We're part of nature, and we should embrace it. An occasional walk in the rain, letting yourself get wet on purpose, is a secular ritual that will remind you of the deep connection we all have to nature.

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It’s been a wet and gloomy April in New York. Earlier in the month, there were a few days of sunny warmth and blue sky—a brief tease of summer—and then the mercury dropped. Since then, it’s been an unbroken stretch of cold, gray, foggy weather and relentless rain.

It’s tempting to think of a rainy day as wasted, to assume that rain ruins whatever outdoor plans you had. I felt that way at first. However, that attitude isn’t mandatory. After several days of drizzle, I realized that I was letting myself be disappointed for nothing. So, on a wet afternoon, I laced up my boots, put on my coat, and went out to walk in the rain.

Unwanted wildness

We like nature to be neat and orderly. We treat it as something to be kept at bay, to be controlled. The way we design our cities is proof of that. Rather than living in harmony with the natural world, we bulldoze the land flat, pave it smooth, and build over it. We push nature to the margins and the interstices—the cracks and neglected places where weeds can get a foothold. (And what is a weed, anyway, other than a plant growing where humans don’t want it to grow?)

In the city, we have tiny windowbox gardens hemmed in by concrete and brick. The trees on our sidewalks are confined to small squares cut from the pavement and screened with fences and metal grates. Those of us who have lawns mow them to keep them short and neat as a crewcut. Some people trim their bushes into geometric shapes that never occur in nature.

Rain offends this mentality because it isn’t neat or tidy. It’s nature in its wild guise, in a form that can’t be corralled. It falls everywhere, on civilized and the wild places alike. When there’s enough of it, it overwhelms gutters and storm drains and floods the streets. It has its own rhythms and cycles that pay no heed to our convenience or our comfort. It reminds us that the world isn’t ours to control.

Perhaps because of this unwelcome reminder, most people huddle indoors when the weather is bad. I’ll admit, there’s something pleasurable and cozy about watching rain beat on the windows from inside. The sound of rainfall is a soothing white noise, and watching streaks of water run down the glass is the visual equivalent. If you’ve got a comfy space to sit and watch the rain with a mug of something steaming hot in hand, so much the better.

However, sometimes we can all use a little wildness in our lives. There’s value in experiencing nature directly, without the intermediaries of roofs and walls. It’s good to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, at least a little.

How to walk in the rain

If you’re inclined to take my advice, here’s how to go about it.

Obviously, you shouldn’t wear your nicest outfit. Getting wet is the whole point. You’ll need sturdy shoes, a good coat if you have one, and old, comfortable clothes. You can bring an umbrella if you want, but it’s not necessary.

Why isn’t it necessary? The secret is, rain doesn’t hurt you. Contrary to what Victorian novelists believed, bad weather can’t make you sick. Your fingers might wrinkle, you might feel cold or clammy, your clothes might cling uncomfortably to your body, your shoes might get muddy; but no harm results. If anything, it’s positively good for you.

Walking in the rain is an affirmation of strength and vitality. Like lifting weights, it’s a way to voluntarily challenge yourself. The wind whistles and lashes at you. The rain pelts your skin, drips from your hair and runs down your face. Water reveals the topography of the land: every low point becomes a little stream, or a shallow pond. You have to hurdle these, or splash through them, whatever you prefer. Either way, you’re using your body, stretching your limbs and testing your balance.

Walking in the rain is a gift for those of us who appreciate solitude. You might meet another brave soul, or you might see cars hurtle by in curtains of mist; but for the most part, when you walk in the rain, the world is yours and yours alone. For people who live in crowded cities, it’s a rare pleasure.

Walking in the rain will wake up your senses. You can feel the percussion of the rain on your skin and hear it in your ears. You can smell the freshness of the breeze, the earthy aroma of petrichor. Human noses are extremely attuned to this scent; we’re more sensitive to it than sharks are to blood. You can almost sense the water trickling down through earth and roots, like an invitation calling dormant seeds to wake. You can even taste it, if you catch a raindrop on your tongue.

Think like a tree

If you learn to think like a tree, you’ll appreciate it all the more. There’s joy in how plants embrace the rain. After a storm passes, they shimmer with life. Their dripping leaves seem to pop out. Their colors get especially vivid, a kaleidoscope of green in every hue and shade. It’s an exercise in seeing things from nature’s point of view.

Walking in the rain will make you feel alive. You’ll never be more present in the moment than when you’re dripping wet, your muscles hot with exertion, your skin steaming with body heat. You’ll feel more in tune with nature, like moss and mushrooms are growing on you.

In those moments, it’s like you’re part of the natural cycle. You’re resonating with that water: water that cascaded off a mountain miles distant, pouring over rocks in an arctic torrent; water that came from the tropics, that evaporated from ocean waves and tidal pools under a hot sun. The rain falling on you is one small tributary of the great endless river that circles the world, nurturing all life before returning to whence it came.

By allowing the rain to fall on you, you’re reinforcing our deep connection to nature. It’s a kind of secular spiritual practice, a nonbeliever’s ritual which reminds us that we’re not separate or above the world, but very much a part of it.

Last of all, walking in the rain will give you a deeper appreciation for the comforts of civilization. Most of us are fortunate enough to own more than one set of clothes. When you’re done with your walk, you can return to your warm home, towel yourself off, take off your wet things and change into dry ones.

Nothing will make you appreciate being warm and dry again more than coming in out of the rain. It’s a luxurious feeling that’s all the more enjoyable for being truly earned. It will remind you that many generations of our ancestors weren’t so privileged, so we should take care not to overlook the good things in our life or take them for granted.

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...