In our modern world of advanced technology, fast-paced living, and continuous stimulation of images and information, it is easy to become disconnected from our own inner state of being as well as our connection to the natural world.
As natural beings, we are not meant to remain indoors as much as we do, staring at electronic screens of one sort or another for the majority of our waking hours. Our senses widen and awaken when we spend time outdoors. The sights and sounds of nature, exposure to sunlight, gentle breezes, fresh air, the swaying of trees and flowing of water, and standing in the moonlight under a canopy of stars are not only good for our body, but perform an integral requirement for a healthy spirit. It reminds us we are a part of something immeasurable, that we have a place in this natural world, that we are connected to everything.
“Forest Bathing” is a practice where people go into the woods for short walks and fully engage their senses in a mindful way during the experience. Science is showing this can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost mood and the immune system. Spending time in a natural environment helps us to slow down to more natural rhythms within our body and to clear our mind of daily chatter as well.
These are all very important and useful things, but what of our sense of connection to the natural world? Our population is expanding in an exponential manner, and with finite resources on the planet, there is cause for concern. Add to that rising temperatures, extinction of whole species, polluted air, water and soil, loss of bees for pollination, and we are looking at an impending crisis of great magnitude if we do not make changes now. We need to understand that each of us has an impact on the earth. How we use our resources, over-consumerism, wastefulness and lack of care and concern for the plants and animals and the environment as a whole does not just negatively impact others, it impacts us all. We must be mindful as to the absolute need for a clean and healthy planet, and how we impact it on a daily basis. And so too, we must look at the choices we make for our own selves, how we treat our own natural resource, our body, and be thoughtful as to how we honor it by the choices we make.
Nature is also a teacher. Through connecting with the natural world around us, we not only learn about the wonders of the world, but about ourselves as well. When I look at a tree that has been ravaged by storms but continues to live, twisted and scarred, how can I not see myself? How it needs to be flexible but strong, how it needs to be both grounded for nourishment but also reach up into the sky in order to thrive, how it depends on the trees around it for support in order to be strong, or how it supports other life. When it drops its leaves in the fall, I am reminded about the necessity to let things go, in the stillness of winter I am reminded of the importance of silence and going within, in the spring, new beginnings, and in summer, abundance. With eyes of light, we look upon the world and see it, really see it, and all that it has to offer our understanding of interconnectedness and of our own personal growth. Cycles of life and death, how diversity is not only healthy, but necessary for the world, and how all has its place, are reminders of what has seemingly been forgotten. How do these lessons show up in our lives, how do we bring these lessons into the world, how do they change us and how we interact with others and the world around us?
Nature is my refuge, it always has been. I can enter it with a troubled heart, but always leave it at peace. My favorite places are where water and earth meet. There is something about the contrast between the soft fluidity of water and the firmness of the earth, and how they balance each other, how that place is always in transition as one force works with the other. Life is not static, it is always in flux, and so it is in nature. Whenever I go to the water, I plunge my hands in and give thanks, acknowledging the essentialness of it, and how all life depends on it. And as an artist, I am always painting when I am in nature. Not literally, of course, but with my eyes, noting textures, colors, the play of light, relationships, form, and most importantly, the story of life in all of its flourishing , change, and connectedness.
How can one not be in awe and wonder at all that nature has to offer, and how can we then turn that knowledge towards ourselves and see our own gifts and blessings? I look up at a starlit sky and am reminded of my place in this world, even the place of our world in the universe. This “pale blue dot” is just a grain of sand on an endless beach, but here we are, getting all uptight about things that should not even be an issue. We may be floating in endless space on a grain of sand, but our lives matter. Each of us on this planet, every soul, all connected by the air we breathe, the water that sustains us, the earth we stand on and live off of, we all matter, and the choices we make every day make a difference.
So go outside, breathe the air, feel it fill your lungs, remember that the air you breathe out is taken in by the plants, and they in turn give you back the oxygen needed for each breath. Listen to the birds, the peepers at night singing, and know you are part of this grand symphony. Walk in your bare feet and know that this earth is supporting you, and how you must protect it and all that lives on it. Take a drink of water and know that the same water has been on this planet for millions of years, returning again and again as it cycles through you, the earth, the sky, and back again. Go outside, and find yourself.