Why does nature have this effect on us?
I take a walk in the woods and thoughts fly off like birds⎼ swallows, crows or chickadees, to be replaced by insights or a beautiful sense of quiet. Or I sit on the beach, by the ocean, and my attention goes to the seemingly infinite space over the water. My whole body seems to move rhythmically with the sound of the waves. Before I was tense, my mind and body racing. Now, as I’m sitting with the ocean, I am comforted. Relaxed.
Why is this?
I’ve used the rain, the sky, the sound of birds and peepers, crickets, and cicadas, the feel of my breath or the air on my face, the seasons, the glow of the moon in the middle of the night or the wind in the middle of the day as doors to meditation, or to calm and slow down enough so I can feel or perceive the world and myself more clearly.
Even an ice storm can evoke a sense of beauty; and the dark clouds of a hurricane can reveal a sense of awe⎼ right alongside the fright.
Being outside in nature or viewing it helps us stay healthy, happier, and recover more easily from illness. We experience less stress and pain and heal quicker in a hospital if our room has windows facing trees, streams, or mountains or there are murals of such scenes painted on the walls.
Something like 170,000 years ago, evolutionary changes like a loss of body hair and a subsequent need for protection from the elements led early humans to clothe themselves. Or maybe it was also for artistic reasons. Maybe as long ago as 400,000 years ago, certainly by the Neolithic Revolution of 12,000 years ago, we began to build homes, shelters from the storm, or from dangerous animals. Later, we began to build walls to protect us from our own species. We then tried to control nature or wall it away, but we couldn’t, so we walled ourselves from nature, or tried to do so.
Likewise, in our personal evolution, so many of us had to wall away traumas that were too much to face at the time or aspects of ourselves we didn’t know how to integrate or accept.
And because of this effort, of walling ourselves from nature or ourselves, the question arose: why is nature⎼ why is what we are walling away so often healing to us, despite the storms, the ice, the fires, and the bears?
Because nature ultimately includes everything. It’s not just trees, beaches, streams, and sky that can comfort us. Almost any aspect of nature can be used as an object for meditation and for calming ourselves, but so can almost anything we perceive. A poem, a work of visual art, a person, pet, park bench, building, a piece of paper, a question. We can use the mere act of looking to help us see more clearly, or a moment of fear to study how we construct emotions. The key is to find what comforts us….
**If you’d like more information on any of the practices referred to in this piece, click on any of the links provided, and, if possible, find a reliable and experienced teacher, therapist, mentor to be a guide.
***To read the whole blog, please click on the link to The Good Men Project.