I have been thinking a lot about nature and our connection to it but also our ability to learn about ourselves through our attention to nature and all that is natural. Musing about how we are affected by being in the presence of nature brings so much to mind. I find that I breathe differently and perhaps more calmly yet more deeply when I am surrounded by trees or by bodies of water. The natural flow of nature and in nature and the cycles so evident within nature provide us with reminders of our ability to progress and grow and to recognize the natural cycles that we pass through as a matter of course as we journey throughout our lifetimes. By observing the interrelationships that exist in nature we can get a better understanding of our connections and their importance for our survival as humans.
I believe that our connections with nature are important for our well-being, for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Acknowledging the vastness of the environment gives us a sense that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. This in turn can lead to an expanded sense of identity within that larger context and a corresponding expansion in our compassion for all things both human and non-human.
Being restricted in our access to nature is also telling. If we are able to pay attention to the loss we suffer from a limited experience with all that is natural we may seek it out and thus benefit from being within it. However if we have never had that experience of being in nature we may be completely unaware and not realize our loss. If for example we are born, raised and continue to exist within the concrete jungles that are our cities we may have had very restricted contact with nature. Yes cities have parks and tree-lined boulevards but being within a forest or upon a body of water provides a very different feel. Being surrounded by concrete and glass impacts our breathing patterns and our overall sense of well-being. Over time we may begin to believe that this is natural.
I have had the luxury of having many experiences with being in natural settings at the same time as living in the convenience of cities. As a child I lived in a suburban community that was in its infancy stage. I only needed to walk a few blocks or take a very short bike ride to get to the nearest open fields, forests and family operated farms. Exploring in those fields and forests, making up games of hide and seek, raiding huge vegetable gardens (perhaps that is why I am now tolerant of the people who raid my community garden plot) and just generally having fun in natural settings was an almost daily occurrence. We were also lucky enough to take regular trips to the small town where my grandparents lived and had countless opportunities to be in the thick of nature both flora and fauna. Going to my Baba’s friends’ farm to pick raspberries and kill some chickens that would then become a delicious dinner was an adventure I loved. This was topped off with vacations where all five of us plus the grandparents would load into the car and travel the wilds of Alberta and British Columbia. I have continued to pursue activities that get me into the thick of nature.
My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is dependent on my link with nature and spending time in natural settings. I recall an experience a few years ago which illustrated the importance of this connection for me. I was staying within the downtown core of a city for a two week workshop. The days were long and most of my time was spent in a concrete building or walking on the concrete sidewalks along the concrete road to and from the workshop and where I was staying in a concrete building. The workshop involved physical activity which kept my energy up but that apparently was not enough. A little over a week into the workshop while in one of the breaks I blurted out “can someone point me in the direction of the nearest piece of grass or a garden?” I was obviously sensing a void related to being away from anything green. Luckily I was pointed in the right direction and was able to sit beside a tiny garden hidden behind another huge concrete building and that was enough for me to return to sense of balance.
I wondered what we might achieve if we as a society valued our connection with nature. What if we broadened our exposure to nature and increased the time we spend within it, would we also improve our health and well-being? What if we paid attention to the learnings from nature about the importance of connections for our well-being and our survival? I think I know the answer to these questions but nonetheless will explore them in more depth in future posts.
Irene McDermott © 2012