Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. — John Muir
Have you ever experienced the stunning silence of freshly fallen snow?
Discerned the enchanting call of distant birdsong? Stood awestruck at the edge of the ocean at sunset or dawn? If you have, you know that for those few moments—no matter what was going on in your life or whether you were concerned about your health, family, work or your bills—nothing else mattered. You were momentarily ‘lost’ in the experience of the natural world. Or, perhaps, you were found in that moment.
Eckhart Tolle, a well-known spiritual teacher, speaks of nature as a portal; an opening into a peace and stillness that can remind us of our own sacred essence. No matter what appears to be happening in our life, there is a deeper, richer experience that awaits us when we step into the natural world.
A world in which, when our minds are quiet enough, we recognize our connectedness with all things.
When we spend time in nature, when we feel the wind in our hair, the salty ocean mist on our face, or lie on the grass and gaze up at the starry vastness above, our mind grows quiet and calm. We experience a natural sense of peace and contentment. We experience ourselves.
In that peaceful frame of mind where there is no upset, no fear, no sickness, our ‘whole being’ relaxes and expands; we release stress—one of the primary causes of ill health.
The healing benefits of nature have sparked interest in psychology circles, too.
From GoodTherapy.org, “Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy or green therapy, is the applied practice of the emergent field of ecopsychology… Ecotherapy, in many cases, stems from the belief that people are part of the web of life and that our psyches are not isolated or separate from our environment.”
“In one study conducted by psychologist Terry Hartig, participants were asked to complete a 40-minute cognitive task designed to induce mental fatigue. Following the task, participants were randomly assigned 40 minutes of time, in one of three conditions: walking in a nature preserve, walking in an urban area, or sitting quietly while reading magazines and listening to music. Participants who had walked in the nature preserve reported less anger and more positive emotions than those who engaged in the other activities. In a similar study conducted by Mind, a mental health charity organization, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of participants, compared to only 45% of those who took a walk through a shopping center.”
“Many other studies help to demonstrate the positive effects of nature on both physical and mental health. Studies have shown, for example, that children who live in buildings with a nearby green space may have a greater capacity for paying attention, delaying gratification, and inhibiting impulses than children who live in buildings surrounded by concrete. Children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) display fewer symptoms after spending time in a green environment than when they spend time indoors or in non-green outdoor environments. The addition of flowers and plants to a workplace can positively affect creativity, productivity, and flexible problem solving, while the presence of animals may reduce aggression and agitation among children and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.”
In reality, we don’t need scientists or therapists to tell us that spending time in nature is of great benefit, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
All we really need to do is take a walk in the woods, see a bluebird (there are several drinking at our heated birdbath right now!), or feel the warmth of the sun on our skin to know that we simply feel better. Our perspective changes and we just feel more alive.
The great challenges in today’s world are 1) our attention spans are so short and our to-do lists so long, that we rarely remember to take a timeout in the natural world, and 2) our minds are so captivated by the screens in our hands, that we fail to notice the world around us; natural or otherwise. In our rush to do, do, do, we have forgotten how to simply be. When we do take that time, we realize that there is a healthier, warmer, more enlivening experience just beyond the office door.
So, no matter what you may be involved in, I hope you will take a few minutes right now and glance out the window. Better yet, step outside. Sit in the sun for a moment. Take off your shoes and let the grass tickle your toes. Let nature have your full attention.
Let nature heal what ails you.