Your Place In The Natural World

I know my place in the world is entwined with the natural world around me — my community is the wildlife, trees, and fields that surround my home. I talk to them, I listen, and I witness the wisdom that is always there. Most days, I walk the same woods and have become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. The variegated rocks left behind by the receding glaciers eons ago, the stonewalls (unique only to New England) that mark long forgotten boundaries through the woods, and even familiar trees that have fallen from storms, wind, or age. The owls, hawks, chipmunks, and squirrels are all my friends. I’ve seen the occasional deer and turkeys cross my path though they are not interested in hanging around. I’ve stepped across bear scat and moose droppings so I know they wander the mountain too. Of course, there are always snakes and newts on their way somewhere. These woods – my place – are just beyond my backyard and stretch up and over the mountain to the Appalachian Trail. I am grateful that all I need to do is step outside my front door to be in nature. It is where I go with my thoughts, questions, and explorations. I always return with a deep calm, clarity, creative solutions, and wisdom.

Where do you go for solitude, healing, aligning, and communion? Does nature play a part?

There are studies around the world and books that speak to the healing powers of nature and its importance in the health of the planet of which we are all a part. The benefits of being in nature are so many that there are places around the world offering prescribed nature therapy through nature walks and retreats. Like most, I spend my workdays with people and spend social time with friends — they, too, are an essential part of my community. However, at the end of the day, I go to nature for my deeper healing and calm.

Having a sense of place, for me, is also a spiritual experience. I walk among the trees and listen to nature spirits, talk to God, and observe changes in nature as reflections of my own process. When we know our place in the immediate world around us, we open our senses to become aligned with that world. I know people who know their place within a city and their local neighborhood — their senses are aligned with who lives nearby, neighborhood cats and dogs, and what to remain alert to. I know those whose sense of place is from their porch or deck. I am one whose place needs to walk among the trees or touch the soil and plants in my gardens.

We are an integral part of the larger natural world around us. Too many suffer from nature deficit because our lives are filled to overflowing with activity and surrounded by concrete, city streets, and the ever present technology. Nature has become something disconnected from the fabric of our daily lives and experienced (maybe) on vacation or the occasional weekend walk.

When I suggest nature therapy for healing or stress relief, I am often told of fears to laying in the grass, pulling weeds in the garden, or trekking into the woods. Here in New England, ticks are the #1 fear. I suggest regular and thorough tick checks on returning home. I’ve heard that others fear bears, moose, and coyotes that are sure to lurk behind trees and rocks — I’ve seen more bears at my trash can or on my deck, the occasional fox or coyote hurrying across the yard while I watch from the window, and only once have I seen a moose who was both injured and sick. Still others fear injury or getting dirty. In my experience, injury is a result of my not paying attention. Dirt and its health benefits have been traded for our sterilized world of antibacterial soaps and wipes.
The benefits you can experience in nature: connection, healing, solitude, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, more awe and appreciation, wonder, relief of pain, lower anxiety, feeling more centered, mental clarity, and improved creativity, among others. Also, nature needs our awareness in order to protect its being available for us to enjoy.

What form of nature calls you? The woods, the beach, a lake, a garden, a nature trail, or a nearby park? Who do you go into nature with? Alone, your partner, your children, friends, or your dog. Studies show that going with another increases our commitment and likelihood of going outdoors through accountability.

The important thing is to get outside and be surrounded by the natural world for your own physical, emotional, and mental health.

If fear keeps you from nature or you live in a town or city with little of nature in easy access, begin with a few plants you can care for indoors or create a container garden on your porch or deck. In your yard or neighborhood, find a tree, bush or plant to befriend. Watch your ‘friend’ through the seasons and the varieties of weather that affect it (you may find you learn something valuable about yourself).

Venture outdoors into your yard or a nearby park (most towns have small parks) or a nature trail (growing in popularity in urban settings) close to home. Go for a walk, breathe in the fresh air, and touch a tree trunk, gaze up at the leaf canopy, or watch a bird. Let nature fill you in whatever way it does for you — own the place as your place in your natural world.

You will return calmer, healthier, and ready for your next adventure into nature.

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Art Camp – A Summer Day Camp of Making Books

Last week I assisted and participated in a local, backyard art camp arranged and produced by my friend, artist and book making teacher, Suzi. A group of women and one man gathered early Sunday morning for four days of making art — painting paste paper, cutting paper, covering book boards for book covers, and using coptic stitch to make one of a kind, creative, and beautiful journals.

This was an outdoor summer day camp — under tents with materials & tools on tables ready to shape into journals. This was a day camp for creatives who yearned for something different to celebrate summer. (Most exciting for me was that I have never attended a summer camp! Better late than never – yeah!)

We came together in the mornings for ritual, writing, and making journals to write into later. As each day unfolded, we laughed, shared stories, learned about one another (what work we do, where we are from, where we live and why we came to this camp). Our group was creatively diverse — some were artists, some were new to the process, and others (like myself) have worked with Suzi over the years making journals and simply wanted more! What was clear, was that we were all artists for those four days exploring color, shape, design, and creating something personally beautiful. And, we were all happy to be spending four days outdoors creatively focused.

I found myself listening with all of my senses. At first, I was curious to know what brought these amazing people together — in short, everyone had some connection to Suzi who is a natural community builder in everything she does. Each day — flying by much too quickly — I continued to listen and watch as everyone was engaged and, at times, challenged though willing to work through any vulnerability that arose from lifetimes of “not good enough” messages floated to the surface. We supported and helped one another with such love and grace.

Each morning we gathered in circle under a grand oak tree and around our nature mandala to write into suggested prompts on paper intended to go into the journals we were making. To finish our circle we moved through a mudra meditation that focused on honoring, transforming, offering, receiving, opening our hearts, and grounding to Mother Earth. The mudra meditation reminded me of my connection to the earth as we worked outdoors. From the moving meditation we returned to work on our journals. Everyone was eager and focused on diving in and getting dirty in the process of creating. Each day was designed to focus on a part of the process so that we each had at least one finished (or nearly finished) journal with a second one to finish at home.

Throughout the four days I would step back for a broader view of the group as a whole gathered around tables full of creative chaos. I was in awe in realizing that we were all artists — each and every one while sharing ideas, tools, paint and story — making beautiful journals together.
Everyone working and focusing on their own work, yet within community.

At one point, on the day of the eclipse, Suzi suggested working in silence for part of the afternoon. The resulting focus and flow was palpable under the tent — everyone working and moving mindfully and slowly. The silence was a joy and much progress was made on making our book covers and assembling signatures for the inside. Even needing assistance was manageable in the silence as we continued to be aware of one another.

Silence is a powerful way to work, especially if you are outdoors like we were. We let nature be our music — the wind in the trees, bird song, even the shuffling of materials. In silence we moved and worked with ease and slowness. In silence our work became a practice in actively noticing or mindfulness. In silence we worked with greater presence — what Paulus Berensohn (Suzi’s teacher) calls radical presence. Every movement, stitch or stroke becomes art simply because of our quiet presence.

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Our final circle at the end of the four days was a celebration of displaying and honoring our work both finished and in process — a display of artistic beauty we were all proud of. As we prepared our farewells, we laughed, hugged, and promised to gather again next summer. Looking at one another after four full days of focused mindfulness, we were a happy, light-filled group who had shared a truly transforming experience.

I am grateful for my friend, artist, and book maker, Suzi, for having an idea, making it happen, and inviting us to be part of a summer art camp for creatively inspired adults (and young adults).