Nature can be your healer
Nature can be your healer, teacher and guide. For some, it can even be a deep and enlivening companion and friend. It is possible to experience nature, and the environment you live and work in, as nurturing and enlivening while also helping to heal and nurture the earth. Ecopsychology and ecotherapy are emerging fields that provide principles and practices for developing a more conscious and sustainable relationship with nature, the world and spirit. It’s a path of discovery for a way of being that provides soulful wellness, fulfillment and an enlivened connection with home, workplace and the whole living earth community for an eco-conscious present and sustainable future.
Through simple practices, every time you bring your awareness and presence to nature you can learn how to open to nature’s nurturing! This receptive and giving connection with nature involves developing a bond between you and the earth. It can enable you to become increasingly authentic and empowered as a soul, living and expressing your true nature, life force and care for the planet. Being in nature in this way can free you of stresses, bring healing, rekindle your joy and vitality, reawaken you to the sacred, and bring new insights and meaning, including a growing clarity of your life purpose and vision in relation to the soul of the world.
Ecopsychology is a relatively new professional field linking ecology with psychology. Ecology is the study of the dynamic relationships between all living things. Psychology, on the other hand, studies the care of the human psyche or soul. Ecopsychology, then, emphasises that an interdependent wellness relationship exists between our care of the soul and care of the earth. One of the primary goals of ecopsychologists is the facilitation of modes of conscious living that help foster both human and planetary wellness. The significant message of ecopsychology is that key practices exist whereby our personal and planetary wellbeing can be mutually promoted.
One of the key relationships that ecopsychology explores is between a person’s health and surroundings. Our home, as our most immediate living area, is one environment that we all tend to recognise as influencing our happiness, health and wellbeing. While most of us aim to create quality Home environments that enhance wellness, this is often only partially achieved. Suzanne Lewarne, professional counsellor and consultant for Your Sacred Space explains: “Many people don’t recognise their homes are actually living environments that reflect back their personal state of being and inner reality. In working with a person’s need to develop a more conducive home environment, we often find that a loss of inner connection to one’s home is accompanied by a loss of sacred connection to one’s self, natural environment and world.” The same might be said for our work and public environments. People can learn how to re-establish an embodied and alive connection with these restored environments and themselves. Such a practice is an active way to help care for the soul and spirit of people, the organisation and its relationship with our world.
Outcomes of ecotherapy
The restoration of wellbeing and soul life through contact between nature and home, workplace and public environments that are more “whole” is sometimes referred to as ecotherapy. Research citing the potential healing aspects of a wide range of projects in ecotherapy has been published extensively in medical, leisure, psychological and other journals. This includes studies on the wellness and psychological benefits of time in the wilderness, transformational rites of passage experiences, involvement in conservation projects and contact with wildlife and smaller animals. It is reasonable to expect that the results of these studies would reflect our own common experience: that being in quality, non-urban, natural environments can deeply restore us.
Participants in these ecotherapy studies have included business leaders, leadership trainees, those seeking self-actualisation, distressed people, and children with emotional and behavioural problems. Reported outcomes have been wide-ranging depending on the nature-based involvement. They also extend well beyond the general deeply restorative experiences expected.
Apart from the typical health benefits associated with exercise, further outcomes include: improved self-image, better employment prospects, more realistic self-reports of weaknesses and strengths, a sense of greater self-sufficiency with respect to the use of one’s time and talents, improved group participation, an increased sense of concern for others, enhanced self-image and humility, self-actualisation, the feeling of being part of a greater system connecting beyond the individual, and an increased likelihood of spiritually uplifting experiences.
The triangular balance
True ecotherapy involves more than a one-way use of nature to gain physical, psychological or even spiritual benefits. It involves a mutually beneficial and sustainable interaction within a whole system that also benefits the earth. Susan Moylan-Coombs, a Gurindji woman living in Guringai country, in northern Sydney, explains this distinction from an indigenous aboriginal perspective in her teaching called “The Triangular Balance” as the difference between use through ownership (“this land is mine”) and use through identification, kinship and belonging (“this land is me”).
As Moylan-Coombes says, “In the film ‘One Night the Moon’, Paul Kelly’s character, the white settler, sang ‘This land is mine’ while the Aboriginal tracker, played by Kelton Pell, sang ‘This land is me’.” The white settler sang about his defined ownership over the land, the black tracker sang about the rocks, water, animals and trees as a part of him, as a way of saying, “They are my song”. For Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there is a deep bond and reciprocal relationship between humans and country. This landscape or Mother Earth is a part of us and we are a part of her. We are born of the land, we walk the land and when we die we go back to the land. We identify ourselves within the landscape that we are connected to.
This is such a synergistic relationship that when it’s broken, suffering occurs. For the environment, there is ecological destruction, for humans, grief, despair and sickness. If we do not listen to the wisdom of our Elders, we will Travel too far down the path of destruction. We need to care for this country and we need to reconnect with this country because when we do, there will be healing for both. If we look beyond the surface of the seamless Beauty and unity between indigenous people and country, there exists, on a deeper and more fundamental level of being, an expression of life lived out of the same absolute source, called Spirit.
