For thousands of years people have been going into nature to seek a connection with something greater than themselves...
You can see it in the flocks of city people on their yearly camping trips. You can see it in the uprising of primitive skill gatherings, books about nature-deficit disorder and nature kindergartens. And it's not hard to see why...
Nature is a universally free source of very compelling gifts for human beings. It keeps the mind sharp. It teaches history and respect for life and others. It provides an unbroken link to our roots as people.
Many people use nature as a way to stimulate creativity. Others are seeking to create a rejuvenating retreat from the hustle & bustle of modern lifestyles.
The experience of being immersed in nature can even be deeply spiritual and life altering (as many seekers through the ages have written that the best way to access inner peace and find their sense of purpose in life is through nature).
Yet unfortunately, for most people having a real life daily or weekly connection to nature is not a normal part of their experience...
Perhaps it's just a memory of moments in childhood running free in the fields and forests. Or maybe it was a one-time experience of shifting into an expanded state of consciousness while hiking in the wilds.
As our society seems to get more crazy and the sensitive environment slips into decay, many people are worried that we've gone too far into chaos to escape.
I don't believe that to be true.
I've been studying human connection to nature on mental, physical, emotional & spiritual levels for about ten years now, and in this article I'd like to share some of the lessons I've learned about how to connect with nature.
What Really Stops Connection? And What Helps You Connect With Nature...
Here's the (somewhat) tough nut to swallow...
It has to do with what happens when people approach nature from a misunderstanding about how the human relationship to nature works.
I see this a lot.
When people have beautiful, exciting & awe-inspiring experiences in nature, the tendency is to assume that the outside world is responsible for that experience.
Many people believe that in order to have profound nature experiences they need to spend lots of time in the most beautiful places on earth.
They mistakenly believe that the more secluded or rare the location... the more profound the experience.
The problem comes when you believe that the experience of connection is determined by the outside world, rather than something that lives inside you at all times.
You might think that it's the river or the mountain or the lack of human activity that's responsible for allowing you to have beautiful, exciting & awe-inspiring experiences in nature.
Only to realize that recreating those same external conditions doesn't have the same desired effect.
In truth - even when these people get out to the deep wilderness, it doesn’t feed them as much as it could because they have the wrong attitude.
What I've learned over the years is that most people aren't actually paying attention to nature when they go outside.
They're paying attention to the lack of nature, or whatever else they have going on in their mind (work, relationships, school, fear, stress, etc).
Even people who think they're paying attention to nature, almost always have major gaps in their presence & awareness that prevents them from reaching the optimal level of depth to evoke lasting changes in human neurology.
The result is this...
When a distracted and internally absorbed person moves through nature, they don’t notice the trees or the air or the birds. Their mind & senses are closed off to what’s happening around them.
But this is not actually bad news. It's really good news :-)
Because it means that with the right focus and mindset, any activity in nature can be a deeply meaningful experience that clears the mind and brings balance to the human system.
Even something as simple as berry picking...
Simple Works Better When It Comes To Connecting With Nature!
This is what I want you to get from reading here today...
You don't need to go into the deepest and most secluded wilderness to experience all the benefits of nature connection!
Nature is really just one part of the equation. The other part is YOU!
If you focus on engaging more genuinely in any natural setting, you will immediately start to feel the effects.
Here's A Simple Activity You Can Do To Test My Assertion And See For Yourself:
Set aside about 30 minutes to try out this experiment. I promise it will be fun and pleasurable.
It's designed to help you FEEL the effects of nature. All you need is a simple lawn or a local park.
1. Start by paying attention to how you feel. Before you even go outside, just scan through your body and notice any points of tension. Notice any emotional sensations. Notice your mental state. What thoughts are running through your mind? You can even make a few notes in a journal if that helps you.
2. Go outside and find somewhere to sit quietly for 20-30 minutes. During this time focus on being present with your 5 senses. It doesn't need to be an amazing location. Your goal is simply to be aware of what's happening around you wherever you are. Take in the sights & sounds to the fullest extent of your ability. Watch, look, listen, get tuned in... You might want to close your eyes for part of the time so you can focus on feeling and listening to your surroundings.
3. Pay attention and contrast how you feel differently now. At the end of your 20-30 minute sit spot, pay attention for any changes that have taken place on an internal level, just like in step one. You might notice your mind and body feeling more relax. It's not uncommon for people to completely shift emotional states just by sitting in nature.
This is a practice that you can repeat on a daily or weekly basis. Most people find it to be a more effective way to access a meditative state because sensory stimulation is such a reliable method for altering your state of consciousness.
You might think of it like hitting the reset button.
As time goes on you can add more layers of awareness and focus to this dynamic meditation. Studies in wildlife tracking, bird language, plant studies will all shift and enhance the experience in very unique ways that can also be felt.
Five Internal Triggers For Deep Nature Connection Experiences
As I already mentioned...
The biggest thing to remember when connecting with nature is that it's NOT about finding the ideal location, and it really has everything to do with your attitude.
I wanted to leave you with 5 things you can choose to include in your attitude towards nature that will help you get the most from your experiences.
Use your senses. Your 5 senses are the only link your brain ever has with the outside world. Think about that. Your experience of life is limited by perception. The more you can perceive & observe, the more wisdom you have. Nature is the best teacher of accurate perception.
Do what feels easy & fun. Don't pressure yourself to drive 5 hours every time you want to connect with nature. Learn how to connect with nature in ways that easily fit your schedule and lifestyle. If sitting in the garden watching lady bugs brings you peace then do it! And do it often. If you have great hiking trails nearby... make use of them. But don't worry if you can't do those things. Every landscape has unique opportunities. Even in the middle of a city.
Practice the art of questioning. One of the best ways to deepen your experience of nature is by asking questions. A curious mind is an absorbed mind. You'll find that nothing works better to actually get your senses activated than a really good question. So what are you curious about? How could you nurture that curiosity? And what new questions arise as you seek the answers?
Keep a nature journal. Journaling is a great way to record your observations and keep track of your development over time. Try recording your experiences so that a reader could see through your eyes and share your perspective. Describe what was happening around you with the plants, birds, trees, etc. This is also a great place to record your questions.
(If you're interested in learning my unique strategy for keeping an effective nature journal, it's available in the store as the nature memory journal)
Share your experiences with others. You can also bring your reflections to a whole new level by retelling the story of your experiences with other people. This helps to spread curiosity & knowledge of your local landscape. Tell others about what you see in nature. Tell them about your new discoveries with plants & birds, and let them join you in your curiosity. This is a conversation that lives at the core of nature-based mentoring.
One of the best ways to connect with nature is by spending time with other people who share your love and excitement for the natural world.
If you enjoyed this article, then I'd really love to share my process for quickly identifying big picture patterns in a landscape, that can be used to tune your sensory awareness & make predictions about local ecology & wildlife.