Friluftsliv: Free Air Life
The following is a guest contribution by Groa. Along with their Heathen practice they have experience working as a journalist.
In Scandinavian cultures the deep experience of spending time out in nature has its own philosophy: it is the essence and reward of a lifestyle called “friluftsliv” [free-luufts-leav]. The word translates to “free air life” meaning a philosophical lifestyle based on experiences of the freedom in nature and the spiritual connectedness with the landscape. The reward of this connectedness with the landscape is this strong sensation of a new level of consciousness and a spiritual wholeness. The essence of friluftsliv is difficult to define.
It is a concept that can be found among outdoor people all over the world, but as a specific philosophy, and the use of a special word for it, is unique for all Scandinavian people, especially in Norway and Sweden. However, Friluftsliv has over generations developed from a way of BEING to in modern times focus mainly on just doing outdoor activities. This focus on activities rather than on the human relationship to nature has resulted in a modern superficial concept of friluftsliv. Outdoor activities in nature, or a wilderness trip made purely for exercise is not enough to obtain the deep experience of connectedness to the more than human world. What then is the original concept of the nature experience?
Friluftsliv implies being in nature, but nature in its free pure and wildest form.
Friluftsliv does not require remote untouched wilderness but the more away from the urban lifestyle the greater the experience. There are many reasons why people go into nature but most have nothing to do with friluftsliv. There are loggers, farmers, trappers, scientists, wilderness guides, outfitters, and other professionals living in nature. Many aspects of their outdoor lives may be common with friluftsliv, but professional goals such as exploring, mastering, or conquering nature are not compatible with genuine friluftsliv.
Friluftsliv involves the unconditional encounter with nature in the same way as getting to know a person needs an unconditional meeting, and not just a quick look at each other.
It requires connectedness and participation. By not participating one becomes a spectator
and a consumer. Not participating and connecting with nature makes nature into a museum to observe, to learn from but not to interact with. Enjoying the aesthetic value of nature is an important part of friluftsliv but being a spectator of nature does not necessarily create any connectedness. Others use nature as a sacral place for meditation and reflection. Nature becomes a kind of church or temple to build new spiritual or religious energy. Similar to these are stressed, urban people who in “the silence of nature” slow down and regain their energy. Many cottage and motorhome owners belong to this group, having their “wilderness home” as a refuge from urban life. Again, to escape urban life and gain energy or spiritual power is a very important part of friluftsliv but without a deeper connectedness nature becomes just a form of therapy. When pursuing friluftsliv you often do things together with friends, like sitting around the campfire, travelling together, sharing experiences, and being dependent on each other. Friluftsliv thus recreates the tribal life with the same security of belonging to an interdependent group. This is a form of human resources and human wealth we have lost in our urban life, where individuality and survival by yourself is the standard. Friluftsliv fulfils a basic human need and thereby creates a sensation of wholeness. This may well be one of the reasons for the sensation of pleasure sitting around the campfire and just feeling the strong connectedness within the group and with life.
Although genuine friluftsliv may involve mastering skills like how to travel and survive
even harsh and dangerous environments with different equipment, genuine friluftsliv is not about conquering or fighting nature. Friluftsliv is about harmonizing with nature, not disturbing or destroying it. Friluftsliv is not about consuming experiences, places, or resources, although just by being in a place will change it and resources consumed. Friluftsliv is not to actively seek adventures, although adventures and adrenaline kicks may be a natural part of friluftsliv. In friluftsliv you don’t change nature to gain experience or take control of it, you don’t build artificial racetracks, or boulder cliffs. In friluftsliv you may use nature for food and shelter or for your survival, but not modify nature to suit the outdoor activity. Friluftsliv is not an activity or activity program with a narrow goal; it is a lifestyle and a philosophy.
Friluftsliv is therefore a view of oneself in the more-than-human world, about finding the way back to an old human, biological lifestyle, but in a new context—to move from a techno-life to an eco-life, back to our fundamental biological ways to relate to nature. In the “pre-civilized” world humans knew their way in nature as a way of survival. In modern urban life these survival skills are forgotten, and today most urban people only visit nature as tourists or consumers. Modern people need to re-learn basic skills, not by books or instructions, but learn how to relate to the more-than-human world by experience. In connection with nature we learn how precious life is—in sharp contrast with the “civilized” life—where life often is a struggle. Friluftsliv is a paradigm shift away from a dominant “objective” view of nature, toward an emotional identity and a way of living.
