08/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What's Your Favorite Method of Nature-Connection?

Instead of asking "What's your favorite method of connecting with nature?" maybe I should ask "What's your favorite way to connect with the rest of nature?" -- we're all part of the great Whole. The illusion (or delusion) of separateness causes so many of our problems.

Skeptics might ask: "Why bother with nature-connection in the first place?" Science replies: research has shown that nature-connection of almost any kind turns out to be a powerful healing force. Even the view of a tree outside a post-surgical hospital room will decrease recovery time and pain medication needed compared with a room looking onto a blank wall!

Science Daily recently reported on the latest research:

Science suggests access to nature is essential to human health. Elderly adults tend to live longer if their homes are near a park or other green space, regardless of their social or economic status. College students do better on cognitive tests when their dorm windows view natural settings. Children with ADHD have fewer symptoms after outdoor activities in lush environments. Residents of public housing complexes report better family interactions when they live near trees. These are only a few of the findings from recent studies that support the idea that nature is essential to the physical, psychological and social well-being of the human animal.

OK, so nature-connection is good for us. Now -- how to plug in?

In my ecotherapy practice, I've found that offering people an enticing list of nature-connection options works far more effectively than prescribing a particular preselected method like nature-walks or gardening or animal-connection. This isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Almost everyone has had an experience of strongly-felt connection with nature at some time in their lives. In fact, this may have been our deepest experience of the sacred.

Have you had a special experience connecting to any of the following aspects of nature? If so, I'd love to hear your comments.

  • Animals, both domestic and wild
  • Gardens
  • Wilderness
  • Nature's beauty
  • Plants - trees, flowers, veggies, herbs
  • Rocks and minerals
  • Sun, moon, stars, planets
  • Special places
  • Water, including rain, lakes, rivers, oceans
  • Wind
  • Fire
  • Soil/Earth

And have any of the following methods of relating to the rest of nature especially attracted you?

  • Art, music, writing and painting that capture nature or natural forces?
  • Reconnecting with the wild nature in your body? (yoga, dance, exercise, breathwork, somatic experiences)
  • Gathering food and cooking
  • Outdoor sports
  • Sensual connection - touch, sound, sight, smell
  • Wild psyche (uncontrolled by ego) -- eco-dreamwork, free association in nature, collective mythology, meditation practices
My experience is that once a person taps into a powerful nature-connection method that especially appeals or speaks to her -- whatever it is -- there is almost no stopping the outpouring of feeling, healing energy and creative expression connected with it.

In addition to whatever else your therapist may suggest as a treatment for anxiety, depression, addictions, interpersonal difficulties etc., a healthy dose of your own chosen form of nature-connection may be a natural next step in your healing process. You might also try journaling or artistic expression of some kind to process and share the feelings that emerge from the experience.

Why does nature-connection work so powerfully?

Perhaps a better question might be: what damage does nature-disconnection do to our bodies, minds and spirits? So many of us in the 21st Century are like wild animals living unnaturally in zoo cages (cubicles? offices?), separated from the natural world we were evolved to live in. Even a taste or a smell of freedom awakens profound joy and healing energy in our lives.

And it's important to reciprocate the healing.

It's not enough for us to just "use" nature to set ourselves free and heal our bodies and minds. That narcissistic selfishness would be part of the dysfunctional mindset that is destroying the rest of nature. Because we are a part of the natural Whole, there is no human mental or physical health in the absence of a healthy planet. The original subtitle of our book Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind was "Psyche and Nature in a Circle of Healing." When we connect with Nature and her blessings, it's important to remember that we must not do so merely for our own good, ignoring her plight as we benefit from her riches. At some point in our expanding relationship with our natural Healer, we need to inquire after Her health as well as our own, and in gratitude do our small part in protecting the animals, plants and places we love.

For more information...

"Effects of Gardens on Health Outcomes: Theory and Research," Roger Ulrich. In Cooper-Marcus and Barnes, eds. Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations,(NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1999).