We humans receive nourishment through our many connections with the natural world. Food, water, shelter, and sources of energy all link to natural resources. However, we may not be fully aware of all of the connections between ourselves and the natural world. This lack of awareness may prevent us from accounting for important relationships with nature as we make our life choices. Luckily, there are many ways that we can improve our awareness and ability to work with nature.
We can enhance our awareness of the Earth’s workings by exploring natural areas using all of our senses, taking advantage of scholastic opportunities, and noticing how we interact with nature in our daily lives. We can connect with nature through conversation, prayer, meditation, art, dance, scientific study, offerings, shamanic journey, and song. With these and other techniques, we can cultivate vibrant and multifaceted relationships with diverse aspects of nature and the Earth as a whole. These relationships can be powerful influences in our lives.
General health benefits can come through spending time in natural settings. People from diverse backgrounds experience the calming effect and peace of mind that come from walking, sitting, and simply being in natural or wilderness areas. The stress and anxiety which accumulate through daily activities can just melt away as a result of hiking up a mountain or sitting by a river. A variety of studies have revealed correlations between physiological changes in the human body and time spent in nature. Stress reduction, easing of depression, faster healing, and lessening dependence on pain medication are all effects demonstrated by empirical research (Louv, 2012).
The general benefits of being in nature can be enhanced by adding intention, allowing ourselves to be open and fully present, and employing meditative techniques. Specific benefits can be achieved through exploring specific methods of interacting with landscape energies and entities of nature. We can encourage various kinds of healing, receive help in managing our energy and emotions, inspire and facilitate personal growth, cultivate ethics, enhance our ability to respect others, enrich our spiritual practice, broaden our sense of community, connect to the divine or sacred, make more sustainable resource management decisions, and more.
Exploring the Great Mystery
The natural world provides many opportunities to engage our drive to learn. We can explore nature using observations from many perspectives and techniques from diverse disciplines. As we investigate nature’s mysteries, we enrich our minds and open ourselves to further possibilities.
Enhanced awareness of nature can foster wonder, appreciation, and adoration. These gifts can improve quality of life. Nature helps us to “open a joy channel” regularly in order to counteract negative effects coming from the indignities and injustices of modern human societies. Nature puts smiles on faces and warmth in hearts.
Exploring natural phenomena with all the senses and diverse methods can help us cultivate a holistic understanding of the Earth System. This understanding combined with a deep awareness of our connectedness to the Earth can provide us with a sense of what Arnie Naess termed “deep ecology” (Drengson, 2012). We can achieve a greater awareness of our many nature connections and explore new ways of connecting. We can regularly engage multiple dimensions of the natural world with mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of our being. Through this type of engagement, we learn to see from different perspectives and allow energies to pervade and transform us. We can expand our horizons, grow as people, and gain a sense of belonging to the planetary whole.
Friends, Allies, and Community
We can experience companionship and community through ongoing relationships with natural places and with particular aspects of nature.
Regular visits to a specific place in the landscape at various times of day, at different times of year, and over many years can help us cultivate a deep appreciation for the character of that place. Getting to know the movements of air, water, and wildlife; seeing the trees; and beginning to understand the nature of soils and bedrock can all contribute to a rich sense of connectedness with the place.
Through efforts to connect with all of our senses and with a variety of methods, we develop relationships with the processes and beings that occur within the landscape. Interacting with specific nature entities and energies can bring us joy, similar to what we might feel when interacting with a small happy child or people we love. In other words, we can experience the same kinds of emotions interacting with the outdoors that we do when we interact with human members of our communities. Plants, animals, rivers, mountains, and weather patterns can be our friends. And like some of our human friends, nature entities and energies can support us in a variety of ways. They can be sources of physical, intellectual, and spiritual nourishment. They can help us accomplish our life goals. In turn, we can support these nature allies with reverence, kindness, and environmental protection. We can all come together in community.
Nutrition, Medicine, and Healing
Nature provides necessary elements of survival including food and water, and nature provides medicines and support for energetic healing modalities (e.g., Qi Gong). We can allow our awareness of nature to help us improve decisions about the food we eat and the water we drink. Similarly, we can include nature in the healing of our bodies.
Relationships with plant, animal, mineral, rock, water, and climate allies are essential aspects of many healing arts. For example, herbal remedies and healing waters are used in numerous traditions throughout the world. Physical aspects of nature-based remedies can work hand in hand with energetic, metaphysical, and spiritual properties.
Enhancement of the healing power of medicinal herbs, minerals, and other Earth substances can be accomplished through the use of traditional or personal associations with energetic or metaphysical properties. Belief in these correspondences gives extra power to the healing modalities. Integrated with or in addition to the power of association, healing can be enhanced with methods from many different spiritual traditions. A popular shamanic healing method involves asking plants to “release their medicine” to boost the effectiveness of plant based remedies.
Relationships with specific places within the landscape can encourage specific kinds of healing. A sheltered valley with a babbling brook may be a great place to do a healing Qi Gong set, receive Reiki, or get a massage. Meditating by that same brook may help us heal emotional or psychological trauma.
