Updated: Nov 4, 2021
“We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So, when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection with ourselves.”- Andy Goldsworthy
I’m no stranger to the healing properties of the natural world, though I must admit, it took me years to realize how nature’s ability to heal played a role in my own life. My first encounter with nature as a primary healer dates back to 2007. As with most good stories, my own story started with a broken version of myself. I was shattered mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s rare any of us walk through this life unscathed, as we all have seasons of heartache. Mine, like many, seemed to arrive all at once.
In fact, since my own realization that nature is good for our mental and physical well-being, a great deal of research and books have emerged on this topic. In addition, scientific and observational research on this very topic have gained a great deal of attention over the last decade.
My relocation to Switzerland proved to be the anecdote for what ailed me. Spending weekends hiking local trails or in the Alps reminded me of who I once was. Being immersed in nature took my mind off of the pain. Moving my body on gorgeous trails ignited gratitude into my being and brought appreciation for the simple realization that I was happy to be alive. Witnessing the beauty of the natural world allowed me to feel washed in the presence of all those I had lost. Little did I know, that each time I put on my hiking boots, I was feeding a bit more of my soul, honoring those who had passed and breathing into my new existence. In fact, all of that time spent on the trail shaped the person I have become and the family I have raised.
Throughout the last fourteen years, I have become keenly aware of how nature has propelled my own healing and the healing of those I know. I have witnessed it time and time again. Whether it be a deep conversation with someone I just met about their own healing journey, or watching a dear friend of mine make a remarkable comeback after enduring a grueling cancer diagnosis. Just a short time after surgery and chemo, she readied herself for a treacherous trek to the Alps. I have come to realize her need for that trip, those mountains, that air as a way to help heal a part of her. I empathize with how much effort that must have taken and how getting back to the Alps one last time, gave her back a piece of herself that had been missing throughout her laborious treatment. I also understand why many long to have their final resting places in natural settings. Places that are vibrant with color, rich with open landscapes and eternally welcoming.
All of that leads me to my current situation. Recently, I underwent a medical emergency. As a fit, healthy and active woman, this came as a complete shock. After spending a week in the hospital, recovering from major surgery, I needed nature to be present in the confines of my sterile hospital room. I craved the natural world and I longed to be as deeply rooted in nature as possible despite my lack of contact with the outside world. Windows in my hospital room were constantly open, allowing a stream of fresh air to wash over me. Often times, nurses would find me sitting with a chair square in front of the window on a sunny day, soaking up as much sunlight as possible. I felt reptilian in my need for the hot sun and the warmth on my skin. During the day, I would make my usual walks up and down the corridor, stopping frequently to gaze my focus on the newly arriving autumn. The colors drew me in, the smell of the breeze was a mere observation that I almost smelled through the windows of that waiting room. As the night closed in, I would walk again. This time, I would find joy in the setting sun, the magnificent colors that painted the night sky, turning shades to evening with a rising moon and glowing stars. In those moments, I felt less alone and less overwhelmed by the future.
As days slowly passed, I recalled studies I had read about patients fairing much better after having exposure to natural landscapes from their hospital rooms. Nature connects us to something larger than ourselves, so it is seems only logical that it would play a profound role in our healing as well.
As moments idled, I reflected on all the literature I had read and talks I had given about the natural world. The architects who focus on creating hospital designs (North New Zealand Hospital) with an emphasis on healing by providing patients with views of natural settings: trees, plants, blue skies and the changing seasons. Those same architects are also incorporating biophilia into their designs when it comes to classrooms, office buildings, homes and other creative endeavors. We are becoming more aware that a life removed from nature, is a life void of human potential and well - being on all levels.
The books that inform its readers that individuals who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) all do remarkably well in natural settings. Nature not only calms the central nervous system, but it also infuses healing properties. Today, Dr.’s are prescribing, the same way they do with medication, nature time for their patients young and old. The results have been shown to be astounding. Japan has known about the power of nature for quite some time and even coined the phrase, Shinrin Yoku, which translates to forest bathing. Forest bathing is simple and powerful and literally means to spend time, without an agenda in the forest. By fulling taking in nature, nature offers the human body lowered stress levels, creates a mindful sense of well-being and lowers blood pressure. No wonder we always feel better after a stroll in the woods.
The reality is, we need nature, because we are nature. As my own healing journey continues, I remain dedicated to natural spaces. Whether it be on my morning walk along the Rhine that flows close to home, or walking through a vineyard, or a short forest stroll. Nature continues to be cathartic and calming, especially now. I am convinced the more time we spend in the natural world, the healthier and happier we become as humans.
*If you are interested in learning more about the natural world and how it plays a role in healing, I would love to discuss this topic with you further. Please never hesitate to reach out. Take care and thank you for stopping by.