You may have read the recent article by John Haltiwanger that points out how recent research has indicated that spending time in a natural setting provides a plethora of benefits; from lower blood pressure to strengthened immunity to an enhanced sense of well-being and happiness. I’m inclined to agree with the conclusion that “people who appreciate nature are happier, healthier and more innovative.” It’s hard to hold onto the tension of a hectic day at the office when you are laying in the grass looking up at the sky. Spending time in natural light helps the body take in vitamin D, an essential building block of human health. And turning away from the computer screen to gaze at the horizon as the sun sinks into the westerly hills reminds us that we are part of something bigger and more profound that our everyday worries. We remember that there is beauty in the world outside our urban jungles, consumer economy and man-made innovations.
So, we know this. Now the trick is to act on what we know and get out into nature to start reaping all of those benefits. The following strategies and ideas might be old hat to you — if so, that’s fabulous. Share them with others in your life who might need some food for thought or encouragement. And if these ideas are things you’ve yet to experiment with yourself, I hope you find them to be useful and accessible. And if I miss something essential, by all means, share your own strategies! The more we talk about getting out and into the wilds of the natural world, the more we create the cultural energy that is needed to support such ways of living.
- Walk outside first thing in the morning. No matter what the weather. No joke-even in the dead of winter or in the 100 degree humidity of a sweltering summer, a blast of frigid or steamy air will remind you that you are alive and part of this earth. Go for a walk in the woods if you have the access and time to do so.
- Find a sit spot. Wes Gietz has some great instructions on how to pick a good spot, so read them if you have a moment. Finding a place where you can sit and just be in a natural setting can have profound impacts on mood and your sense of well-being and connectedness. An isolated rock surrounded by forest is wonderful, but so is the little hollow under the lilac bush next to your garage. Don’t bring your cell phone. Make your time at your sit spot distraction and technology free.
- Ground yourself. It’s just like it sounds: get in direct contact with the ground — soil, grass, water, rock. Take off your shoes and stand with your feet nestled next to the earth and soak up the electrons that flow freely into your body, providing a potent dose of antioxidants. Can’t take off your shoes? Hug a tree. It’s already grounded and has no qualms about sharing the love.
- Plant a seed. In your garden, in a pot on the windowsill, in the patch of dirt next to the abandoned building down the street…wherever. Put your hands in the dirt and help a nonhuman life come into being. Water it, give it some sun and witness the miracle of life that is beyond anything that humans can engineer. You might even get some tomatoes or beans out of it.
- Go Camping! Head to a local state park, municipal campground or just pitch a tent next to the big maple tree in the back yard. Maybe even sleep with nothing but air between you and the stars and revel in the experience of hearing the sounds of nature during the night. Even if you are inside the city limits, you’ll still hear them. Crickets, birds, the wind rustling the branches. You don’t have to backpack 20 miles into the wilderness to experience nature at night (but if you can it’s highly recommended…there’s not much more powerful than spending multiple nights completely immersed in the wild.) Camping will even help with that innovative part…the down time of say, sitting around a campfire, lets your mind have time to be creative and figuring out how to go without the comforts of indoor living makes your brain work in ways that typing at the computer never will.
So, that’s my list of things that get me appreciating nature and subsequently reaping the benefits of doing so. What’s on yours?