me this kind of perspective. How about you? How does time spent in quiet places, particularly outdoor settings, influence your ability to think, think clearly, and think more deeply?

It is scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes
of an impressive character is favorable to health and vigor.

—Frederick Law Olmsted

How important is a constant intercourse with nature
and the contemplation of natural phenomenon
to the preservation of moral & intellectual health.

—Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Photos, top to bottom, by REI Adventures, T.D. Wood, Ted Chase, Holly Werran and T.D. Wood.

Posted on at 4:53 PM

Tagged: Outdoors, quiet and thinking

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Gabe K

I sincerely enjoyed reading this blog entry and honestly relate wholeheartedly to what is written. I am a teacher and get caught up in society's beckoning technological call of my worldly duties to my students, school district, and community on a daily basis. I also "unplug" myself too, with a lengthy unplug session during the summer where I retreat to nature along with sprinkles here and there throughout the rest of the year. Feel free to read about them at my own blog about my adventures at the link: http://yaktracks.blogspot.com/

I am a little envious that you work for such an awesome company as REI with such a great leader as Sally Jewell. What a great company, thank for all that you provide us! Please continue to provide us with great gear, good advice, and tips on living healthy and enjoying nature.

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