In his essay, “Understanding Eskimo Science,” cultural anthropologist, Richard Nelson, writes:
“Probably no society has been so deeply alienated as ours from the community of nature, has viewed the natural world from a greater distance of mind, has lapsed into a murkier comprehension of its connections with the sustaining environment. Because of this, we have great difficulty understanding our rootedness to earth, our affinities with nonhuman life.”
The question then becomes: “How do we reconnect with the Earth?” The simple answer is: Spend time in nature—the wilder the better. It is well known that spending time in nature increases our health, vitality, and sense of well-being. Some researchers have linked obesity, ADHD, and other childhood health conditions to a disconnection from nature (what Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder”).
You may have had an experience of awe from contemplating the vastness of the world when visiting the Grand Canyon or staring up into a starry night. Or you might have been captured by the infinitesimal complexity of nature when examining the veins on a green leaf or watching insects at work. You may have even had a mystical experience of timelessness and dissolution of the ego in a natural setting, when the boundaries between yourself and the world blurred. These experiences have the potential to transform our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world, from one of separateness and superiority to one of participation and interconnectedness (what deep ecologists call the “ecological self”).
“Connecting with nature” is something of a misnomer, because it implies that we ourselves are not already part of nature. But while this may be true on an ontological level, on the experiential level, it is common for modern human beings to feel disconnected from nature. Connecting with nature, then, is a basic part of Neo-Pagan practice. Doreen Valiente explained that what Neo-Pagans seek in celebrating the Wheel of the Year is …
“a sense of oneness with Nature, and the exhilaration that comes from contact with the One Universal Life. People today need this because they are aware of the tendency of modern life to cut them off from their kinship with the world of living Nature, until their own individuality is processed away, and they begin to feel as if they are just another cog in a huge, senseless machine. It is the reaction against this feeling that is attracting people’s interest in [Neo-Paganism] today. They want to get back to Nature, and be human beings again, as She intended them to be.”
The celebration of the Wheel of the Year is just one way of connecting with nature. Many Neo-Pagans employ ritual to help restore the sense of connection to the natural world. But connecting with nature need not be complicated. You can just go outside and be present to your surroundings: earth, sky, air, sun, birds, etc. Use all your senses. Stretch your senses to increase your awareness of your environment. Doing this will deepen your sense of place and your feeling of connectedness with the world around you. Many people find that this practice is more efficacious in wild nature, but it can be practiced in urban settings as well. Karen Clark advises:
“Hang out in your favorite green space with your senses on high. Attune to your exchange of breath with the trees: their green breath of oxygen with your red breath of carbon dioxide. Open your flat palms toward whatever wild thing catches your fancy and sense the tingling meeting of your energies. Peer into the microcosm of a rotting log, with its teeming collective of interdependent inhabitants.
“The Earth is alive. One web of life connects us all, breath to breath, and essence to essence. What your mind has forgotten, your body remembers.”
Below are several practices that can help you develop a better connection with your natural environment:
Go outside and meditate on the world in your immediate environment. Focus on being fully present in the moment. Examine specific aspects of the environment in detail. Use all of your senses including sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and what “focusing” founder, Eugene Gendlin, calls the “felt sense,” the tacit internal bodily awareness.
The sit spot
Go out to a place in nature. Sit there and observe. Do this every day or once a week for a year, so you can experience the place in different conditions and as the seasons change.
Sitting out or Setton sitting
Find a place in nature and sit very still and quiet until the wildlife begins to treat you like you are a part of the landscape.
Go for a walk without a plan. Be open to whatever you see, hear, and feel. Explore. Let yourself get lost.
Write down what you experience when you are in nature. Draw pictures of the plants and animals around you. Record the changes in the weather.
Learn how to live off the land. Learn what plants grow around you, and what is edible or medicinal. Go out to the hedgerows, fields, and forests. Gather edible plants responsibly and make a meal.
Give thanks before every meal. Acknowledge that what you are eating is a gift of nature.
Eat seasonably and locally
Learn what grows in your area in each season. This is a good way to connect with the changing of the seasons.
Grow your own food. Getting your hands dirty and eating food you yourself have grown can help you to connect with the Earth in a profound way.
Watch your organic waste turn slowly into usable soil. Composting can be a kind of extended meditation on the transformative power of nature. The actress, Bette Midler, has said this about her experience with composting:
“All my life I had waited for an inspiration, a manifestation of God, some kind of a transcendent, magic experience that could show me my place in the universe. This experience I made with my first compost.”
Learn Where You Are At
Find out the answers to these questions:
- What type of ecosystem or bioregion do you live in?
- What geological events influenced the land in your area?
- What are some of the indigenous flora and fauna?
- What species live in the region?
- What species have become extinct?
- What are some of the major weather patterns of your area?
- How long is your growing season?
- How much precipitation does your area receive annually?
- How is the land in your area used?
- Where is the wilderness in your area?
- Where does your water come from?
- Where does your food come from?
- Where does your garbage go?
- Where does your electric power come from?
- What are the major sources of local pollution?