Do you feel disconnected sometimes? Maybe you’re so busy with everything in your life that you barely have time to see the world around you. Maybe the only time you notice nature is when the weather interferes with the things on your to-do list. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you were able to just breathe and sit outside.
There's a lot of evidence that time spent in nature can have a significant positive effective on mental and physical health (see for example this study). Walking in a green area has been shown to have beneficial effects for mental health concerns such as depression (study here) and ADHD (and here). Beyond addressing specific mental health concerns and promoting mental and physical health, time spent in nature is a great way to center yourself. For some of us, it is the beginning of a meditation practice or a greater spiritual awareness of how we are interconnected with all living things. For others, it is simply a great way to manage stress. Wherever you would like your time outdoors to lead you, here are a few great ways to get started reconnecting with the natural world around you.
1. Go for a walk or a hike in a green place. Notice the plants, animals, and insects, looking closely at whatever catches your eye. Pay attention to color, texture, shape, motion, sounds.
2. Find a tree in a quiet place and sit beneath it. Bring a blanket or pillow if it helps you to be comfortable. Feel the bark; notice the roots jutting up from the ground. Imagine these strong roots extending deep into the earth, keeping the tree anchored and upright while bringing it vital nutrition and water. Picture the leaves far above you humming with activity as they convert sunlight to energy. Imagine roots growing from your feet, through the earth, keeping you strong and grounded.
3. Bring your lunch or a book outside and sit on a park bench or a picnic blanket. Soak in the fresh air and natural light while you eat or read (or both).
4. Find a pick-your-own farm and pick fruit straight from the tree. Notice the colors and smells; savor the taste of fruit fresh from nature.
5. Go to a lake, river, stream, ocean, or pond. Listen to the lapping of the water. Look for fish and tiny water bugs. Put your feet in the water and focus on the sensation of cool water against your skin. Imagine the water connecting you with all the water in the world as it ebbs, flows, and nurtures all life.
6. Find a dark spot on a clear night and bring a blanket outside. Give yourself some time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and watch the moon, stars, and planets. Imagine the vastness of the galaxy that holds you, swirling with stars that made the elements all our bodies are formed from.
7. Visit a nearby garden. Luxuriate in the colors and scents of all the plants. Choose one and notice all the details of its stem, leaves, or flowers. Watch for bumblebees feeding, spreading pollen to keep the garden thriving; listen to their buzzing.
8. Keep flowers or herbs either in your yard or in flower pots inside. Pay attention to the feel of the soil against your fingers as you carefully plant a seed or transplant a seedling. Think about how you are nurturing a tiny living thing as it grows and thrives.
9. Find a special spot outdoors that feels particularly peaceful to you - a specific spot at a park or a beach, or maybe a place in your yard that you can turn into a sanctuary with a chair or hammock. Whenever you go to your place, greet it out loud or silently, thanking it for providing you with this place of peace and wishing it well.
10. Put a bird feeder outside your window or in your yard and watch for visitors. Notice the different colors and birdcalls.
11. Go to a greenhouse or flower shop. Soak in the scent of green growth and a profusion of flowers. Step into the refrigerated section of a flower shop, full of freshly cut blooms.
12. Pay attention to the tiny weeds and wildflowers that spring up in the cracks in sidewalks. Whenever you notice this, think of the tenacity and perseverance of that tiny life to take hold and grow in such a difficult spot. Take a moment to wish it well and reflect on how you might relate to that kind of strength.
As you wrap up your time outside, take a moment to get in touch with what’s going on inside of you. What is your breathing like? Can you feel your heart beating? What are some of the physical sensations you notice popping up? Are there any particular emotions you notice yourself feeling? Anything that surprises you? You might even take a few notes or mention your observations in a journal. If you continue your practice of reconnecting with the natural world on a regular basis, you may find it illuminating to look back at how your experiences have changed over time - or stayed the same.
You might notice that a lot of the items on the list imply nice weather, or at least weather that’s warm enough for heading outside for awhile. It’s true that this kind of deep reconnection with nature often feels easiest in the warmer months, and the rich, new-bursting foliage of spring and summer are particularly evocative or many of us. However, you can find ways to be deeply present in nature in all but the bitterest of weather. The evergreens that keep their needles throughout the winter serve as reminders of our own enduring strength; snow makes a powerful backdrop to see the perseverance of living things through adverse conditions; rain reminds us of the constant cycling of nature and the power of a good, cleansing cry. In the depths of winter, a good view out a window or a deep breath in a florist’s shop can anchor you once again in your place as an integral part of nature’s vivid tapestry. Add these moments into your life as often as you can and you will notice a difference.