Thriving in a Concrete Jungle: 10 Tips for City Wildlings
We don't always get to choose exactly where we live, and for wildlings, a life in the city can quickly become tedious and overwhelming. The bevy of noise, people, trash, and crime in most developed cities is enough to make any nature-worshipper run for the hills. Fear not, fellow wildling - I'm here to help.
I've compiled this list for folks just like us - requiring nature to recharge, reconnect, ground, and even just calm down sometimes. I hope you enjoy, and I welcome you to add your tips for thriving in an urban landscape in the comments!
1. Zoom in.
Out in the wild, we have an entire panorama to connect with. In urban environments, the panorama of buildings and asphalt may overwhelm you, so dial in on the details. I’m talking about the dandelion busting up out of the crack in the cement, or that one awkward maple tree on the edge of the sidewalk, or the little brown birds picking at trash in the street. Even that weird, one-footed pigeon, or the scruffy rat in the shadows – they are, after all, still animals. They still have teachings, but the teachings are a little more dialed in: a lot of city wildlife teaches us about adaptability and thriving (or what I like to call thrival) in what looks like chaos.
2. Find a few particular plants and animals to connect with.
Say hello or send love to the awkward maple tree when you walk by it every day, even if it’s just in your head. It will still hear you. Bring it gifts: buy a bag of yummy nutritious dirt to throw on top of it, or offer it some of your hair as a thank you. Imagine all the people that walk by that tree and ignore it every day, compared to the thousands of trees in a forest that we’re always talking to when we’re out there as wildlings. Pay close attention to and celebrate their small changes over the seasons: the leafing out or budding in the spring, the change of color in the fall, the hibernation in the winter. Pick the fluffy dandelion and blow those seeds everywhere.
3. Bring nature indoors.
Whether you’re into altars, seasonal flowers, seedpods, or an epic rock collection, fill your personal space with things that connect you to nature. Learn how to care for a potted plant and then buy a dozen. Cacti, spider plants, ALL THE FERNS, a tiny palm tree. Hang them from the ceiling, stack them on the bookcase, or buy a simple shelf just for plants to hang over the sofa. Not into potted plants and rocks? That’s fine – use linens and artwork with bright, nature-themed patterns and colors all over the place. If you have the space, get a fish. No, seriously, get a fish. Fish can’t be domesticated like a lot of our small pets (thus retaining their “wildness”) and they make way less of a mess. On top of that, having an aquarium and watching fish swim is inherently soothing.
4. Make appointments for time outside of the city.
And then keep them like you'd keep a doctor's appointment. Develop a list of close, not-so-close, and distant favorite places to escape to. Turn off your technology and be super present, except for taking a few photos (that you can later blow up and hang around your place). Get yourself an extra backpack and load it up with extras of whatever you need to be ready to go so it’s always waiting for an adventure. This doesn’t mean you have to travel to the wilderness, it just means traveling to somewhere a little wilder than where you are. It may not feel like enough at first, but give yourself time to fall in love with a gradient of wild places.
5. Substitute for the real thing however you can.
Invest in everything David Attenborough’s ever made and when you’re feeling disconnected and out of sorts, put on one of his DVDs (or one of the many nature documentaries on any of the streaming services out there). Even if it’s just background noise while you’re cooking, looking at images and hearing stories about the natural world will have a positive effect on your brain. Keep big, yummy nature photography books easily accessible. Get creative: if you miss looking at a starry night sky, make a replica of the constellations out of glow-in-the-dark stars or LED lights and put them on the ceiling. Buy a few CDs of nature sounds, especially one of nighttime noises. Put your headphones in, turn off all your lights and throw a sleeping bag on the floor. Gaze up at your night sky and smell the pine trees while you listen to owls hooting.
6. Make friends with local parks.
Even though they’re small and they’re probably full of people, being out in the sunshine or in the snow in a local park is a must, so long as it’s safe. If you want to drown out the energy of the crowds, put your headphones in, find a tree to sit near, and pretend you’re engrossed in a book. It’s so easy to communicate with trees this way while everyone around you thinks you’re reading. It’s a bummer that most city parks are inaccessible or a little too risky after dark, so treat the parks like they’re your family members: you love them and you’ve enjoyed your time together, but it’s time to get home and let them get some rest.
7. Check out other scenes in your city that can give you a dose of nature.
A great place to start is a farmer’s market, if your city has one. There’s a great chance you can find a relatively local farm. This may not be everyone’s bag, but I feel very connected when I meet a local farmer, get to know them and their farm, possibly volunteer, and enjoy food that was grown nearby with love. Many cities are developing community garden spaces, as well, where you can rent space to have your own garden (or get involved with work days if growing isn’t your thing). Learn how to can and preserve foods; these skills connect you to your food in a different way than any other kind of preparation, and the end results make for fantastic gifts on the cheap. I get a magical apple variety that makes its way to Baltimore from an organic orchard in Pennsylvania, and sharing my homemade applesauce is one of the things I look the most forward to about autumn. Go to greenhouses, arboretums, and natural history museums regularly.
8. Make your home an absolute sanctuary.
This one is non-negotiable. Don’t make the mistake that I made in refusing to settle in, decorate, and get comfortable, because you don’t intend to stay there forever. For almost two years, I never hung up any art, didn’t put up an altar, didn’t put up a vision board, etc. I didn’t want to give the universe the impression that I intended to stay, but stay I did. Once I decided to make my space (which is just one room in the house) my place of deep sanctuary, things started to change in terms of how I felt about being here. Now there’s art everywhere, cozy big blankets and linens that make me happy, two altars and a meditation “nook,” and a desk where I have space to do art. I have potted plants, all my books and nature DVDs accessible, and curios everywhere.
9. Deal with your emotions.
I know I do not only speak for myself when I say that a part of me hates everything cities stand for: unbridled devastation in the name of progress, industry that pollutes without recourse, a complete aversion to nature and her powerful ways, and the oppression of the poor and people of color. Holding on to these feelings will only make it harder on you, particularly if you’re holding it against yourself that you live in a city. Forgive yourself, and forgive the world for where we are right now. There’s no other way to move forward emotionally, because you can’t change the world back overnight. You can only do what you can with what you have, period. And if those causes move you, get involved in social justice organizations - there are plenty in every city.
10. Take care of your energy.
All animals have a population density at which they thrive, and there are enough resources for all. It's my belief that humans are no different, and that this is one complicating factor when we live in cities. There are so many of us, so close together - I believe this breeds stress, perhaps energetically. I experience it as a kind of radio static at all times when I'm in a city, which recedes as I get further into rural or wild areas. Understanding how this might show up for you, and finding the ways that work best to protect yourself are important in thriving in a town with a dense population. My top recommendations: learn about protecting your energy field, make sure you’ve got some passionate hobbies that refill your reservoir when it gets low, cultivate a visualization or meditation practice (the wilderness of your soul can only be accessed through such a practice), and spend time around people that you connect with, deeply and authentically. And, if the constant city noise is difficult to tolerate, try a white noise machine.