Connecting with Nature

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:

 Sense meditation

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.

Wander

Go for a walk without a plan. Be open to whatever you see, hear, and feel. Explore. Let yourself get lost.

Journal

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.

Bushcraft/Forage

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.

Thanksgiving

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.

Garden

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.

Compost

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?

Updated 2019

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