Energy Management, Guidance, and Vision
Also related to our health is our day-to-day energy and emotion management. We can be ungrounded and anxious. We can be depressed. We can experience emotions related to specific stressors. Our emotional mix at any given time may also include satisfaction related to achieving success, various kinds of joy, and compassion for other living beings. Interacting with nature helps us manage these emotions and energetic states.
Relationships with places within the landscapes of our region help with our energetic and emotional management, similar to how they can encourage healing. While wading in a stream or river, we can visualize the water flowing through us and carrying the stress and anxieties from our bodies. While out in the desert, we can let the desert heat bake the stress out of us. In many places, “grounding” is facilitated by walking barefoot across or lying upon the Earth’s surface.
We can work through quandaries or complex issues that occupy our thoughts and emotions (e.g., grief related to a loss or the reckoning of competing desires in order to make decisions) during a hike up a mountain. During this “mountain therapy”, portions of the journey can support specific phases of processing through an issue.
Emotional release and processing restore clarity of thought. Energetic adjustments through engaging with nature help us move on with our work. Through “mountain therapy” and other therapeutic connections with nature, we can center ourselves.
We can also seek increased vision, signs, and other forms of guidance to support our decision making processes. We can go to sacred places for counsel. Sitting on a knob or mountain summit may help us cultivate vision and direction, and sitting in a sheltered cove or in a cave may help us get in touch with our core values. We can also seek counsel from specific nature allies. For example, we can commune with pine trees to encourage a fresh perspective based on the pine’s associations with renewal and rebirth in Celtic traditions (Mac Coitir, 2003).
Inspiration and Alchemy
Beautiful places in nature can enhance our overall sense of wellbeing and inspiration. For example, many people feel a spiritual uplift when they look out onto a panoramic landscape from a vista. Adding intentional practices to our nature experience, including more regular exposures to nature’s beauty, can make the general inspiration and other positive feelings more powerful and enduring.
In addition, nature can inspire in specific ways. The long thorns of the honey locust can prompt us to protect ourselves in our life’s dealings, and the turtle can remind us to be discerning about when we retreat into our shells. Inspirational metaphors, like the honey locust thorns or turtle shell, have the power to help us with various aspects of living.
We can use traditional or personally meaningful associations between nature and deeper metaphysical, psychological, or religious symbols to encourage change in our lives. For example, we can associate the confluence of two rivers with the integration of two separate currents in our lives. While sitting by two rivers near where they come together, we are able to get in touch with each river’s character as well as the aspects of our lives that the rivers represent. We can visualize the two aspects of our lives melding together. By doing an exercise like this, we open ourselves up to receive insights about other work we need to do in order to integrate the two aspects, improve our focus on the integration, receive a boost in motivation, identify obstacles, or receive other useful information.
A place with abundant and diverse plant growth may inspire us to be more productive, and a specific flower may inspire us to express our creativity in a particular way (e.g., showy in the case of bloodroot or private in the case of wild ginger). The tough and persevering hickory tree can help us through challenging times, the hawk can help us seek what we desire, the black walnut can help us choose our friends carefully, vines can show us how to climb upward, and the skunk can help us improve our boundary enforcement.
We can receive support or signs (omens) while we are out in nature, and we can intentionally wear necklaces or carry pouches bearing elements of nature to remind us of and encourage our goals. We can receive tremendous benefits from ongoing relationships with nature entities and energies.
Connections with Sacred Entities and Energies
Natural places and nature beings help us connect with our sense of what is sacred and/or our sense of the divine, and can therefore strengthen our beliefs and help us with our spiritual practices. There are traditionally important locations for connecting with the main divinities of many of the world’s religions. These places, and others we discover through our personal spiritual practice, may help us connect with who and what we feel is divine and sacred. Regardless of how we define sacredness, we can get in touch with it by exploring and enhancing relationships with the natural world and workings of the Earth.
Trees can help us commune with the divine. Tree spirits and/or the divine energy of one or more creators are expressed in the natural beauty of trees. Trees are powerful religious symbols in numerous traditions (e.g., the World Tree). Shamans work with trees as conduits, and trees provide pathways of connection to the divine in Druidic, Christian, Jewish, and other traditions. In a variety of religious ceremonies, celebrants can connect to realms of the cosmos through the World Tree which might be represented by a physical tree.
Many traditions revere and encourage interactions with Mother Earth. She may feel different from place to place, but often she is felt most strongly in places that accentuate or amplify the Earth energy (e.g., in Sedona, AZ). In addition, people from many walks of life work with nature spirits and local divinities such as fairies, tree spirits, and river goddesses. Seeing and respecting what is sacred in the landscape, and nature in general, helps us to cultivate spiritual relationships with different energies of place and to better respect the world around us.
Better Environmental Service and Respect for Other Children of the Earth
Many of us care about nature, our personal health, and the health of children. We wish to respect other beings and energies of the sacred Earth. We aspire to conserve natural resources and preserve environmental quality. Yet even though we care, we can make poor lifestyle decisions and mistakes in environmental stewardship if we do not understand ecosystems in deep ways and carefully consider relevant causal relationships. Even the most well-meaning people make mistakes.
