[Second post in a 4-part series on ecopsychology]
If I miss my outdoors time any day, I am no fun to be around. Just ask my child. Let me rephrase that for a teen. I may not be fun at any time, but at least I can tolerate myself.
What does ecotherapy do?
In order to reconnect to nature, we need to:
1) Slow down.
2) Observe something larger than our mental chatter.
3) Wonder why or how something we see happens and recognize our own reflection there.
4) Breathe outside air.
5) Exchange a ceiling for sky.
6) Sense motion, temperature, wind, sun, rain, snow.
No matter our physical state, whether we are running, sitting, standing, crawling, climbing, walking, the six elements above combine to improve our mental state. In Western models of medicine, mental health and physical health are separate entities, but of course they are deeply connected, and each of these components include a set of chemical chain reactions that impact our physical being as well, which I will detail next week in Wing 3.
I am not a trained psychologist, but I do know what works to prevent my own mental health pitfalls: Vitamin N.
A brief video example of the transformative power of 15 minutes in nature can be viewed here. “I felt recharged and centered for weeks afterwards.”
One great resource for therapists interested in healing with nature is Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind.
My life is not conducive to nature reconnection. How can I do ecotherapy?
You can! I hear this often from people I try to reach with encouragement to spend more outdoors time. One of the most powerful nature moments I described for a Project NatureConnect class happened with a little goldfish bowl indoors.
a) I closed my eyes and actually found I could hear the goldfish chewing little morsels of food or debris! Over 10 minutes of quiet sitting with eyes closed, I started to tell the difference between them coming up for a bubble of oxygen at the surface and below water eating sounds. I never listened with this purpose before. I could smell a bit of the earthy algae smell (probably caused by bacteria), but thankfully I have exchanged the water often enough that it is not too strong.
b) I felt incredible gratitude for these little beings sharing my space, exchanging air as I sleep, and keeping the humidity of my room healthy.
c) Silence and visual black-out allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for something that shares my immediate environment every day.
Another student in a metropolitan Asian city connected with a gorgeous piece of fruit from a market and sky outside her window. Another in a huge office building with a tree outside her window. This suggests benefits of nature connection involve a shift in sensory awareness, not limited by our physical location. If you truly have no place to view the natural world regularly and work long days indoors, a place to start is a positive childhood attraction to something in nature like a pet and bring to your awareness the gifts that brought to your life.
Adding up years, I have spent exactly half of my life living in major urban areas, where 80% of all Americans do. In hindsight, during all my years in major cities I performed “ecotherapy” on myself by walking long distances to school and work. For two years I did not realize I was walking 8 miles a day for my commute until a coworker told me the distance. All I knew was I was doing what it took to allow me to feel good mentally and connected to the natural world in some way.
At this point in my life, even though I still live a cubicle-type existence most of my waking hours, my heart is innocent as a country bumpkin, I am blessed to live in an area surrounded by water, trees, mountains, and I would die happy if I could live out my days in a 200 to 300 sq foot cabin in the woods like this (pending funds and someone to help me build): Hand-crafted forest house in Oregon.
If you absolutely cannot leave your cubicle, inner city apartment, hospital or board room, here is an App you can download for iPhone, iPad or iPod that allows you to access benefits of ecotherapy.
Great, but show me the money.
In the United Kingdom, a primary mental health service has completed many case studies and surveys about the benefits of ecotherapy. If you are interested in nuts and bolts, the Mind organization even compiled an economic cost/benefit analysis of how much money each mental health patient saved the state by participating in an Ecomind project.
Another example is a model food bank garden that provides “ecotherapy” to its garden volunteers (without labeling it such, but I know because I have benefited) while feeding the most needy in my community: Good Cheer Garden blog. A win-win effort toward local economic and mental stability.
“When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the warriors of the rainbow.” ~ Old Native American Prophecy
What will it take to get here? Many people I know are dreaming and acting as rainbow warriors right now.
They give me hope as we hurtle toward irreversible climate change and destruction as we saw this week. I cannot bring myself to post a blog on improving health by reconnection to nature without pausing to mention the enormous toll of this week’s largest storm ever recorded on the planet. I view this landmark event as a sign of a new normal in an out of balance organism of which we are a part (Earth and Earth’s miles of atmosphere), the effects of which we have helped to speed up, rather than proof that nature is evil. We are taught to fear nature in countless ways, and ever since I started “unlearning” a lot of these fears, I feel I really started living.
May a heart of protection go out around the Philippines and this man fasting until the best possible climate deal is reached, though he is under no illusion of real change. Ironically the UN praised the Philippines as having the “world’s best climate laws” in 2009.
“The great spiritual Teachers who walked the Earth and taught the basics of the truths of the Whirling Rainbow Prophecy will return and walk amongst us once more, sharing their power and understanding with all. We will learn how to see and hear in a sacred manner. Men and women will be equals in the way Creator intended them to be; all children will be safe anywhere they want to go. Elders will be respected and valued for their contributions to life. Their wisdom will be sought out. The whole Human race will be called The People and there will be no more war, sickness or hunger forever.”
~ Navajo / Hopi Prophecy of the Whirling Rainbow
In two weeks (Wing 4), I will look at any signs the Earth herself is evolving to overcome what humans have done to her as well as ways we can best align our technologies to work with her. Recognizing ourselves as a force of nature and mentally and physically aligning ourselves with regenerative powers of nature is the only way forward in the Anthropocene.