"Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation"
- From the poem “Everything is waiting for you”, by David Whyte
Nature as Therapist
I was a nature-lover long before I was a therapist, and sometimes I think nature was my first therapist – listening to my longings, catching my tears, soothing my losses, and inspiring me with new perspectives. I suspect we all carry the intuitive knowledge that nature can soothe us, tend to our wounds, inspire us, and guide us back to our truest selves. But despite knowing this, we don’t seek nature out anywhere nearly as often as we might. Why is that?
The Contemporary Western idea of the Natural World
In contemporary Western culture we find that this deep attraction to the natural world exists alongside a strange kind of obliviousness to – and separation from - the natural world. This attitude exists in striking contrast to the attitude held my most “first-peoples”, who engaged with the landscape relationally.
Over the last decade I have explored the idea of nature as companion or healer, and what I have come to know informs my work as a psychotherapist and facilitator. These days I am utterly convinced that the natural world lies waiting for us to “ease into the conversation”, and that engaging in a conversation with nature brings a whole world of healing benefits, both for ourselves and for the planet.
Developing a Relationship with Nature
Unfortunately for those of us with contemporary Western minds, it does not come easily to have an interpersonal relationship with the natural world. We tend to engage nature as a set of objects rather than a community of subjects, and we do this unconsciously. It’s like there’s another person in the room (nature), but we can’t see her because of the cultural goggles we’re wearing. As such, we have to unlearn many of our assumptions, and actively begin to nurture a relationship with the natural world.
3 Ways to "Ease into the Conversation" with Nature
In my work as a therapist I increasingly look for ways to help clients begin this conversation. Here are three simple practices than you can do that will begin to deepen your lived-relationship with the natural world. They are deceptively simple, but over time, profoundly transformative. The golden rule with all nature connection is that it happens non-cognitively – that is, it happens below the level of thought. With all of these practices let your body and emotions relate to nature, and let your mind rest.
1: A Sit Spot (20 mins)
This is a very simple and powerful practice, and a great alternative to something like meditation. Take yourself to a park, or a creek, or your backyard, or other natural setting - and allow yourself to be drawn to a spot that “speaks to you”. Make yourself comfortable, tune into your body and surrounds, and sit there for twenty minutes simply witnessing the natural world before you.
- Sometimes it helps to have an alarm set for the twenty minutes so that you can really let go.
- Returning to the same spot regularly can greatly deepen this simple practice.
2. Nature Mandala (30-60 mins)
This is a very grounding practice that draws on the power of the circle as a symbol of wholeness. Find a quiet place in nature where there are trees, stones, stick and other natural artifacts. Sit for five minutes and allow yourself to arrive in the space and in your body. Once you feel ready and present, make or imagine a circle on the ground of about 60cm in diameter. Then, allow yourself to move about the space gathering sticks, feathers, shells, stones, and whatever else is of interest.
Allow yourself to arrange these objects within the circle you have made. Just put things where they feel right, and continue to arrange and rearrange the items in the circle until it feels complete. Then sit with your creation and allow it to sink in for a few minutes. When you feel ready, leave your creation where it is to be carried away over time by the wind and rain.
- Allow your intuition to guide the process.
3. A Walking Quest (2-6 Hours)
This is a wonderful practice to engage in when you are able to set aside a bit more time – ideally half a day. This practice is a great one for when you are sitting with a dilemma, or you have a question weighing on your heart. Take yourself to the bush, or a park, or a creek. Find a place that can act as a threshold - a doorway, a gate, a tree - somewhere that can mark the beginning and end or your quest.
Bring the question or inquiry into you mind, and then let it settle in your heart and body. When you feel ready, cross the threshold, and allow your body and heart to commune with nature as you walk. Walk for 2 or more hours, and when it feels right, cross back over the threshold to mark the end of your quest.
- Do your best to stay away from actively thinking about your question.
- Don’t expect to have concrete answers by the end of your quest, but simply trust the process.
Turn off your phone
You can't do it wrong
"Nature works best when the mind is at rest"
Remember, nature is waiting for you.
Good luck, and please get in touch if you would like to ask any questions or share your experiences.