We can find one example of good intentions gone awry in the story of a sugar maple tree and a church congregation. The congregation cherished the sugar maple which could be seen through a large window behind the main altar. At the same time, they expanded the amount of blacktop nearby the tree and installed a pond liner to create a small wetland near the tree. Both of these structures prevented water from getting into the ground, thereby cutting off water supply to the maple tree’s roots and contributing to the death of the tree. This early, tragic death of the maple could have been prevented with a little bit of nature awareness. The better you know a place, through multiple perspectives and many ways of knowing, the more insight you have into environmental threats, land use impacts, and ways to be more respectful.
A robust understanding of relationships between aspects of the natural world as well as appreciation of the uniqueness of the sacred landscapes in each region can lead to better awareness of environmental impacts. Observations of places through the year and over long time periods can give rise to knowledge about environmental issues in these places. Understanding the water flow pathways in a region gives a better understanding of how pollutants move from septic leach fields, pipeline leaks, leaking landfills, farm fields, and other pollution sources through the groundwater and into waterways. Understanding air circulation patterns allows us to predict air pollution movements and evaluate the probability of air quality issues in various regions. Observing vulnerable or dwindling natural resources, plant communities, and wildlife populations and understanding why they are in jeopardy can help with conservation efforts.
Multifaceted awareness helps us see connections and relationships within the complex ecosystems of the Earth, thus providing a better comprehension of the causes of environmental issues. Through a variety of specific techniques (e.g., using online ecological footprint calculators, determining foodshed size, and tracing where house wastewater goes), we can cultivate awareness of our connections to various parts of the Earth. These techniques facilitate greater awareness of the consequences of consumer choices and of supporting particular land uses. We begin to learn which actions add to planetary resource footprints and which shrink them. Our decisions have the power to affect quality of life for future generations. A thorough understanding of natural forces and our energy exchanges with the land can help us make lifestyle, land use, and resource management decisions that will slow the degradation of our environment. Nature awareness supports the continued survival of humans and other life forms on the planet.
The quality of our decisions relates to our awareness of and depth of connectedness with the Earth System, locally and globally. If we cultivate an expanded perspective, we begin to make smarter survival decisions: acquiring our water, energy, and shelter in more ecologically sustainable ways. We can make informed lifestyle changes, moving away from wasteful and toxic ways of living. We can let go of the need for herbicides and irrigation for our lawns and move away from long commutes via automobile. We can make better conservation and natural resource management decisions, better restoration decisions (e.g., work with what is there vs. re-landscape), and smarter land use decisions. As we develop deeper and deeper nature relationships, we become aware of the impacts of even the smallest decisions: whether we turn the thermostat down an extra degree, leave lights on, choose a resource intensive diet, and buy locally made products vs. products transported long distances. With as thorough an understanding as possible, including a heightened sense of cause and effect, we can decide to support ecosystem health (through personal action and supporting sound policies). In so doing, we optimize the health of current and future generations. Deep connectedness leads to awareness of environmental impacts and responsible actions within the planetary system.
When we can minimize impacts on the environment through better decision making, we are treating all beings (including ourselves and future generations) and the whole planetary system with respect. Respecting others is fulfilling for those of us that hold this ideal as a core ethical value. Resolving issues related to how humans work with the environment and healing ourselves can be thought of as the same work (Roberts and Amidon, 1991).
We receive many gifts from nature, and we have many opportunities to embrace these gifts, to give respect in return, and to become responsible planetary citizens. The book “Connecting with the Land: Nature Relationships in Multiple Dimensions” (Davis, 2013) has served as a useful reference for folks who are new to deep ecology as well as for folks who have been doing ecospiritual work for years. This book discusses benefits of nature connection, describes techniques that are useful for opening to these benefits, and lists references that can assist with the development of multifaceted relationships with nature. May you find fulfillment through your journey with the magical entities and energies of the natural world!
Davis, A. M., 2013, Connecting with the Land: Nature Relationships in Multiple Dimensions.[Accessed 9/26/2016].
Drengson, A., 2012, Some Thought on the Deep Ecology Movement. Foundation for Deep Ecology. [Accessed 12/16/2016].
Louv, R., 2012, Health benefits of being outdoors. AARP Bulletin, July 23, 2012 edition. [Accessed 9/26/2016].
Mac Coitir, N., 2003, Irish Trees: myths, legends, and folklore. The Collins Press, Ireland.
Roberts, E.; Amidon, E., 1991, Earth Prayers from Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.
About the Author and the Connecting with the Land Workshop Series
Adam Davis is pledged in service to the land and the people. He teaches about the Earth as a system of connected energy movements in the college classroom and leads spiritually oriented “Connecting with the Land” workshops at healthy living fairs, community gatherings, and as stand-alone events. More information about these workshops can be found through the Connecting with the Land Workshop Series web page (http://www.landsolution.com/connectingwiththeland.html), and news about upcoming events can be found at http://www.facebook.com/ConnectingWithTheLand/. Adam enjoys combining multiple perspectives and techniques to explore integrated, holistic ways of working with nature.