Now that the weather is warmer, Gregg and I have begun an early morning ritual to start the day in tune with nature (though as you can see from this photo, some mornings are still quite cold and even a bit snowy.) We sit on the deck of the teahouse, and simply breathe. Sitting still. Being quiet. Simply breathing. In this presence meditation, our senses come alive. Mourning doves call to us. Aspens sway. Clouds whisp into the blue. As we breathe in the fresh air, we engage with the world, connecting with real life as it is in this moment, nourished by the uncontrollable power and beauty of nature. Every morning we conduct the same practice. Every morning we encounter a different world.
Those who live in cities may need to make a more deliberate effort in order to get a nature fix. More and more research is confirming what we already instinctively know – that exposure to nature is healing and restorative for both our bodies and our minds and that we would be wise to keep our connection with nature alive.
Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at Stanford, has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In particular, his research looked at the impact of nature on a person’s tendency to “brood”, or to ruminate excessively about distressing situations. Brooding, apparently “is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas and can be a precursor to depression”. Bratman’s research confirmed that a 90 minute walk through a quiet area of Stanford’s campus reduced a person’s level of broodiness, and a 90 minute walk near a busy street in Palo Alto had no effect. He was also able to contrast the activity in the part of the brain that is associated with brooding and found a neurological correlation between the two groups.
So whether you are sitting quietly observing nature or walking briskly through it, you are likely to experience positive benefits that may ripple through your day and out into the world. We are, after all, part of nature’s family. It is easy to forget this if our lives become too tamed, too angular, too artificial. The wild and natural world provides, for free, a healing antidote to the stressors of modern life. Here’s to the breezes and the chirps and the new buds of April.
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 20 years.