Think about your regular trips to the grocery store. How often do you consider the cows whose milk and cheese you’re buying? Do you think about how the bell peppers in your cart used to be tiny seeds? And how far have those bananas traveled to get to you? Maybe you’re already great at feeling connected to the food you eat. But so many of us forget that our nourishment came from somewhere. This is a perfect example of the disconnection between humans and nature.
Communion with Nature
The fact that we’re even writing an article about the benefits of getting into “nature” shows that there’s a huge problem in how we’re living: we’re seeing nature as separate from ourselves. In reality, humans are part of the interconnected web of nature that makes up our world. Somewhere along the way, we tore ourselves from the nature that sustained us for so long. And living distinct from nature is a fairly recent development in the grand scheme of human existence—a small fraction of hundreds of thousands of years.
One study found that the average American spends over 90 percent of their time indoors. That’s 22 hours a day! Our modern lives don’t give us many reasons to interact with the outdoors—working in office buildings instead of hunting and gathering, driving in air-conditioned cars instead of walking. But that’s not how our bodies and spirits are meant to live. Jiddu Krishnamurti, an influential spiritual philosopher, said:
“Nature is part of our life. We grew out of the seed, the earth, and we are part of all that, but we are rapidly losing the sense that we are animals like the others. Can you have a feeling for a tree, look at it, see the beauty of it, listen to the sound it makes? Can you be sensitive to the little plant, a little weed, to that creeper growing up the wall, to the light on the leaves and the many shadows? One must be aware of all this and have that sense of communion with nature around you. You may live in a town, but you do have trees here and there. A flower in the next garden may be ill-kept, crowded with weeds, but look at it, feel that you are part of all that, part of all living things. If you hurt nature, you are hurting yourself.”
We are meant to be in communion, or at one, with nature. Although we don’t live immersed in nature the way that humans have in the past, the good news is that we can mend the disconnection between ourselves and nature. And when we do, our lives will change.
MotherNature, or the Great Creator
To reconnect yourself to nature, you can start by communing with the creator of all things. Like we mentioned above, we are interconnected to all living things on the earth, and this is thanks to a divine power that created all of us. This is a key element of spirituality. Acknowledging the divine power that is in all of creation will fill you with gratitude and help you see the strength that comes from spending time outside. It’s hard to classify the feeling you get standing on top of a mountain, cozying up against a tree, or strolling through a meadow of wildflowers. Something about doing these things pulls you towards a power bigger than yourself. That’s how it feels to find God in nature.
Believing in a guiding creator of the universe changes how you see yourself in the world. Some people refer to their higher power by the name Mother Nature—god and earth in one strong, guiding force. This name represents the motherly characteristics of nature: its life-giving, creating power. Some questions to ask yourself to think more about this idea are:
● What things remind me of MotherNature?
● What nourishment do I receive from the earth?
● How can I show more appreciation for the resources I receive from Mother Nature?
Try journaling your answers to these questions to forge a better connection to the divine and to the earth.
When it comes to the formation of the earth, there is sometimes debate between believing in God and believing in scientific evidence. This is often because of creation myths. Different belief systems have different creation myths, one of the most common being found in the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible.Creation myths are symbolic stories that convey sacred truths, and you can decide how literally you believe them. Believing in a higher power does not need to clash with accepting what’s been proven scientifically. You can engage with both ideas, taking what resonates with you from each of them.
TheFour (or Five) Classical Elements in Nature
People once believed that all things on the earth were made of four elements: earth, fire, water, and air. These are referred to as the classical elements, and they arose in some form in ancient communities all over the world. Although modern science has revealed that the world’s makeup is a little more complicated than people once thought, you can still benefit from learning the significance of the four classical elements.
Earth is the home and life source of all things. It is literally the foundation that all humans, creatures, and plants stand on. Because of its association with fertility and nourishment, it is a feminine element. The earth element represents stability, health, and security.
Water is a symbol of rebirth, intuition, and healing. It sustains life in all living things, like the earth element, and therefore, it is feminine. Unlike the earth element, water is characterized by its movement and fluidity. Since running water is generally cleaner than standing water, one of the symbols of the water element is cleansing.
Fire. Fire represents power and assertiveness.It manifests in strong emotions, even opposing ones like love and anger, and when left unchecked, it can destroy things. Because fire is associated with the sun, the light from fire keeps us all safe from a dark and cold world. It is a masculine element.
Air. Air is the element symbolizing perception, communication, and creativity. Oxygen is essential for the brain, and so air is strongly linked with knowledge. Without air, neither plants nor animals could survive. While air is necessary for life (like earth and water),its majestic power makes it a masculine element.
The elements are meant to balance one another in moderation. Too much of any one element can prove to be disastrous (think: earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, tornadoes, etc.). Consider the balance of the elements in your life. For example, perhaps you rely too heavily on knowledge (air) and not enough on intuition (water).Reconnecting to nature can help you access the elements more evenly.
In some traditions, there are actually five elements, the last of which being aether (sometimes called space or void). Aether represents the non-physical element of life, what heavenly things are made of. Hinduism holds that the five elements are associated with the five senses: Earth, the“lowest” element, can be accessed by all five senses, and water can be heard, felt, seen, tasted, but not smelled. Fire can be heard, felt, and seen, and air can be heard and felt. Aether, the “highest” element, can only be heard. The five elements and the five senses can be explored by practicing forest bathing in the next section.
Intro to Forest Bathing
You can practice applying these principles with forest bathing, a healing practice that started in Japan. It’s a form of mindfulness that helps you form a partnership with the land, activate your senses, and slow your mind down. Basically, forest bathing is going outside, preferably near trees, and deliberately engaging with your five senses.
Forest bathing has been shown to have many benefits. It improves your overall health, both physical and mental. Trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which activate the natural killer cells in your body that fight viruses and tumors. Being around trees also reduces your cortisol and adrenaline levels, causing you to feel less stress. In the same vein, less stress leads to less anxiety, depression, and anger. Over time, being in nature will transform how you connect with other people, yourself, andGod.
The Skylight app has a few exercises to introduce you to forest bathing. One of them is a fifteen-minute guided exercise led by Chris Newton called “Practice ForestBathing”. You can listen to it when you try forest bathing for the first time.Alternatively, we’ve summed it up here if you’d rather read it. As you “bathe in the forest”, seek out the five elements (we’ve given a few hints).
Find a place outside where you are surrounded by natural beauty—your neighborhood park, your backyard, or a nearby nature preserve are all good options. Once you’re there, sit in a comfortable position. Relieve stress in your body through small movements—rotate your neck and shoulders, stretch, shift your weight from side to side. Now focus on your breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let your body relax. Notice the sounds around you. How do they change when you turn your head to the right or left? What’s the farthest sound you can hear? Cup your ears with your hands and see how that changes what you hear. Touch any grasses or branches that are around you(earth). What textures do you feel? Is the ground damp (water) underneath you?What do you smell? Are there any memories associated with the smells? Feel the sun (fire) and the breeze (air) on your face. Pretend there is a straw in your mouth and suck through the straw. Can you taste anything in the environment? Do you feel more spiritually connected (aether) to Mother Earth? Why?
Forest bathing can be done for five minutes or five hours, whatever suits you best. The point of it is to deliberately engage with the earth you live on. If you make it a regular practice, you’ll feel a greater spiritual connection to nature and to divinity.Perhaps you’ll see a certain wildflower on your street that you’ve never noticed before, or maybe the next spider you find in your house won’t be so terrifying.In the end, we hope you’ll recognize that you are a part of nature and let that knowledge transform your life.