2021 MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT: The Subtle Healing Power of Nature
For National Outdoors Month, we want to remind you of the accessible healing power of nature.
It feels a little silly to write about ‘ways nature has proven to heal’, when we all know it heals; it’s a system we are a creature of, something we are inextricable from (although some technologies make it seem scarily so), and the OG provider of medicine for the body and soul.
In recent years we’ve seen the rise of ‘ecotherapy’ or ‘nature therapy’, with programs ranging from animal assisted therapy, adventure therapy or conservation projects, but experiencing the healing power of nature is sometimes as simple as tuning in (and out) while outside.
A Story of Subtle Healing
A few weeks ago, my partner and I got some tomatillos in the ground. The seed germination in the green house was great, and they seemed ready for the earth. We prepped the row. Then measured the holes. Added fertilizer. Counted the plants we needed. One by one we tucked ‘em in, and slowly moved down the row.
Somehow during that process, not one of my other daily responsibilities, desires, or concerns crossed my mind. I was pulling weeds. Then I was counting. I was moving. I was making sure those little guys were all supported. I was present – and then, “Oh wow, just planted a whole row of tomatillos. Awesome.”; the zen crept right on in.
After we transplanted, there was some unusually late cold weather, and then a few weeks with all too much rain and barely any sun. The result was some nice strong stalks, ready to hold up all the tomatillos we could dream of. Now they’ve got their flowers and some big ole green husks have formed.
Every time I look around, I swear they grow a foot and it makes me so proud and excited. Here are these tomatillos, who went through some crazy winds and were a little bent out of shape, but they got through it and decided they were going to be strong, try to stand up a little straighter and start getting ready for the future! How big were they when they started? Yup, just a little itty bitty seed. And what are they going to make?! Dozens of delicious and juicy tomatillos the size of baseballs.
What does this have to do with healing? Planting the tomatillos, planting anything, can help quiet your mental state or even be a form of meditation. Whenever I’m planting, non-thinking seems to happen organically and then I walk away feeling clear and focused. Don’t get me wrong, not EVERY time, but existing with ego is what it is.
When I watched the tomatillos grow, I was offered a metaphor to help me reflect on life. Yeah, it might seem like a juvenile metaphor to have strength and look to the future during heavy weather, but nature has a way of boiling things down to simple terms. I mean, if this plant that started out as this miniscule green seedling can turn into something so grand after some bad weather, certainly I can, too.
By planting and nurturing a garden with the rhythms of nature, you come to find many mental cobwebs clear themselves out, so whether you’re battling depression, managing anxiety, or just looking to quiet your monkey mind, give one of these simple activities a try for some healing.
Simple Practices to Experience the Healing of Nature
Buy a succulent, put some herbs in your window, start some raised beds or join a community garden.
If you’re looking to tap into the healing power of nature- start by growing something (anything). Even if you’re not home a lot, don’t have space for a garden or don’t have much time on your hands – there’s something for you.
You could start with a low maintenance succulent or get some herb starts to keep in the window if you’re looking for something without too much commitment, or go the whole nine yards and really get your hands dirty with a full-on garden of your own.
As the OG healer, growing something, either from seed or simply nurturing it along its way, is helping you adopt a small habit that adds up to lifelong wellness.
Stop and listen to the birds.
I find when I’m having a stressful day or moment, it helps if I concentrate on the birds for a little while. Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Can I distinguish different bird calls? If they flutter by, I follow them with my eyes and try to think nothing, just observe.
(You don’t have to be “into” birds to do this; it’s about letting nature be a mindful distraction, easing anxiety and offering a dose of calm.)
Get yourself to a greenspace.
If you don’t have personal outdoor space or live in an urban area, get yourself to a greenspace, also known as a park or outdoor area with vegetation. Sit with the trees, shrubs, or cacti and BREATHE. Bring a journal and go inward or engage in mindful observations of what’s around you.
Try sunrise therapy.
This is a widely accessible therapy that might help you see the light in yourself a little more. Take the initiative to wake up early and perhaps get yourself to a good spot to invest in a little alone time and self-care. Watch how slivers of sun illuminate the space around you, towns come alive and flowers open; the birth of the day lends a hand to positive planning for the day ahead.
There are many ways that all of us – whether we live on a farm, in the ‘burbs, or in the middle of a city – can tune into the natural world around us. All it takes is a little innovation, effort, and a curiosity to see how nature can impact you. Do a little experiment this week and see how you feel when you make space for daily connection with Nature. We think you’ll be surprised by the results of your own data.