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.