Many recent studies have found that spending time outdoors is beneficial to our health and wellness, psychologically and physically. The terms ecopsychology, ecotherapy, and ecotherapist can be daunting and heady, maybe even overwhelming. While working with an ecopsychologist or ecotherapist is powerful and recommended, it is not necessary to begin improving your sense of wellness by deepening your relationship with the natural world. Here are 5 simple things you can do right away.
1. Spend time outdoors every day
This sounds simple but, in the hectic pace of modern life, it is often anything but easy. Try to make it a habit to go outside every day, even if it is only for a short time. While outside, try to be consciously aware of the other than human world. Even if you are in an urban setting, there will be plants and birds. Try not to think about the thousand things you have to do. Just use your senses to be a part of the Earth – breathe, observe, listen, and feel. I do this with my morning coffee. Taking this time to just be a human being rather than a human doing charges the batteries for the day ahead. While it might be difficult to set a routine at first, keep trying, maybe set an alarm to help remember. This practice can also easily be combined with other practices. A reflective daily reading, for example, can be powerful with this time outdoors. Sharing your experiences with an ecotherapist can also yield unexpected and beneficial insights.
2. Spend at least an hour outdoors at least once or twice a week.
Go for a walk or a run on a nature trail. Take the dog to the park. Find a favorite place in nature and just sit there for a while. Like the daily time outdoors, use your senses and be a part of the world as a human being. Even if you are playing fetch with the dog, be aware of the other-than-human being you are playing with. Notice the world around you – the shapes and smells of trees, the sound of birds, the feel of the breeze. This nature time can be done alone or with another supportive person, which can make the exercise even more rewarding. This practice can also be combined with other practices – maybe the walk can be a pilgrimage to a special place in the woods. Perhaps you can do some yoga, meditation, prayer, or even a small ritual if you feel so inclined. If you aren’t sure where to start, an ecotherapist or eco-coach can help you discover and/or guide you in other practices to combine with this nature time.
3. Bring nature indoors
Sometimes it is not feasible to go outdoors. Inclement weather (especially here in Michigan!) can be quite discouraging. No worries, you can bring nature indoors and still be able to consciously tend to your relationship to nature. You can bring in twigs, pine cones, stones, and other natural objects and make an arrangement on a table, or just have them in various places around the house. Houseplants are an easy way to be able to being nature indoors. Caring for bonsai trees, for example, is a rewarding way to be around trees even if you can’t go to the forest. Like the above practices, you can observe these indoor nature objects as a focal point as you take a few moments throughout the day to be consciously aware of the other than human world. You might also just sit by a window and mindfully observe the natural world.
4. Become better acquainted with your econarrative
Much of our relationship to the natural world is unconscious. We were born on the Earth and have been surrounded by the natural world in some way ever since. All of our experiences of nature have contributed to our relationship to the natural world, along with the guiding ideas of family and society. All of these experiences are held in the memory, sometimes so deeply though that we are not really aware of how they have formed us. Take some time and think back to childhood—what was your first experience of the natural world that you can remember? Where were you? Who else was with you? How did you feel? Have you ever been back to that place? Have you ever had similar experiences or feelings in other places with other people? Fast forward 10 years and let another memory surface. Ask the same questions. Are there any similarities? Fast forward to now and do the same. You might also want to explore your feelings when you hear of ecological crises such as oil spills or climate change. In this practice you will likely have pleasant memories and not so pleasant ones. Focus on the pleasant ones if the other ones are too uncomfortable. While it is important to have as full of an understanding of your relationship to nature, you perhaps should not do so alone. This is an aspect of this exercise that working with an ecopsychologist or ecotherapist can be very helpful.
5. Journal, read ecotherapeutic literature, and find a community of like-minded people
Nature writing can be very ecotherapeutic. Write about the memories from the above exercise. Don’t hold back, you don’t need to share it with anyone. Write whatever comes. Reading other’s nature writing can be deeply ecotherapeutic. Writers such as Joana Macy can comfort us in times of ecogrief, inspire hope, and guide us to grow in our relationship to nature. The poetry of Mary Oliver can usher us into experiences of beauty in the natural world. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry bring a sense of awe to us as they remind us that the Earth story is also the universe story. Stephen Aizenstat shows us how our dreams can be engaged as the world’s dream. Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, Sandra Ingerman, and many others can guide us in our spiritual connection to nature. There are many forms of nature writing that can be ecotherapeutic. Try to read a little bit every day. An eco-coach can supply you with a reading list that resonates with you and help you uncover how the writing can help you more deeply tend your relationship to the Earth. Eco-coaches also frequently hold workshops that can empower you to find a supportive community as you strive to heal and tend your relationship to the natural world.