Nature as Healer

This weekend I had the opportunity to hike and camp in northwestern Connecticut. I spent 2 days in the woods, cooking over a fire, chopping wood and sleeping under the stars. As I drove back to the city on Sunday afternoon, I noticed how different my body felt. Yes, I was tired and sore from the physical activity and the lack of sleep. I was also calmer. I could feel myself moving at a slower pace. I could feel a sense of relaxation in my nervous system.

While I was in the woods, I felt like my body belonged there. It wanted to feel the ground beneath me. It wanted to lay on the rock and listen to the sound of the water cascading downhill. In the morning, the bird song felt like a hymn. In the afternoon, the sun warmed me, body and soul. At night, I felt the cool breeze, I saw the moon make its way across the sky and I felt like I was home. There is something about the rhythm of a day that resonates deeply in my body. I was working while I was there and still I left feeling more relaxed than when I arrived.

When we are in a place that feels nurturing and comforting, it can be easy to fret that it won't last or to believe we can't really have it. We can take ourselves right out of the experience. We can move away from the very thing that we may be seeking. I noticed myself doing that this weekend. My mind would wander and I would think about coming back to the city. I would drift into fears about money and the future. I would worry my food might run out by the end of the trip and I'd be hungry.

One of my practices is to let myself deeply absorb things that feel good. Rick Hanson calls this "Taking in the Good" in his book "Buddha's Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom." He describes savoring our positive experiences, staying with them for seconds at a time, maybe even half a minute or more, and imagining them entering into our mind and body. Because we are hard-wired to focus on the negative, we need practice focusing on the positive. Hanson calls this the negativity bias of the brain. In terms of survival of our species, it was more essential for us to take note of danger and things that didn't feel good, than it was to highlight the good stuff.

Most of the time this weekend, I forgot to practice taking in the beauty and peace of the nature around me. As I prepared to leave, though, I set an intention to bring part of my experience with me. I wrote myself a note to take with me the things I had felt connected to, such as the moon, the wind and the bird song. Now that I am home, I can recall my time in the woods and continue to savor the experience.

This is something each of us can do. The next time you notice feeling a moment of joy, love or something else that feels good, see if you can pause for a moment. Let yourself savor it. Imagine it becoming a part of you. Let it take up space in your body and in your awareness. Notice how long you can stay with it before your mind wanders. Know that you are planting seeds of goodness and well-being. 

For me, I will also bookmark the way I felt while I was camping as a reminder of how much I enjoy being outside and how good that feels in my body. It is important not only to pause and savor our positive experiences, but also to note under which circumstances they occur. Knowing what we like provides direction and leads to satisfaction.

May you be well.