“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~John Muir
Somewhere, stashed away in my collection of childhood memories, I recall having this small deck of cards with random, uplifting activities on them. I don’t remember how they journeyed my way, and I don’t remember them staying around for long, but I do remember that just reading through them was uplifting.
It’s interesting, the things that our minds choose to file away—and while I’m a little intrigued that these cards earned a spot, I’m not surprised, at all, that memories of entire days spent out in the woods near our home, as a child, are firmly rooted.
It felt as though there were magical secrets hanging from every tree branch and tucked away, at every step, along the forest floor.
Throughout the years, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as content as I do when I’m muddying up a pair of hiking boots.
Tuning in to the natural world around us and feeling at ease go hand-in-hand. This is a simple truth that most of us are intrinsically aware of and are intuitively pulled toward, yet as more and more of our natural landscape is forced to concede to concrete, pavement, and buildings, our stretches of mingling with untouched fields and forests become fewer.
The natural world offers a quick and reliable way to effectively manage anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions. In a world that seems increasingly focused on technological routine and gadgetry, basking in the gentle and balancing support that radiates from and within our natural world might seem too simple—and, as a result, may not always be taken seriously as an effective stress-managing solution.
Even if we don’t step outside our back door to acres of countryside, we can integrate the benefits that time with nature offers through seeking out pockets of less-cultivated ground during our daily routines. A stroll through a park on the way to work or eating lunch outside can quickly instill a worthwhile sense of peace and tranquility.
Aside from our own intuitive awareness, there is much research pointing to the restorative effects of nature—for both our minds and our bodies. It has a quick way of moving through busy, ongoing internal chatter and shape-shifting our thoughts and perspectives.
Watching animals collect food along the ground or listening to the rain or birds can immediately shift us into a meditative space. These experiences offer us a chance to connect, in a whole-body way, to the ebb and flow of our entire natural world—to simultaneously become aware of our presence and lose ourselves within this same energetic rhythm.
The natural world is in a constant state of change. It brings light to our own dynamic life happenings and gifts the opportunity, regardless of our individual struggles or situations, to just be. Calm and connected.
Thinking back to that deck of cards from my childhood…
If I were to make a new deck of cards, to help inspire connection with our natural world, the below are a few of the activities that would be included in it.
Step away from electronics.
Spend some quality time, each day, away from the television, computer, and phone. Spend time doing things that you love outdoors—read a book, take a walk, or sit on the porch and quietly connect with your surroundings. See if you notice a difference in the way you feel.
Grow a plant.
While plants are typically easier to care for (requiring less time spent with them), and less communicative than animals, we can still cultivate meaningful connections with these living, aware beings. Aside from the feel-good energy that plants bring to a space, they also have the ability to measurably remove unwanted material from indoor air and increase oxygen levels.
Get to know a tree.
Similar to indoor plants, trees have a wise and knowing presence about them. There is so much going on in the plant community that plays out beneath our radar. While I appreciate all living things, during outdoor strolls, there are certain trees that I, for various reasons, notice more, and feel as though I’ve grown to know better.
Choose a tree (or several), along your daily path, to observe a bit more deeply. If you’re able, maybe sit with it for a few minutes, feeling gratitude for its majestic life force and rooted way of living.
Eat wild food.
Incorporate something from your yard or a nearby area—dandelion, chickweed, maybe a few mulberries—into a meal, and feel an appreciation for having a rich supply of nutrients from deep within the soil.
While teaching, we did this fun activity that involved groups of students taking several minutes to look really closely at a section of the ground, and then taking the rest of the class on a tour of that area. They pointed out ants busy at work, worms nourishing the soil, and other small creatures and plants. There is a vast and busy world beneath our feet that is exciting to occasionally tune in to.
Moving in the other direction, observe more expansive worlds.
Stretch out on a blanket, beneath the sky, and watch the movement—of trees, of clouds, of birds. Notice the endless stretch of stars at night. Allow yourself to daydream about what is out there, beyond our simultaneously small and large existence.
Try to include an outdoor stroll in your daily routine. Even a short walk can be hugely relaxing. Feel the warmth of the sustaining sun. Let the wind dance its way around your body and being. For a natural reflexology session, try slipping off your shoes and walking barefoot on the uneven ground.
Breathing in the fresh, outdoor air, for an entire night, is a rejuvenating treat that many of us only experience during the occasional camping trip. Yet, weather and area permitting, we have the ability to do this without packing up or leaving home. If your home has a backyard, plan some outdoor nights. Set up your tent, or just lay out a sleeping bag, and drift off beneath a sky full of stars…and endless dreamtime possibilities.
One of my favorite things about the balancing ways of the natural world is that it’s available to us all! Even if you’re not drawn to packing up your camping gear for a few open-sky nights, you can still step outside your door and enjoy a few remedial moments of connection.