Connecting to nature and to yourself
What is nature to you? Not only impassable wilderness, dense forests, untouched bays, bottomless lakes and snow-covered mountain peaks are nature.
Forests, gardens, parks, balconies, potted plants in the window sill, a flower bursting through the asphalt on the pavement and the wind touching your face are also parts of nature.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question about what nature is to you. The relevant matter is finding the kind of nature where you feel recharged, nourished and comforted - a place to be energised and to connect with the inner and outer world.
Finding your nature path
If you are not sure what kind of nature works for you, try different approaches. A stroll in the park, a restful moment by a pond or walking through fallen, dry leaves. Where do you feel your breathing calm down and slow down stressful or spinning thoughts?
Mental Health Foundation states that ‘For many of us though, 'being in nature’ may not be as easy as it sounds.’ In the article Our top tips on connecting with nature to improve your mental health the organisation shares ideas on how to connect to nature.
TRVST shares 19 Ways to Connect with Nature. The tips invite us to use our senses together with the opportunity to bring creativity, relaxation, reading, writing and presence in the present to support a bond with nature.
I was 43 years old when I realised that living near mountains, rivers and wilderness is essential - to me. On returning to Denmark after a year in New Zealand, I had a sense of grief at not living in these landscapes anymore, and in retrospect I began to understand why I had felt out of place in my home country. This initiated my move to Scotland where I’m fortunate to have found work, friends and my partner.
In a chaotic and violent world where countless people and nations face the horrors of war, famine and persecution, I’m humbled by my privileged position to be able to move to a country because its nature resonates with me.
Diving into techniques
Your relationship with nature is shaped by you. Finding a stream to put my feet in is one of my personal favourites. This often involves a walk through areas with a mixture of different tree species, another of my favourites. Walking outside your front door, closing your eyes and listening to birds in the neighbourhood for 10 min. could be your technique to recharge for the next Zoom meeting.
If you want to explore and develop nature connections further, there are various methods to follow. One is the Japanese concept of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku). The introduction from Forestry England explains the core of the practice, ‘The simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply.’
Research, published at the Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine journal in 2010, indicates the health benefits,
‘The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.’
(‘The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan’). In other words, forest bathing helps your body to relax and calm signs of stress.
There are several reasons why spending time in nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health. The Surefoot article Eco-distress - how to respond states, ‘One of the reasons we experience eco-distress is that we feel disconnected from the natural world and our ability to influence or manage the situation.’
By connecting to nature, eco-distress can be eased. Connecting to nature with writing and reading can strengthen the senses toward nature. Via the British Association for Holistic Medicine & Health Care (BHMA) you can free of charge download their magazine issue Nature Connections, which includes the article Your world in words: connecting to oneself and nature.
Together with social work lecturer Ann Hodson, I wrote the article about how my workshop, using creative writing and shared reading which has nature and the natural world at its core, can support vulnerable groups. We concluded that it can benefit individuals, helping them to engage in reflection and enjoy connecting with nature.
Since the way we talk about nature reflects our connection with nature, it is also worth mentioning the discipline of ecolinguistics. It’s defined by The International Ecolinguistics Association as,
‘Ecolinguistics explores the role of language in the life-sustaining interactions of humans, other species and the physical environment. The first aim is to develop linguistic theories which see humans not only as part of society, but also as part of the larger ecosystems that life depends on.’ The free online course The Stories We Live By provides insight into how we connect with nature in everyday life and on a societal level.
Connections. Healthy, happy connections are what we need to thrive as individuals and as part of communities. Matsuo Basho (1644-94) became a renowned haiku master and managed to embrace both the connection to the natural elements as well as the joy of sharing these experiences with others, as in this haiku from the book On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho:
Together let’s eat
ears of wheat,
share a grass pillow.
Nature connection builds resilience
May efforts and joy in creating and developing nature connections inspire others to do the same. Hopefully will these gentle steps contribute to the bigger picture towards a just and resilient world. RSPB’s article Connection to nature not only points to the benefits for individual well-being and health, but also to benefits that go in the other direction; from people to nature,
‘Research shows that people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats.’
