Being in nature is known to aid our mental wellbeing, such, that Green Therapy has a growing research base and can can play a vital role in recovery from serious mental health conditions. Listen to this PodCast from the BBC’s All In The Mind for more information about the variety of Green Therapies available.
If connecting with nature is good for our mental health, could it be good for our spiritual health?
What is spiritual health? It can be defined in a number of ways depending on your world view. Some consider it synonymous with a religious belief, while others believe it’s a purposeful meaning in one’s life. Some define their spiritual health as “parts of health or human existence that cannot be explained from physical, mental or social perspectives”. I believe in God and for me, spirituality is about being in relationship with him—nature is something that can help with this.
There’s no denying that our physical, mental and spiritual health are connected. Most people find that if one element of health is impacted negatively, it effects the others. For example, chronic pain is most definitely a physical ailment but the impact on one’s mental health is profound. Some can be driven to give up on life entirely, which, in turn leads them to question what the meaning and purpose of their life is. So even if nature and connecting with it in some way has a way of helping one element of our health, it can have a profound impact on our overall wellbeing.
So how can nature help us connect to God, our faith or help to improve our spiritual health? Here are some ways, either as a community or on your own, you could try connecting with nature to improve your spiritual health:
Focus on the elements and their magnitude
The sun rises and sets everyday without fail. Spend time outside really focusing on and appreciating the weather is the simplest way to connect with the magnitude of creation. Feel the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze or the gusts of wind on your skin. If it’s raining, don’t let it put you off (provided you have a means for dry afterwards) go out, get wet. Don’t cower away from the water droplets, hold your hands out, really watch the globules of water splash and appreciate them. Perhaps participate in some child like joy, put on your wellie-boots and find some puddles to splash in?
Understanding that we have no power over the elements can help us understand that believing in a reliable higher power can help with feeling stable and safe.
Plant flowers as symbolism of growth and provision
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.Luke 12:27 (NIV)
Even if you’re not a Christian, flowers are one of creations wonders. They naturally proliferate, without human interference. Spend time mindfully planting flowers, while considering what they need: sunlight, water, correct temperature, air and nutrients (as well as some time and space).
Reflecting on the simple things in life helps us break down what’s really important.
Discussion with someone what your basic needs are—how do you get your needs met? What do you need that you’re not currently getting? What needs to change?
Go all the way and create a wildflower area; you could make up for the 97% wildflower meadows that have been lost since 1930s. These areas provide fantastic areas for hedgehogs, bees, various insects dragonflies, damselflies, bats and other small mammals, butterflies, moths and various birds. This links well with the next activity:
Care for creation
After driving, eating is the second most impactful activity on creation.From The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, by Michael Brower and Warren Leon
The manner in which we plant, fertilize and water our crops, feed and raise animals for eating, and ship food products around the globe has a profound impact on creation.
A bring and share meal, asking people to focus on sustainability and locally sources food, is a good way for people to connect, not just with each other but with creation as a whole.
Human activity significantly affects the amount of water and the quality of water available to other humans and non-human species as well. Christians believe water is the essence of life, as such, carrying out a service beside a natural watercourse can be incredibly powerful. The service could include a blessing, baptism and culminating in a river clear up.
Recognise the passing of the seasons
When we’re going through a tough time it can be difficult to remember that time continues to pass and sometimes all that’s needed is a new season to come. No matter what season we’re in there are signs in nature that remind us of the greatest gift there is, hope:
- Summer—as all sorts burst into bloom we’re reminded of the abundance of the world
- Autumn—as the world turn gold orange, red and yellow, although things are dying, it can still be beautiful
- Winter—as the world lies dormant, we can see that things come to an end
- Spring—the season epitomising hope, tiny buds spring forth from nothing!
Experience the senses
The senses have the power to connect to a deeper part of our soul/consciousness. They also help us to store memories.
Check out this post on Contemplative Eating. Find seasonal fruits and vegetables and spend some time being grateful.
Simply going for a walk and seeing what smells you come across is one way to help you realise the variety in creation. Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts—they can be really useful for use with prayers, use as directed perhaps with the following prayer:
God, help me to feel closer to your creation, help me to appreciate all nature in the world and show us how best to protect it. I pray, by doing these things, my spiritual health and my relationship with you will improve.
There are many sounds in nature, the wind in the trees, wind passing across a field of wheat, waves on a beach, falling rain or hail. Stopping and really listening (closing your eyes can help) can help us to slow down—how would you describe the sound to someone who’d never heard it?
Listening to a dawn chorus can be one of the most exciting sounds in nature best heard on a dry clear day, early in the morning, late April through to June.
Many people would say their favourite sight in nature in a sun set or sunrise. Describe one you can remember to someone you know—why is this one memorable? Was it a special occasion? Or in a special place? Or simply the most spectacular one you’ve seen?!
Gather together items, with different textures, from nature that represent different things in your life. For example: a rough piece of bark to represent a tricky relationship or a bowl of water to represent a dream you’re struggling to hold onto or some dried autumnal leaves to represent the fragility of someone who’s dying. Take each one and fully experience the texture while considering the life issue. Don’t feel a pressure to come up with miraculous answers to any problems you have but while immersing yourself into your sense of touch try letting go of your worries. Some people may find the idea of giving their worries over to a higher power helpful.
My journey with God has been a rocky one but every step has been important, read more about it in this blog: Me, My Mental Health and God.
Check out these further resources:
- Centre for Spirituality in Nature—”Provides opportunities for deepening spirituality through nature, and for nurturing loving relationships with the Earth.”
- Little Shoot Deep Roots—”Faith grows in the darkness of a bedroom, when you’re praying with a child who can’t sleep. Faith grows at the dinner table when you’re talking about a Bible verse you don’t understand. Faith grows at bedtime when you speak words of life over your child.”
- Earth Ministry—”Prepares people of faith to be effective advocates for the health and wellbeing of communities and the environment.”