No, I will not be trying to convince you to camp or hug trees, although if this is your style, more power to you! This is about the benefits of getting to know nature and developing a personal relationship with it. Why? Spending time in nature is one of the easiest, most affordable and effective ways to maintain health.
Although I grew up in a city environment, I am from a generation that did not know the joys of electronics early on, and my friends and I had to entertain ourselves outside the best way we knew how. I remember climbing trees, building snow forts, making clay factories. Nothing fancy. We didn’t have access to mysterious caves or awesome forests or no-end-in-sight sunflower fields. Just regular city kids making the best of our playtime outside.
I also remember moments. Moments when I felt completely one-on-one with nature. Once, my grandfather took me on a walk in a maple tree park. It was fall and the park’s ground was covered with large golden-yellow and orange maple leaves. The sunlight was taking the leaves’ color and using it to color the air in the park, and I felt as if I was walking through a park filled with golden-yellow air. The leaves on the ground also made the park very quiet. The silence was thick and comforting, and I remember feeling as if I was inside a giant, gentle cocoon.
Another moment I recall happened when my great aunt sent me to collect raspberries in her garden. The shrubs were much taller than me and I remember thinking I was in a secret forest. I saw all sorts of insects going about their business and a big spider in the middle of its large spider web. I remember being mesmerized by this hidden world that was so different than my human life and yet didn’t mind at all my presence.
Nature is unapologetically honest. If we are patient and brave enough, we will eventually observe the brutality of a predator’s hunting ritual, the cleverness of a scavenger’s food ritual, and the efficiency of a pack’s communication. Nature’s ways are matter-of-fact and practical. This world does not practice shame, guilt, or maliciousness, it just is.
Nature is also true to itself. Birds do not stop migrating because last year’s migration was particularly harsh, caterpillars do not stop going into metamorphosis because they don’t think they deserve to be butterflies, oaks do not stop throwing down acorns because humans think it is loud and a mess. This world does not overanalyze, or care about the opinions of others, it is predicable and consistent.
Being in nature is very healing for humans because it brings our attention to the most important and valuable thing we have in this life – this very moment. It empties our over stimulated brains by providing beautiful, unpretentious points of focus. It slows down out heartbeat by demonstrating that everything has its time and its place. It brings us back into our body by giving our eyes, noses, skin, and ears things to feel and sense.
In other words, nature reconnects us to ourselves in the most gentle, and yet powerful way. Staying in touch with our bodies, feeling peaceful inside, and having a sense of belonging in this world are the fundamentals of staying strong and healthy.