Does anything about this standard dictionary definition of "nature" seem odd to you?
I remember the first time that I took a small group of women on a Forest Therapy walk. As we wandered to the start of the trail, I overheard them talk about their bodies. One-by-one, they listed their perceived physical flaws as the others soothed them with reassurance that they felt the same shame towards an inventory of body parts.
Over the course of 2 hours, these very bodies carried these women through the forest, their senses connecting them to the land and all of the beings around us. Each expressed a deep sense of calm and connection, sharing their gratitude as we drank our tea together. I felt called to offer them an informal invitation as we walked back to our cars...
I invited everyone to stand in a grove of tall cedars and douglas fir trees. Together, we stood in silence and looked at these trees, as if for the very first time. I could hear expressions of wonder and awe as we stood in witness of trees that were anything from a sapling to 300+ years old.
"What are you noticing?" I asked.
"They're so majestic. Why have I never stopped to notice this?"
"How is it possible that the roots of this tree can carry water all the way to the top of it?"
"Their bark is so beautiful - I just want to touch it."
"How are you like these trees?" I asked.
"There's nothing magnificent about me!"
I asked each of them to stand next to a tree that they felt a connection to. They could simply touch it, lean against it, sit with it - whatever felt most comfortable.
"We have lots in common. Humans and trees are made mostly of water. We both have a trunk and limbs. The branching pattern in our lungs is almost the same as their root system. We share our breath with each other - we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, while trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Forest trees have evolved to live in interdependent and cooperative relationships - even trees of different species are known to help each other. Like us, no two trees are the same - they vary in colour, shape, growth rates, height, width, seed and flower production. We both have scars as evidence of physical damage - and those scars are often the strongest part of ourselves. "
I watched as these women's hands found the scars on their trees, their hands gently soothing them.
"While you've been watching the trees, perhaps they've been watching you too. Perhaps they see majestic, magnificent, beautiful beings in front of them. Maybe they're in awe of your bodies. Maybe they wonder how you're able to move on your feet, drink through your mouth, communicate with your voice - and sooth their scars with the gentle touch of your hand. What if you could see yourselves as you see them?"
It seems ridiculous that, by definition, humans and human creations are separate from nature. "The breathtaking beauty of nature" somehow doesn't include us. This false separation is the basis of so much that is broken in and around us. We are in fact so intimately interconnected that acting as if we are separate is to be separate from ourselves.
Over the course of Covid, a common thread I've noticed amongst humans around the world has been the welcome relief that "being in nature" has brought to them. Whether it was spending time in a garden, exploring paths in the mountains, swimming in wild waters, cycling through rolling hills or simply listening to birds in the morning - people have found solace and a sense of belonging. For many, nature has been medicine for their mental health and overall wellbeing.
Today, on Earth Day, I invite you to celebrate Earth and all of the beings that inhabit it - including yourself. As a human being who is as much a part of nature as a bird in the sky, the snow on a mountain, a rock in a river or a tree dancing in the wind - I hope you feel a sense of belonging vs separation. You belong here and are welcome here.
Happy Earth Day - I hope you find a moment to step outside and breathe fresh air!
More than ever, health authorities and major publications around the world have been recommending time in nature to counter the mental health impact of COVID-19. Here in Canada, nature is being recognised as essential for health. In fact, medical professionals are prescribing nature through the newly-launched PaRx Program.
Valerie spent over 25 years leading technology teams to reach their potential in the energy, utility, banking and technology industries. Over the last 6 years, Valerie has developed a private practice as a trusted Executive Coach (ICF), Mentor and Certified Forest Therapy Guide (ANFT) for clients around the world. Her unique approach incorporates guided time in nature in support of mental health and overall wellbeing.