The routine of modern life can be toxic to human spirituality in any form – no matter what religion you do or do not prescribe to – especially when it comes to our connection to nature. In this HerbSpeak article, you’ll learn how to connect (or re-connect) with nature mindfully, even in the hubbub of the daily grind.
The industrial era does not benefit from people doing anything but working, so in harried days that have been full of work work work, we tend to focus on taking care of the remaining chores around the house so we can shut down and recuperate our energy for the next full day of work or responsibility.
Where does that leave us for time with nature, let alone creativity and mindfulness?
Humans used to thrive in nature with a connection to the earth that went as deep as roots. Indigenous tribes understood this, mindfully harvesting plants and providing stewardship for its further survival. Nothing was to be over-harvested, as they understood it as a responsibility to take care of what cared for you. When animals were brought in from the day’s hunt, nothing was wasted, not bone or sinew; it was one of the many ways to honor the life that would feed the tribe.
If a life was to be taken, no matter its form, it was to be respected and valued as the most basic form of reciprocity.
Why is A Connection to Nature Good?
A connection with nature is essential to a positive and healthy well-being, with many benefits associated with the experience, such as better mood, more creativity, and even the ability to recover faster from injury with a lessened need for pain medication. (1, 2)
Research suggests that contact with nature can be beneficial, for example leading to improvements in mood, cognition, and health.
For many people, it can seem a bit “woo-woo” to believe that the environment can be the answer to modern problems.
Whether it’s because of the negative press given to tree-hugging hippies by the media, or some other prejudice, it is, unfortunately, common to feel some sort of skepticism or even incredulousness.
Fortunately, however, it is a study subject of scientists and researchers who have since proven that the human brain reacts to nature in many positive ways, producing chemicals that help us reduce stress and improve the immune system.
How Do You Spiritually Connect with Nature?
To start this section off right, let’s first touch on the difference between spirituality and religion:
You can prescribe to a religion and be disconnected from your spirituality. Likewise, you can prescribe to no religion and feel deeply spiritual.
Spirituality comes from within oneself, while religion may be the conduit you use to connect with that feeling in the form of faith or belief.
Or, you may not.
Because spirituality is such an individual practice, however, it can be difficult to write or follow a guide about it…
For many people, facilitating spirituality through nature might feel forced or difficult at first, especially if it’s new to you. If this is the case, assess your expectations of the experience. What do you feel like you should be doing or need to get out of the experience?
Recognize those expectations and let them go. That’s not why you’re here, and spirituality isn’t an industrial machine. (1) By letting go of expectations, you open yourself up to other results and benefits that you might not have considered.
Ancient wisdom describes human beings as having five layers of experience: the environment, the physical body, the mind, the intuition and our self or spirit.Our connection with the environment is our first level of experience, and one of the most important. If our environment is clean and positive, it has a positive impact on all the other layers of our existence.
Mindfulness is the key to understanding your inner experience and thought process with each activity. Not every activity or suggestion is going to click, and that’s alright. Remember that it’s an individual process, and feel free to modify the activity to your inclinations and see if it feels better to you. Get a little creative and follow what you yearn for in nature.
More of a woodland person than a beach person? Find what reminds you of the forest. Need a beach to feel joy in nature but you’re landlocked? Bring some ocean sounds out to the lake with you – remember that for all its distractions, technology can help you, too.
How to Connect with Nature
There are many ways to connect with nature, and in the list below you’ll discover some of the easier ways to reconnect that don’t intrude on your daily routine.
This makes it easier to dedicate time to these activities and slowly integrate more, making deeper and more meaningful connections with the earth.
How do you connect with nature in your everyday? Share your experience in the comments at the bottom of this page.
1. Slow Down and Be Present
Mindfulness is the key to connecting with nature. To understand anything beyond us, we must first connect with ourselves and get used to the quiet stillness that comes from removing distractions.
A walk – a mindful one – is a wonderful way to remember to slow down and be present in the moment.
Taking a mindful walk means not talking to anyone while you are on the walk, and preferably – when safe to do so – going by yourself. This time in nature alone can help you reflect on all areas of your life, not just your connection to nature.
Just remember to mindfully look around at your natural surroundings, too. Try to engage as many senses as possible when observing nature on your walk. The movement will help facilitate every other part of the experience.
Let your eyes focus on things that it normally glosses over, like falling leaves or ants climbing down a tree back to their colony. Listen to the wind rustle branches and birds sing and chipmunks chirp. Reach out and touch the craggly bark on the old tree or the moss carpet that hides a micro-world of wonder. Sink your fingers or feet into the dirt and close your eyes, letting yourself experience the surface of a world so intimately known by other organisms and essential to all other life on earth.
Look at the moss that grows between the sidewalk cracks, and the squirrel that is trying to remember the location of buried nuts.