The methods to connect to nature are many. Do you have a story about your nature connection you would like to share via Surefoot? Perhaps with ideas on how this contributes to a healthier community? Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a chat.
Text and photo by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate
A piece of blank paper. It’s taken out of a packaging which states about the content, “A4, 500 sheets, FSC®Certified EU Eco label Recycled 100%, 80 gsm, 150 CIE.” Neither does it say magic nor time machine in the description, even though clearly everything can happen on a piece of paper.
Your point of origin
If you think about an event in your life when you were 7 years old it can take you to that very moment. Descriptions of surroundings, touch, smell, taste and dialogues create the portal activating your personal time machine. How you feel in this instant can be expressed on paper with words, drawings, paintings, mind maps or with music notes. Likewise, plans and sketches of everything from gardening, video making, sculptures to the community you dream of can be a building bricks for the future on a piece of paper.
Processing feelings and creating envisaged solutions
Climate change has an unquestionable effect on our lives. Our (lost) connection to nature is not only to be decoded in state of the world information available in graphs and statistics including species loss, increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere. How to express ecological grief, climate grief, any sadness experienced due to the loss caused by environmental destruction or climate change? Artistic expression can be one of many ways to face one’s emotions.
“Our response to this crisis may vary: from measured expressions of hope through to feelings of despair. Art is one way of articulating and processing these feelings and of sharing envisaged solutions,” states the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The Trust is behind the Health and the Climate and Ecological Emergency Exhibition website which displays submissions in different media such as painting, photography, print, sculpture, performance and video.
The article, The art exploring the truth about how climate change began shows us that art can also bring insight about the causes and effects of climate change. This exhibition looks into the roots of global warming and how it impacts the developing world. It points out a link between the world's environmental issues, colonialism and slavery.
Resilient narratives and creative steps for the future
There are several creative, artistic tools available to us when wanting to go towards more sustainable living. Here’s a few on our list.
At Surefoot we work with communities and individuals to strive towards net zero, promote low-carbon living and climate justice, build resilience and support mindful consumption. We often bring creative tools into our workshops when inviting participants to explore and share feelings and ideas. Please contact Surefoot if you would like to know more.
To decode narratives as well as creating new stories about the natural world you might find the free online course in ecolinguistics funded by the University of Gloucestershire useful.
“Ecolinguistics provides tools for revealing the stories we live by, questioning them from an ecological perspective, and contributing to the search for new stories to live by.”
The Scottish Communities Climate Action Network has created a Storyteller Collective. Please enjoy the first of a two-part short story ‘The Egg Hunter’ by Surefoot’s Gazelle Buchholtz, a story with a futuristic view into recovering what is first believed lost.
Poems are known to evoke feelings and to make it possible to connect to oneself and surroundings. How does the poem ‘Kinship’ by Ursula Le Guin affect you?
Please contact Surefoot if you would like to share any piece of magic which you find supportive in the ecological emergency.
Eco-language in Action
We benefit from varied landscapes with space for myriads of species - each living with a role to play. Being engrossed in such a rich environment can be both soothing and stimulating. Likewise, the International Conference on Ecolinguistics in April was a life-giving boost. The three days were packed with knowledge sharing on tackling real-world issues equipped with Ecolinguistics which is a term describing the connection between environment and language in a broad sense - Eco-language. The wide range of experiences based on activism, art, campaigning, education, research and studies on ways of expression, underlined that through these activities we can strengthen the life-sustaining interactions for all the beings on the planet and the planet itself. Ecolinguistics can support humans to connect with other-than-human nature.
Pam and Gazelle from Surefoot both delivered workshops. 'Using the tools of Nature to Breakthrough for Resilience' was one of the workshops, and is rooted in one of our European projects - a new element in the Eco-language tool box.
Interested in knowing more?
1) Free online course Stories we Live by about Ecolinguistics. The course is funded by the University of Gloucestershire for public benefit.
2) Check out what Surefoot offers to equip people, communities and organisations with skills for sustainability and resilience.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.
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