This is what I think I know:
A connection to nature is a sense of joined destiny and belonging between humans and the rest of the natural world. We may exist in relationship to each other physically distant or close but a sense of connection keeps nature close to the heart, it is intimate. Like any relationship there is a range of feelings: mutual respect, understanding, love, awe, empathy, belonging, fascination, need, happiness, joy and on the flip side may be discomfort, pain, sadness, guilt, longing, expectation; these in balance are also the components of wellbeing. Our sense of connection begins when we are born as part of the natural world, into the natural world. How we sustain that relies on our ability and willingness to recognise our conjoined destiny and do what is required to keep the spark of connection in any relationship, make an effort! Psychologist James Hillman captured this well when he said:
“…stop imagining the earth as a good mother passive, nurturing and supportive and recognize the idea of earth to be a complex phenomenon requiring efforts of thought and imagination”
What does making an effort look like?
1. Experiencing nature. You can keep a sense of connection strong by experiencing nature often, through all the senses: going for a walk with the dog, gardening, feeding your fish, adventuring in the bush, swimming in lakes or the ocean, beach combing, making nature themed art, smelling the rain; even in the city you can do these things. Returning to a place or experience repeatedly, builds a stronger relationship as you get to ‘know’ more about it and collect stories of experience over time.
BUT people do this every day and they still don’t necessarily feel connected so what is needed to make this meaningful?
2. Reflection and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the name given to the moments when you are focussed with your body mind and spirit in an experience. Contradictory to its name, mindfulness usually has no mind involved at all but is just about being! Reflection however is where the mind comes in and acknowledges the feelings and actions you experienced; it is part of the process of meaning making. Reflection about experiences in nature may be simply noticing how you feel/ felt e.g: how the warmth of the sun is making you feel sleepy and content; how you come up with creative ideas when you go for a walk in the park; how you cry when your dog is hurt; your sense of amazement at the colours of the autumn leaves; how small you feel when you look out on an expansive view or a brilliant sunset
How do you reflect? i.e how do you become aware of these feelings and actions?
Through conversation, art and music making, thought, telling stories, writing poems, keeping a journal….anything that helps ‘bring to mind’ the experience.
This reflection creates a sense of awareness of the nature that is around you and the kind of relationship you have with nature. Depending on your experience it may be a relationship of love it may be one of love – hate, perhaps of respect but hopefully what is discovered is that we do have an effect on each other, both physically and emotionally our destinies are intertwined. This is a sense of connection and this is at the heart of wellbeing!
So to strengthen your connection to nature or facilitate this for others, my advice is this:
- Experience nature often and provide the opportunities for others to experience the rest of the natural world too.
- Help the process of reflection and meaning making by talking, writing, thinking or creating about the feelings and actions involved with the experience.
- Do it again! Get involved in or provide activities that expand yours and others experiences.
These actions create feelings, which nurture connections to the natural world, which create values, which lead to caring actions toward nature, which ultimately lead to harmonious co-existence, which we call sustainability!
For a more academic description of nature connection, have a read of the post: Connection to nature vs contact with nature: The wellbeing link.
Hi Erica – what a great blog, and fantastic work you do!
I don’t know much about wellness, but something of sustainability and EfS. In relation to this post, I’d suggest the phrase “connecting to nature” provides the beginnings of its own critique.
“Connection” implies an initial separation of whatever things are connected. Moreover, the connection itself is inert, and provides merely a channel through which commands might be given, or actions co-ordinated. It does not imply a transformation of the connected entities.
So when I try to imagine what “connection with nature” means, I start from the perspective that I am here, and nature is over there, its always been that way, and now I am sending a wire, or string, or radio signal to “connect”.
Our use of the “connect” to describe our tenuous, often vacuous, and highly unnatural social media relationships further impoverishes the word, and, I suspect, renders it a blunt and useless tool for the great work you are doing.
Again, your description of what you are actually doing suggests you want your clients to:
“recognise your utter dependence on nature”
“use a feather or a smell of spring flowers to trigger nature within you”
“consciously and mindfully BE nature”
Don’t mean to tell you how to suck eggs, but I’d suggest you leave “connecting” to electricians and Facebook.
Hi Drew. there is a lot in there for me to ponder before I reply more fully but a word on the language I use. I agree that words like ‘connection’ and ‘sustainability’ particularly are over used and perhaps hollow terms because of this. I use these words because they are part of the language that is circulating on this topic, they are not words I would use otherwise. I’m glad that the post prompted you to think more deeply about what connection means to you and to find words that fit better for you.
noun: connection; plural noun: connections; noun: connexion; plural noun: connexions
1.a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else. “the connections between social attitudes and productivity”
synonyms:link, relationship, relation, interconnection, interdependence,
I think her use of connection is fine in the sense of what she is writing about. We ARE all a part of nature inheritantly but since we have as a whole, disconnected ourselves from nature finding our ‘connection’ or ‘re-connecting’ to nature is exactly what we ALL nee at this time.
Your insightful blog triggers many thoughts as well as admiration. Like you, I am deeply committed to fostering people’s connection with the natural world. And also like you, I have grappled with the challenge of conveying what this connection means and involves. I agree with you that it can only be genuinely “known” through experience, reflection and expression. A way I have devised for starting people on that journey invites them to think about their relationship with nature using questions suggested by the principles of biophilic design.
As you probably are aware, these principles are used by the more enlightened planners and architects of this world to bring nature into the built environment. Here are some of the questions I have come up with:
Do/How can I experience natural light that is constantly changing in direction and intensity?
Do/How can I experience natural ventilation?
Do/How can I have access to open and moving water?
Do/How can I have opportunities, by way of gardens and other amenities, for spontaneous interaction with nature?
Do/How can I I experience the excitement of exploration and discovery in nature?
I hope that the questions help people to fashion a “down-to-earth” (if beginning) understanding of what connecting with nature means.
For a very insightful and in depth discussion about connection to nature, you may also like to visit Matt Zylstra’s website and blog Eyes4Earth (http://eyes4earth.org/) . Matt has been studying connections to nature for his PhD with a focus on meaningful encounters with animals. He has been a great supporter of my work in the last year and a source of significant inspiration.
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This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.
Mike, I greatly appreciate your comment. But having re-read your own excellent posts on the topic, I am surprised that you found something new in my humble efforts. If it is OK, I would like to have the option of quoting (with acknowledgment, of course) some of your thoughts in a podcast series that I am about to record.
I must apologise, Mike. It seems I got my wires crossed. Your comment appeared in my email inbox as a WordPress communication. I mistakenly believed it related to one on my recent posts on connecting with nature.
Thanks Mike. It’s been awhile since I wrote that. Since that time many things have been said about nature connection and I still think this post holds true 🙂