Walking isn’t required, either so if it gets too overwhelming to pay attention to all these senses, find a sitting spot to take a deep breath and focus on your individual senses. This spot could be on a bench, on a rock, or on the mossy ground.
From here, you can alternate feeling the dirt, branches, rocks, or other natural materials around you – to looking around at how leaves are structured and how a butterfly flaps in the breeze – to learning how to smell the incoming rainstorm or snorfing a flower.
2. Learn About Plants
Do you know much about plants and their role in the ecosystem? Do you know what native plants are in your area and how they help benefit the local wildlife populations?
In exploring your connection to nature, you begin to learn a lot more about the plants and animals around you, and this is one time when technology comes in handy, helping rather than hindering the process. Plant identification apps can help you identify the plants in your own backyard or favorite walking spots, enabling you to learn more about their lives and the benefit to the ecosystem you are a part of.
3. Use Your Backyard… Even If It’s Not Big
You don’t need a spacious backyard to enjoy nature. Even if you only have a balcony, it is a space that you can use to grow plants and facilitate your own natural area.
For example, balcony gardening with native plants is a way to not only bring nature to your doorstep in taller apartment buildings but also a great way to learn about how plants and animals interact with each other.
You’re certain to meet a few birds who find their way up to the plants, especially during nesting season or when the plants get ready to disperse their seeds.
4. Reflect on How Nature Makes You Feel
How do you feel in nature?
No, it’s not always glamorous, and we aren’t going to pretend that it is beauty and magic at every turn.
Sometimes you’ll feel eaten alive by insects. Other times, you’ll be cold and ready for a hot cup of tea.
But how is your mood after a jaunt around the local hiking trail, or digging your feet into the dirt in your backyard?
Often, you’ll find that you’re more creative, more fulfilled, and more energetic throughout the day. Such a connection with nature cannot be replaced by caffeine or medication.
Reflecting on how you feel during – and after – your nature walks will also help you modify your activities to best suit your needs and inclinations.
5, Grow Something
Even if you don’t have a “green thumb” there are plenty of plants that only require basic watering and fertilizing.
There’s a cactus on my windowsill I haven’t watered for 8 months and it has been better for it because of the water-storing properties of the plant itself. Likewise, the Fittonia I have will wilt without a good soak every week – but it perks right back up once the roots absorb the water and uptake it into the stems.
If you grow something in a pot, put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Watching how the plant progresses over time and exploring the life that it is expressing is a humbling experience and can help bring you closer to nature even on days when you’re stuck inside.
6. Put Away Your Smartphone
Technology, while it can help, is also distracting in most cases. Put it down. Silence the notifications that keep your attention spread out away from yourself.
Many people argue that technology is OK if you’re taking photos of nature – and while it’s not inherently bad, it does take you away from your inner thoughts and reflection. Take the picture you absolutely have to have and turn the phone off.
The one exception (in my book) is when you find something that piques your curiosity and just must be explored further. Find an absolutely fascinating plant and need to know what it is? Discover a hidden trove of really cool insects in a log? Exploring nature and getting to know it is a part of the experience of connecting with it.
7. Stargaze or Cloud Watch
Take a breath. Just look.
This simple act is something many of us have forgotten how to do after childhood. Stargazing or cloud watching are both activities that require you to sit down with nothing but your thoughts and let your mind wander.
One rule: don’t think about responsibilities, chores, or any other kind of work. If you find yourself drifting onto these topics, take a deep breath and tell yourself you can think about that at a later time.
This is the time that you allow yourself to think about the world, your purpose, and how you can contribute in a way that is meaningful to you.
8. Go Outside… Even If It’s Uncomfortable
This will come as a challenge for some people, especially if you’re quite fond of the creature comforts that come from modern air conditioning, heating, and walls that keep the wind out. Unfortunately for you, that’s the very thing you’ll have to distance yourself from (temporarily) if you want to get a little closer to nature.
Yes, you can absolutely appreciate nature from a distance, but you won’t form a true connection with it if you can’t appreciate it up close.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should go outside during dangerous weather conditions – physical safety should take precedence.
That does, however, mean that even though it’s raining, it’s time to throw on a jacket and head outside; ditch the umbrella. Your goal is to find some kind of appreciation or beauty even in conditions that make you uncomfortable.
Which means when it’s nighttime, you will benefit from going outside and taking a deep breath and listening to frogs or quiet snowfall.
It does mean that going outside in a light jacket can help you appreciate the winter’s first snow just that much more. Or into the late spring rains that signal the turn of summer and reawaken the mosses.
Is it a hot, melting day that makes you want to stay inside? Give it a try, just for a few minutes.
You don’t have to spend an excessive amount of time outside but start with five to ten minutes. It’s just enough time to get you over the initial shock of discomfort, but not long enough to become boring. Mindfulness is key, here.