Seeking Nature Healing

I don't know about you, but I have had a VERY busy spring—at work and at home—with multiple family members in need of support and medical care. And like any normal human, I sometimes hit my caregiving LIMIT and am just simply grumpy and ungrateful. When this happens, I pretty much write my own prescription, with the help and assistance of my friends and family (and especially my wonderful husband). I need to be alone and in nature—with less of the civilized world I manage on the regular (e-mail, texts, social media, phone calls, and traffic) and more birdsong, trees, flowing water and sky. I have been lucky enough this summer to climb Cone Mountain in Big Sur on summer solstice with my daughter, Eliana, and to retreat on the slow coast recently, with long hikes in the woods and mountains.

Setting summer solstice sun

Setting summer solstice sun

I had planned to spend 2 weeks in Africa this month, on a walking safari with other women, but chose to stay here when my son suffered a head injury surfing, and I wanted to be close by for his care. He is recovering well, but once he was on the mend, I “hit the wall” emotionally last week and was sent into the wilderness for retreat by my sweet husband. It was just what I needed. I really got it that this beautiful chosen land that I live in, can heal me as deeply as any land in the world. The redwoods, rivers, mountains and ocean all speak deeply to my soul. And I am not alone in this.

Seeing and being a part of nature benefits the human animal immensely. I have been discussing this in my public talks recently, and the research clearly shows that the human experience improves—on all levels—when we are in nature. Below is a list of research proven benefits of seeing or experiencing nature, even something as simple as a tree in the sidewalk of a city.

1. Increased self-esteem

2. Improved mood

3. Reduced anger/frustration

4. Psychological well-being

5. Reduced anxiety

6. Improved behavior

7. Attentional restoration

8. Reduced mental fatigue

9. Improved academic performance

10. Education/learning opportunities

11. Improved ability to perform tasks

12. Improved cognitive function in children

13. Improved productivity 

14. Increased inspiration 

15. Increased spiritual well-being 

16. Stress reduction

17. Reduced blood pressure

18. Reduced cortisol levels

19.  Reduced headaches

20. Reduced mortality rates from circulatory disease 

13. Faster healing

14. Addiction recovery

15. Perceived health/well-being 

16. Reduced cardiovascular, respiratory disease and long-term illness

17. Reduced occurrence of illness 

18. Facilitated social interaction

19. Enables social empowerment

20. Reduced crime rates

21. Reduced violence 

22. Enables interracial interaction

23. Social cohesion

24. Social support 

Big Sur wildflowers

Big Sur wildflowers

Even looking at photos of nature can have a calming and joyful effect. I grew up in southern Illinois adjacent to a small woods, and my early spirituality bloomed among the plants, turtles, birds and wildflowers of that place. As a woman in midlife, I find myself returning to the things that gave me solace and inspiration as a child. I want to bring the sacred healing power of nature into my spirituality in an organized way. I am now doing something I’ve wanted to do for some time—to take my personal spiritual experiences in the many traditions that I love: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Paganism and tribal religions, and to create a practice that is fundamentally linked to the cycles of the earth and is uniquely mine. To draw on metaphor and insight from this time in history and to be led by the wisdom of my own body and my deep nature connection, to create ritual and practice that speak to my heart. I’m not looking to start a religion or anything... just wanting to deepen my experience of divinity in the ways that speak to me. I am starting with a practice based on the cycle of the moon, and incorporating immersion, or ‘mikvah’, in the Jewish tradition, on the new moon.

Those of you who have known me a long time may remember that I wrote my masters thesis many moons ago, on the modern use of mikvah for Jewish women. I'm enjoying tracing those early roots of mine again and we'll see how it goes! I’m using the ritual to help plant transformation in the fields of my consciousness, so that I can be more present, more kind (especially to myself), and more able to be of service in the world. I am also committing to a daily spiritual practice for the next 60 days (feel free to hold me to it!) and leaning into less judgment—the concept that one moment (say, charting or answering e-mail or doing dishes) is not necessarily better than another (playing volleyball, drinking a beer—you get my drift). That being present for life in all of her unfolding is all I've got—all any of us have—and I am cultivating my presence and ease with all of it.

I hope you, too, can find solace, inspiration and healing in the power of the natural world this summer. And that you feel yourself not separate from nature, but an important and intrinsic part of it. Healing ourselves requires healing the earth. And healing the earth requires that we heal our human frailty. There has never been a better time to be alive and to come together to heal ourselves and our planet.

Keniger, L. E., Gaston, K. J., Irvine, K. N., & Fuller, R. A. (2013). What are the benefits of interacting with nature?. International journal of environmental research and public health