Nature is something that needs little defining as we already have a deeply ingrained sense of what nature is. In fact, take a moment, close your eyes and in your mind’s eye go to the place that the word ‘nature’ takes you. Perhaps it is a forest, a meadow, the beach, a mountain trail, near a river or lake, a jungle, the tundra. Perhaps it is a flower, a seed, a fruit, the sound of rain, the coolness of snow, a bird, a majestic animal, the grass in your yard, the leaves on a tree, or a beautiful butterfly fluttering by. Nature can invigorate all of our senses, through visuals, physical sensations, sounds, tastes and smells. In reality almost anything can be nature, since we ourselves are nature. You are nature. There is a theory known as the biophilia hypothesis which indicates that humans have a deep biological need to connect with nature. E.O.Wilson, a biologist explained further that because humans evolved in nature, we are connected and comfortable in nature, therefore it is literally in our very DNA to love the natural world. We are inherently programmed to love, seek, and to appreciate nature around us.
As humans we are nature down to our smallest elements, even if sometimes we let ourselves forget. For example, a simple dynamic spiral can be found in so many aspects of nature. We can find the dynamic spiral in tree stems, mollusk shells, tusks of narwhals and elephants, rose petals, spiral galaxies in the solar system and on the double helix coils of our very own DNA. Think of a tree, a tree is often part of a community or a forest just like how we as individuals are also part of a community. A tree has all its own components, roots, stem, branches, needles, cones, inner core, outer bark, sap, it appears completely self-sufficient. A single person also can appear self-sufficient by way of acquiring ways to gather its own wants and needs. What is noticeable is that both a tree and a persons’ self-sufficiency come from having a network connecting of all its members more or less constantly. Are we really that different than the trees, the flowers, the insects, the animals, then the whole of nature?
How does one deepen or practice their connection with nature? Honestly, the ways in which we can connect are endless, and no one way is more effective than another. There is no recipe, or one size fits all on how to connect with nature. You may even find that your connection may feel deeper at different times of the year, in different physical locations, or even through different stages in your life. What is important is to give yourself the space to exist and acknowledge your part in the way nature forms around you.
In todays’ busy world of societal demands, it is possible to feel disconnected from nature. Rest assured, that since you are already nature, nature is never very far away. To be a lover of nature you do not need to have a garage full of expensive gear, travel to far-away lands across the world, climb the largest mountain or seek elusive animals. If you have five minutes or five weeks to dedicate to surrounding yourself with nature, it is enough. Find a place which works for you, whether it is your apartment balcony, your front yard, a close trail or an amazing national park, remember nature is literally everywhere. Spend that time connected, using your senses, observe what is happening around you no matter how big or small. Being in nature and allowing yourself to be present can reduce anxiety, provide clarity of thought, and can re-connect you with your true self.
To amplify nature’s amazing detoxifying effects, it is best to do it as unplugged as possible. If leaving your iPhone at home or in your vehicle is not an option, try placing your phone on airplane mode, or even turned off in your pocket or bag. Try taking the headphones out of your ears, leave space to listen the crunching of the leaves beneath your feet, the sound of the raindrops, the birdsong. Disconnect to the constant stimulation of the smartphone, give yourself the gift of full guilt-free attention to your surroundings. If taking photos while exploring gives you joy for further review or to share with others, ensure you do not get caught only seeing nature from behind a lens. Let your actual eyes take in the beauty, the colours, the textures, or even to notice how quickly things like animals can move. There is a plethora of nature related applications which can be an amazing addition to adventuring, but try and not let these limit your experience. If walking or exploring in nature alone does not make you feel safe or exciting enough try inviting a friend, child or a leashed dog with you.
There is always a way to get outside and get connected. Joining a new hobby group such as gardening, foraging, birding, water activities, hiking, and biking can be a great way to re-ignite your connection to nature. If you have an active lifestyle perhaps consider moving portions of your daily physical activity routine to the outdoors. Try to not let weather dictate whether you participate in a nature experience or not. If the conditions are not favourable, consider trying something a little different, start gathering technical gear to remove weather barriers, watch a nature documentary, listen to a nature podcast, listen to nature inspired music. Mary Oliver wrote “attention is the beginning of devotion”. Your connection to nature allows you to develop a passion and to care enthusiastically about its condition. We protect what we care about, and sharing makes it bigger.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes by John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. Take your time with nature and leave the space for its teachings. Remember you are nature, you are connected.