How are you? Hasn’t it been gorgeous out? We haven’t reached the usual scorching, soggy temperatures yet, and the gnats are still on vacation somewhere else.
As a result, I have been really enjoying nature. This past weekend, we went to Wolf Trap and sat on the lawn to hear Ziggy Marley and Trombone Shorty. I think it was the best concert that I’ve been to. Ziggy was great but Trombone Shorty was fantastic. The grassy hill was packed. It was mood-changing sitting at Wolf Trap as dusk purpled the sky, taking in all the excited energy of the crowd. Seeing music fans dance to Ziggy’s reggae tunes was exhilarating. You see? “nature” doesn’t have to be the same as “wilderness.”
Nature is Prozac
Do you think that being in nature is healing? What are some of the ways that you enjoy the outdoors? Do you like to swim in the ocean? Do you take walks or run outside? Do you drink your morning coffee on your deck? Do you gaze at the stars?
When I lay on the beach and let the sun warm my body, I feel renewed. I have always used the metaphor that the ocean is the earth’s womb. In a way that is literally true. We rely on the ocean to thrive. Earth’s expanses of water are key to the success of all life. We eat fish from the ocean, we breathe the oxygen it gives off (half of all oxygen is produced there), and we feel the warmth/cooling of its huge currents that move our weather. Without the ocean, we couldn’t sustain life.
When I go for walks on the paths in our neighborhood, I so much appreciate all the greenery around me. I am so thankful for the trees because they allow me to breathe cleaner air, preserve the earth and provide homes for so many of our outdoor critters. It really is like being with loving grandparents, so essential to feeling like I’m cared for in this world.
Mental Health and Nature
The ocean, trees, soil, air, sun, and stars are the individual elements that we rely on to keep the Earth alive. But together nature provides us with the perfect integration of the elements to provide natural resources and emotional satisfaction that supports our mental health.
In the early 90’s I read, Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community by Sobonfu Some. Sobonfu was a Burkinabe teacher and writer, specializing in topics of spirituality. As a teacher, Sobonfu taught earth-based spirituality to numerous communities in the U.S. I was lucky enough to attend many of her workshops including several Fire/Grief Ritual Workshops that focused on releasing grief. It was a safe and sacred space to grieve without having to talk it through intellectually. We gathered wood, set up an altar in honor of our ancestors, danced to drumming, created offerings from nature, shared meals, and more. We connected as a community. It was such a cleansing and uplifting experience. Sobonfu passed away in 2017 but her legacy continues thru her nonprofit Wisdom Spring, an organization that raises money to dig wells and support education for her home village in Burkina Faso and other countries where water is scarce and money for education is not readily available. For more information go to www.wisdomspring.org.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you sign up to dig wells. I’m saying that however you spend time in nature, it is linked to positive mental health outcomes including improved focus, lower stress, better mood, and reduced risk of developing a mental health condition. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin and vitamin D, which are associated with boosting mood and focus and reducing stress. If being in nature stirs you to action, that’s great. But just being out there is what I’m recommending!
Activities in Nature for Enhancing Mental Health
What are some of the activities that you can do outside to enhance your mental and emotional health? Let’s name a few:
Plant some flowers or veggies in your yard.
Pull some weeds.
Do yoga on your porch.
Walk around the neighborhood.
Swim a few laps at the community pool.
Throw a ball with one of your children or a neighbor’s child.
Relax under a tree.
Bike ride with a friend.
Write in your journal on the back porch.
What else do you want to add to the list? Please let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy the healing presence of nature.
Be kind. Be generous. Be brave. Be forgiving. Be empathic.