The roots of friluftsliv, with its plethora of implications, can then be traced back through human evolution, and suggest that the friluftsliv ethos is anchored in a world view imbued with deeply “Heathen” elements. Friluftliv is a philosophy about personal development, thus a lifetime process of growing personal relationships with the more-than-human world. Friluftsliv is about love and respect for nature, attitudes one does not learn reading or teaching, features that can only be learned by experience. For an outdoor person who has reached familiarity and connectedness to nature, nature is never wild and scary, and such a person is at home everywhere in nature by following its rhythms.
The rhythms of nature include day rhythm, moon rhythm, seasonal rhythms, etc., as well as rhythms in patterns and structures. When travelling in nature for a longer period, these rhythms become a natural part of our daily life. We even have internal rhythms, biological clocks that are evolved to synchronize with the rhythms of nature. Breaking these natural rhythms cost energy. Electrical energy is needed to break the rhythms of day and night. Breaking the seasonal rhythm to create green grass in winter and ice in summer requires much of energy. Breaking straight roads through the fractal landscape requires energy. Creating monoculture we break the growing rhythm, which needs enormous amounts of energy in the forms of fertilizers, pesticides, maintenance, etc. to keep the culture clean.
Our rhythms not only come from inside of us, they harmonize with the surrounding landscape, with the current of the river, the sun and light, the wind and waves, and when these rhythms interplay we feel a great pleasure of harmony. The same feeling of harmony with the landscape is reached after days of trekking, where the pace harmonizes with the internal and external environment, and each step is synchronized by our spinal auto pilot so the mind may become absorbed by the landscape. This synchronization of internal and external rhythms creates a new awareness of the multiple dimensions of nature.
It is a hard truth that in contrast to the fractal multi-dimensional world of nature, our civilized world is non-fractal consisting of straight lines, flat surfaces and smooth areas—an environment sub-optimal for our mental processing capabilities. This is causing understimulation, stress and incompatibility in such environments. Humans are adapted to live according to the natural rhythms, but lately we have constructed artificial, mathematical rhythms determined by mechanical devices. These new rhythms split the day and the year in exact units independent of the events in nature. With clock time we have emancipated ourselves from the rhythms of nature and have violated our biological clocks creating an urban stress, a stress evaporating when returning to the rhythms of nature. The asynchronic rhythms of modern urban life create disharmonies, creating physical and psychic stress which consume much energy. Therefore when returning to nature and living friluftsliv we regain the natural rhythms and feel the energy flow into body and mind, lifting us to a higher energy level, and to the experience of harmony and happiness.
Here in a rural area one may easily connect: consider the myriad of rivers and streams surrounding us. The breathtaking dome of the sky arching overhead. Our magnificent mountains and valleys stir in us all a sense of happiness and refuge, bright on by the sensation of being surrounded by the natural world. The landscape in many ways absorbs us completely, entering all our senses and touching our lives with its beauty. We see ourselves as a PART of the landscape which unfolds within and outside our consciousness. The feeling of being a part of a river, or a mountain is for some people a spiritual experience. Sadly, the ability to be absorbed by a place is a skill that needs practice and training, but luckily for those on the Heathen path, there are many traditions which aid us in that journey to find connection again. The Norse path in particular has many meaningful and necessary rituals and traditions which propel those who enact them past the boundaries of the modern world and directly into a way of being that is in-tune with nature’s majesty and makes us able to hear its wisdom.
Friluftsliv within a Heathen context is simply the philosophy which motivates us towards engaging directly in nature through rituals and offerings to nature and the spirits that dwell within its landscape: bearing in mind that in the northern tradition spirits are much like people – with their own realities. They will choose who they interact with and generally they appreciate offerings – not all spirits are friendly, and not all of them have an interest in interacting. When applying the principles of friluftsliv to rituals in nature it is important to never make assumptions, but rather to show respect and be open to whatever interactions develop. Engaging directly with the natural world means you are engaging directly with the spiritual and elemental world as well.