Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world. – John Muir
Nature, being outdoors, hiking, outdoor activity; we all know that it’s good for us. All of the research proves that the health and wellness benefits of being in the natural world are impressive. Spending time in nature is proven to decrease stress, lessen levels of anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and quiet the mind. Immersion in the natural world can significantly decrease levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone that can wreak havoc on the physical body when there’s too much of it coursing through our veins.
Spending time in a natural environment has also been shown to improve memory and recollection, and to speed the rate of healing in the physical body. Hospital studies have proven that when a patient recovering from surgery or illness is in a room with a view of a park or a stand of green trees, they heal at a much faster rate than patients whose windows look out at the concrete of a building. Over 75 percent of the world’s medicines come from the forest, namely, the rainforest. There are organic compounds present in most trees, especially conifers, that increase the level of natural cancer-killing T cells in the human body. A walk in the woods every day improves the functioning of the immune system. Given all of this information, it certainly makes sense to get outside into the fresh air every day to improve our overall health and well-being. But then, what about the internal self? The part of us that is unseen, locked deep inside? The part of us that is the essence of what we are? What about our soul?
I grew up on a farm, and every day of my young life was spent outside. My Mother would hold open the kitchen door and say, “Get outside,” not as a command, but more as an invitation to adventure. I spent my days wandering through the fields, the woods, the gardens, the barn. I waded through streams and took dips in the cold water on hot days. I found snakes, bugs, feathers, and mystery footprints in the mud. It was all magical to me then, and it remains so now. I’ve spent much of my adult life wandering through hot dry deserts, backpacking through canyons and over mountains. I’ve meandered through cool, damp, lush New England forests, and been awed by the giants in the redwood forests of the Northwest. I know that for me, my sense of God, or the Divine, the Infinite Knower, the Source, resides in nature. Nature is my Higher Power.
When we immerse ourselves in the natural world, away from the trappings and distractions of modern life, things become very simple. The noise in our head quiets, and our deepest selves, the yearnings of our hearts, can begin to be felt. We begin to feel smaller yet connected to something so much larger, something vast, something more real, closer to the divine – not just within us, but all around us. We being to remember that we are not apart from, but a part of, this beautiful, miraculous, awe-inspiring planet that we call home. We are a part of the miracle of everyday life. We breathe in the energy of the Earth and reconnect to what is true. And this feeds our soul. We come from the earth, and we will return to it in the end. Nature is our true home. So find yourself in the natural world as often as you can; get out for a hike, a walk, sit in a park, or stroll through the woods. It will improve your health, increase your energy, and help you sleep better. But more important, for you and the whole world, it will strengthen your connection to the divine, to all of life, to your heart; it will create a sense of connectedness to something so much larger than the petty worries of everyday life. It will create a sense of peace, love, and stewardship for the planet and all of life. It will feed your soul.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry