The healing powers of being in close contact with nature have been described in a number of scientific studies and psychological experiments. Most of us can attest to the benefits of a walk in the woods, a weekend in the mountains or a good afternoon spent at the lakeshore. The benefits are partially physical – walking is wonderful exercise – but, as Covid-19 restrictions over the past year changed the ways we live and work, a walk outdoors became one of the most important things we could do for our mental health.
For me and my 4 year-old son George, the ‘small’ patch of ‘forest’ near our home became our refuge, a place we’d frequently explore to breathe fresh air, exercise, forget about everything else in the world, and, in a sense, stay out of each other’s way for a while (but still be together). We visited the forest so frequently during the spring and summer of 2020 that we could follow the changes in foliage, the blooming and death of flowers, the growth of the blackberries; the work of the park rangers. For George, the forest was a playground – just like everything else in his life. For me it was a sacred sanctuary that bore witness to days of joy and high energy, and, on other days, of sadness and melancholy.
The woods provided me with wild flowers for my home, special toys for George, and a canvas for fleeting art: arranging rocks and branches on the ground in beautiful patterns for the sake of doing it, and not for an audience, was liberating. Most of all, our little patch of forest was a place I could listen to my thoughts, calm my mind and find my centre. Invariably I would come back home in a very different state of mind – usually feeling lighter, energized and clear-minded.
There is a range of ways we can spend time in nature. The one I’d like to explore here is walking with intention in order to listen to the innate wisdom of nature. Doing so can help answer questions – or to formulate the right questions in the first place.
Have you got a problem you’re keen to solve? Make that your intention with a statement such as, “I’m ready to find the solution for [name the problem].” Is there something you’d like to release from your life? Make that your intention, saying to yourself just before you head out, “I’m ready to release [this situation] from my life now.” Is there anything you want to call into your life? Ask for it, then put your shoes on, grab your water bottle and head outside.
Note that in each case, the intention is not a goal or aim. There’s nothing to be accomplished. The key lies in making space in your mind for the solution to pop up when you least expect it. It might not even come during your walk and it certainly won’t come on demand. But the more you let go of expectations, the sooner the solutions will appear. Of course, when we ask questions we want answers, but the answer might not come the way we predict or hope. The secret is to ask, and then to let go of all expectations.
A few things might help the process; turn off your gadgets, stay alert but relaxed; breathe deeply and freely. Don’t consciously think about your intention. Instead pay attention to the sights, scents, textures and sounds around you. Breathe, move and stay in the present.
Our modern lives have disconnected us, to a large extent, from the natural world but we are still ‘natural beings.’ We are nature. Time spent in natural environments is so deeply rewarding because it’s time re-integrating ourselves with universal wisdom. You will find answers as the result of your walk in nature, but more importantly, you will also find yourself.
Silmara Emde is an artist whose main medium is photography. She draws inspiration from daily life and the people she connects with. Nature is both her studio space and her greatest teacher. She lives in Vernon with her husband and their five year-old son, and you can follow her on Instagram @silmaraemde