I recently received a very interesting survey from the global windows and blinds company Velux about the extent to which people now get outdoors. This wasn’t about mountain climbing, hiking, skiing or doing extreme sports. It meant quite simply, how often do we literally get out of our homes and offices into the wider world of the wind, fresh air, the sky, clouds, trees, grass.

The figures were startling. According to the report we currently spend 90% of our time indoors. This survey was not conducted only in Scotland or the UK, where one might argue the weather plays an inordinate role in persuading us to remain inside, away from the rain. It covered 16 countries around Europe and America.

The report quoted years of research which have conclusively shown that the quality of air indoors is significantly worse than outdoors, contrary to what most people think. This has an effect on our physical health and has been cited in the rise of asthma and other pulmonary conditions, especially among the young.

From a mindfulness point of view, however, there are further concerns with our indoors lifestyle. We have evolved over millions of years, the majority of which we spent almost entirely outdoors or sheltering in places which were only partially shut off from the outside world, in caves, tents and similar basic places of refuge from heat, cold, rain and snow. Moreover, every day when we awoke we had to go out into the world to find food and interact with other individuals and communities. In short we have evolved to be intimately and continually inter-connected with the natural world.

When we are indoors we are excluded from this natural world. Our minds, conditioned by eons of expectations of having nature around us all the time, react negatively to the absence of what nature brings to us.

How do we connect with this world we live in? Through our five senses and the reactions of our mind to these sensations.

What do we see indoors? Maybe a dozen or so walls, some with paintings or photos on them. Couches, beds, toilets, the usual stuff.

What do we hear? Whatever is on television, conversations, perhaps some music.

What do we touch? The laptop I’m typing this on, the feel of hot water when you have a shower, your backside on a sofa.

What do you smell? Not much.

What do you taste? It depends on what we’re eating.

Compare this with the outside world. Taste apart, the world of nature has an infinitely greater variety of things to see, hear, touch, and smell than indoors. These literally stimulate the mind through the senses. Our evolutionary path has shaped our mind to enjoy, appreciate and often love certain sights and sounds of nature, such as the blue sky, the ever-changing shape of clouds, the movement of trees in the breeze, bird song, the sound of rustling leaves. This is a spectacle that can bring awe and wonder to the human deeper inner being that we are, and such deep, inexplicable feelings nurture our mental health and joy at being alive.

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of being in Mexico. I enjoy art and was able to see again the astonishing giant murals of Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and the pre-colonial, colonial and modern architecture of that remarkable country. But none of it, and nothing humans have ever made, even Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, the Saturn 5 rockets which took man to the moon, none of this come close to the wonder of existence of life on this planet, and the seemingly infinite varieties of living things that we share the Earth with. In Mexico we saw coatimundis, raccoons, turtles, tortoises, tropical fish, all in their natural environment, alongside wonderful types of birds, including a hummingbird less than a meter from my face. And that’s without covering the many types of cacti, palm trees, fruits that we saw every day.

You don’t have to go to Mexico to get this emotional bond with our fellow life forms. We have deer, foxes, robins, blackbirds, bluebells, hills, mountains, locks, burns, firths, seas and a hundred more forms of beauty almost at our fingertips.

But you have to be outdoors to connect. If you’re not outdoors you don’t experience connection with the wider world of life. That absence harms your mental health. It robs you, starves you of joy, of appreciation, of compassion for life.

Living mindfully is not just about noticing the maverick and often self-harming creations of the mind. It is about noticing what we have evolved to love about life, and much of this is about the world outside our doors. And it’s not just about noticing what we love. It’s about noticing that we are actually enjoying it, and in noticing this, determine to make the most of it.

Why watch a robin in your garden for ten seconds then rush off to do something inconsequential because it just happens to pop up in your mind, when you could linger with the robin for another ten, twenty, thirty seconds. This is communing with nature. This is you being more fully alive, being part of the much wider panoply of existence of which we are but a tiny part.

Life is a temporary matter so enjoy it while you have it.