Experience Nature

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Autumn leaves in a mountain stream
Photo by Mark Ellison

To maintain and improve health we must have ways to escape stress,  and push the “delete key” on the amount of screen time. Doing this is rejuvenating and clears the mind to help cope with information overload. A wonderful result of this “space making” of time and brain power is the opportunity to reconnect with what we are passionate about.  Listed below are a few examples of how you can connect to nature and find balance in your life.

Meditative Hiking

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Fire Pink (Silene virginica) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

Our lives are so fast that even on a hiking trail we tend to hurry through the experience as if it is something to check off a list. The physical fitness benefits of hiking are certainly important, but many people overlook the psychological benefits that can be obtained from time in nature. To experience the benefits of what I call “hiking therapy” go on a hike in a quiet area, free as much as possible from noise and distractions. Carry a small notepad in your pocket to stop along the way to jot down ideas and inspirations. Be in the present moment blocking out thoughts that creep into your mind. Breathe in deeply through your nose, breathing out through your mouth. Take a book to read and enjoy a nice break while on the hike. Doing this will refresh your mind and body.

Sensory Awareness

One of the benefits of spending time in nature is that it stimulates all of our senses, awakening our brain. Take time to touch the trees and plants (not poisonous). Become aware of how different the plants feel. There are many wonderful smells in nature. Slow down to enjoy them! We experience things primarily visually, so stop for a few minutes and shut your eyes. What do you hear and feel? The wind rustling through the leaves, a stream gently flowing, birds singing from the trees. If you are knowledgeable about plants and can identify non-poisonous plants, taste the wonders of nature. Use your notepad to write down how you experienced nature using your senses. It was Rachel Carson who said, “It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Activities like this help re-awaken our senses to experience all that is awe-inspiring in nature around us.

An “Escape Spot”

Find a place near your home that you can escape to if only for a few minutes. In can be in your backyard, a garden, woods, anywhere that offers some degree of solitude and quiet. Take a journal for reflection or to draw images of nature. Journaling is an excellent way to clear the mind and work through ideas. To slow your brain down, write or draw with your non-dominant hand. Once you find your place in nature be still for approximately 15 minutes. The wildlife around you will begin to become active again allowing you to see them up close.

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Crested dwarf iris (Iris cristata) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Photo by Mark Ellison

Drawing nature

One of the ways I remember trees and plants for identification is to draw them. Look at something in nature, a leaf for example. Look away from it and now draw it as you remember it. Then look at the leaf again and fill in the remaining details.

Time Use Inventory

On a hike or in an “escape spot” do a time use inventory. Reflect on how you are using the time in your day. How much time are you: Watching tv? On the internet? Exercising? In nature? What adjustments can you make in these areas to improve your health?

Creating a “Natural” State of Mind

These are just a few of the ways I help people find balance in their lives through connection to nature. As Roderick Nash said, “wilderness is a state of mind.” When we spend time in nature we can take our renewed state of mind back with us to live more vibrantly and effectively in our work and personal life.

If you can’t get out into nature, bring the sounds of nature inside using recordings such as this provided by One Square Inch, a sanctuary for silence in Olympic National Park.

4 thoughts on “Experience Nature

  1. As more people discover the joy of hiking National Scenic Trails, I feel that your work is very cogent. The creation of solitude is critical for transcendence and w the popularity of the AT now at epic levels,this will be difficult,but not impossible to obtain. Your work helps to elucidate the sometimes ineffable aspects hikers experience. Nature is a looking glass into the Self and an ally and friend we can all turn to for rejuvenation!

  2. I’m currently an undergrad Occupational Therapy student and am very interested in incorporating OT into nature, especially patients with mental illness. This page has been inspiring and has shown that there are others that have the same ideas and feelings as myself. Thank you!

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