Nature as a Spiritual Practice

Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods after a difficult day and found your anxiety and stress soothed away? Time spent in a natural environment gives us a larger perspective on life: our own problems can seem less of a big deal when we stand underneath a mountain that’s been there for thousands of years, or gaze at the stars on a field. Studies have shown that observing and showing respect for nature for even a few moments can help us with stress relief, as well as to heal faster, and, amazingly, make better decisions as we tune into ourselves. Mindful walking on the earthmeditating in nature, visiting sacred places on the earth and observing how nature works are all forms of using nature as a spiritual path. These ways of connecting to nature all have a profoundly positive effect on our mental and physical well-being, soothing away worries and grounding us into our lives.

Nature: How Nature Helps us Heal Faster with A Spring Clean for the Brain 

This quote from John Muir hits the nail on the head: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” Connecting with the earth, and the stillness, peace and beauty of nature can replenish our tired batteries and give us a boost, in a completely natural way. Contemplating on the winding route of a river or the rugged peaks of a mountain, can help to soothe the everyday stresses of our pressured and technology-dominated lives, and open us up to new inspiration. How does nature have such a powerful effect on stress relief? Being in nature helps us be in the present moment, opening up our awareness to whatever thoughts, emotions or ideas might emerge. It’s like a spring-clean for the brain. You might also have heard the word ‘grounding’: walking on the bare earth has a grounding effect, as opposed to walking on concrete, which helps you to feel more focused and in your body instead of spinning out in your head. Far from an airy-fairy concept, nature as a spiritual path is a very practical thing!

Spending time in Nature, Meditating in Sacred Places, & Mindfulness Nature Practices

Steven Chase’s book ‘Nature as Spiritual Practice’ gives some great ideas to start off with in your explorations of nature as a spiritual path. Sitting or walking meditation in nature is a powerful way to connect with nature and yourself – it also helps to develop your intuition and mindfulness (insert mindfulness meditation article link). You can cultivate a connection with nature by visiting a particular place that you enjoy: a seaside location or a forest, or a sacred place like a stone circle. By connecting with a sacred place regularly, you can observe the changes through different times of day and through the seasons, and connect to your own cycles and rhythms. Try recording in a journal what you observe in nature. You never know where insight and inspiration will strike you.

Mindfulness & Topping up with Good Vibes from the Earth

So why is being in nature and connecting to it, so powerfully grounding and balancing? Some say this is because we all have an electro-magnetic field around us, that corresponds to that of the earth. The state of your electro-magnetic field determines how happy and connected you are. But it’s disrupted by constant signals from wi-fi and mobile phones, and needs regular topping-up of ‘good vibes’ from contact with the earth. The idea of nature as a spiritual path, and connecting with the earth as a spiritual or healing practice, is common to many wisdom traditions, such as Paganism and Shamanism (insert link to Shamanism article). In the 19th Century, poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and naturalist and writer Henry Thoreau explored the idea of nature as a tonic, and described nature as a route into understanding the deeper meaning of life (Transcendentalism). Their writings have been highly influential, sending many people out to commune with nature – sometimes in risky ways, like Christopher McCandless, who met a tragic end in Alaska in 1992.

Mystics in many traditions see all matter as alive and full of divine energy. The Anima Mundi, or ‘soul of the world’ theory holds that the Earth itself is a living, sacred being that is always evolving and changing – deserving our deep respect and care. The Anima Mundi is also a connection between all living things on the planet, in the same way that the soul is thought to be connected to the body. Nature-based spirituality takes this connection for granted. Test this theory out when you go into the mountains, sit on the seashore or take a walk through a beautiful forest: practice sensing the soul of the world pulsing with the energy of aliveness, and see if you can feel this pulse in your own body.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, Earth Mysteries & the Gaia Hypothesis

Many indigenous cultures have an emphasis on the ‘Earth Mysteries’, teaching their children to respect nature deeply, as something sacred. Nature-based spirituality is common to many cultures. Thoreau, who wrote extensively about nature in the nineteenth century, has become known as the father of the twentieth century’s environmental movement. In his essay ‘Nature’, Emerson, whose work influenced Thoreau, proposed the theory of transcendentalism, which is a way of seeing Nature as full of God essence, or as the ‘Universal Being’. The Gaia hypothesis is a more recent phenomenon that regards the Earth as a living, self-regulating system, and is highly influential on parts of the ‘green’ or environmental movement.

Why is it Ripe and Ready?

Connecting with nature and finding a nature-based spirituality helps us to give our busy minds a rest, and to create calm and peace as we learn more about our connection to all of life – and it’s a practical, free method of stress relief.

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