The triangular balance in life is the harmony that exists between the human world, the natural world and the spirit world. Our identities are embedded within this and the balance as humans lies in the landscape and within the Dreaming. Meaning is found everywhere in our stories, songs and dances and in the soundscapes and rhythms of Mother Earth.
As our self-identity is entwined with nature, the loss of those songs, dances, stories and sacred places is far more devastating than is often understood. With indigenous people’s soundscapes and oral traditions being replaced with the contemporary emphasis on the written word, we as a nation continue to become impoverished. When we only perceive meaning about the world around us through text and not through our senses, then life’s natural magic is lost.
As the human mind is shaped by the world we live in, contemporary western society is starting to recognise that the escalating spread of pain and despair being felt by people is a direct result and response to the continual destruction of the environment. This destruction has occurred at the hands of our own species, which makes one doubt the intelligence and wisdom of mankind in destroying his own backyard. This destruction is not likely to end until human beings regain an identity and bonding with Mother Earth.
Personal soul ecology
The message of ecopsychology parallels that of indigenous wisdom: our human soul is an integral part of the earth through nature. This sense of earthly belonging can arise simply at times for many of us whether at a beach, in a rainforest, in the Garden or at a place where nature has been disturbed or harmed. These moments are characterised by an experience of connection with our surroundings where our sense of self opens to, and may even identify or merge with, nature in some way. A wide range of personal experiences is possible in these moments.
There may be an appreciation of nature’s beauty, strength and capacity to thrive, or a recognition of its suffering. Depending on the experience, you may feel a sense of wellbeing, wonder, joy, inspiration, energy, compassionate concern, anger or dismay. The presence of feelings indicates that an empathic or emotional bond is present. Theodore Roszak, one of the founders of ecopsychology, says this indicates that you have moved your awareness from your “ecological unconscious” (a sense of self that is separate from nature) into your “ecological ego” or earth-caring, ecological self. This eco-self can be experienced in a wide variety of ways. The actual nature and quality of your personal soul ecology depends on the general dynamics of how you are within yourself and in relation to life, as well as what is happening in your personal process and in nature at the time.
Social and corporate ecology
Opening into an ecotherapy bond with nature, with others and with your world promotes the wellness, healing and soul alignment with Spirit that so many of us seek. As you attune to your inner and outer environments, a deeper sense of relatedness arises (your ecological self). This can lead to a more authentic, fulfilled and active participation with your true self, and those you live and work with. The skills involved in attaining this state for a more holistic sense of success and meaning, conscious relating and sustainable living can be learned. Imagine the benefits for each of us, our organisations and our planet if individuals, businesses and all people learned how to do this.
The current crucial transformation to more ecologically aware, soul-centered living and working requires earth-conscious, socially responsive actions by individuals, businesses, governments and organisations. As psychologists discuss the need for a new diagnostic mental health category of “ecological despair” it is important to realise that apathy, denial, guilt and feeling overwhelmed are less than healthy responses to the challenges we face. The challenges of our time require a shift in the human psyche from the ecological unconscious to living the principles and practices of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. These can actively empower personal and corporate transformation, consciousness and social responsibility for our intentioned and preferred future.
Awakening to deep attunement with one’s true nature and the earth can be a powerful soul threshold experience. Anthropologist Michael Harner has said, “The shaman sees with the eye of the Heart.” If we are prepared to be open and to listen with our hearts we all might simply hear and begin to relate with our living earth. Seeing, feeling, sensing or knowing nature’s guidance, healing and empowerment directly in any moment is both a natural way of being and an enchanted adventure of discovery. Relearning this natural art requires intentionality, openness, trust, surrender, the preparedness to consciously be with whatever arises within and around yourself, and sometimes guidance and support in the right setting. The artistry of a living dialogue, as simple as it may be, involves the responsiveness of your essence with the heart and soul of the world. This is perhaps the most crucial form of relatedness and social action anyone could now engage in. All positive change flows from this authentic and soulful form of dialogue.
Our personal, social and corporate lives need to awaken to this ecological congruence and relatedness with the earth. The presence of an alive and aware Earth awaits and needs our conscious presence in every moment. This need is mutual. Our soul life and wellness also essentially need these living dialogues of earth-care as soul-care.
Five steps toward embracing ecotherapy as a way of life
- Read and live in accordance with the Earth Charter
- Live “nature nurture” – openly connect with nature and design an eco-conscious lifestyle where the ecological circle of self-care, earth-care and soul-care becomes established in your life.
- Apply the principle of simple eco-living so all life may simply live.
- Practise nature awareness, eco-meditation and earth retreats that build your relatedness with bodily feeling, sensing, hearing and knowing the voice of the soul, nature and spirit.
- Support individual, workplace and government actions that promote personal, social and corporate ecology.
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