Healing in the Wild: Nature Therapy

Healing in the Wild: Nature Therapy by Em Capito, LCSWNature is perhaps the most powerful and immediate connection to our own inner wilderness, and the open space for healing, growth, and rediscovering our resilience.

Over the past century, we’ve increasingly contained our lives inside concrete jungles, divorced from the actual wild.

Trees are contained in sidewalks and parks. Flowers in tidy garden beds. Every discomfort of the elements is kept at bay, with great irritation when we must endure the endless miracle of rain, snow, or wind as we run from door to door, back to our climate controlled comfort. We even exercise indoors, running in place in rows of treadmills.

But within a sterile controlled existence, we easily become lost. Lost in distraction. Lost in our own thoughts. Lost in our own lives.

In removing nature from our lives, we’ve lost the counterweight to our own internal ruminations. We’ve lost the space to listen beyond ourselves.

Jon Kabat Zinn, a prominent Western thought leader on mindfulness, noted, “…our habitual unawareness and automaticity are exceedingly tenacious.” Relief is waiting outside, in nature where we are called to “…appreciate the deep mystery of being alive and to acknowledge being vitally connected to all that exists.”

Simply being present in the outdoors, amongst life that continues onward without any human orchestration, nourishes a broader perspective focused on what’s good, rather than on the now-distant problems that previously threatened to become our undoing.

Nature naturally pulls us out of a self-absorbed trance of endless worrying, planning and doing and into something much bigger than ourselves.

Fostering a resilient nervous system, a regular dose of nature shifts the body’s entire physiological state, returning us to a parasympathetic rest-and-digest mode, both physically and mentally.

Out in the fresh air, there is simply more space to breathe, to step back, to discover possibility and therein: our liberation.

Healing in the Wild: Nature Therapy by Em Capito, LCSWNature is a mind-body-soul intervention of immense and simple magnitude.

The research findings reflect our own experience the moment we step out into the wild: an increase in perceived well being, gratitude, calm and creativity. We witness measurable relief from depressive symptoms, anger, anxiety, and even chronic pain.

In fact, nature is even correlated with more meaningful relationships and cohesive communities, as it draws us into deeper and more mindful presence together.

These benefits sprout from the lessons seamlessly imparted by simply enjoying time outdoors.

Nature teaches us to live simply.

Go camping, rafting or backpacking and we quickly discover how little we actually need in order to feel happy, content and at peace.

Nature teaches us mindfulness.

Every day in nature is an unknown variable. We cannot predict the weather, the wildlife, or curate our experience. We return to a way of being where we are curious, adaptable and open to encountering the moment as it unfolds.

Nature teaches us resilience.

In any wild space on the planet, we become immersed in endless demonstrations of resilience. Walking through a desert, we witness cacti growing out of cracks, sometimes waiting for years for a drop of rain. In the extremes of the arctic, unique life thrives, giving us the wonder of creatures like narwhals.

Life adapts to seemingly impossible conditions. As it turns out, so do we.

The English novelist, John Fowles, wrote, “The deepest thing we can learn about nature is not how it works, but that it is the poetry of survival.”

This living poetry transcends survival itself, to the beauty and freedom inherent in accepting the reality of our circumstances, and growing stronger from the challenge.

Nature calls us to surrender to our own wild.

In recognizing nature’s influence in inviting us to give way to passion, the authors of The Art of Possibility, Rosamund & Benjamin Zander wrote: “Places in the wild draw many of us to experience a vitality greater than our own, but it may take an act of surrender to let the gates give way between ourselves and nature,”

In all aspects of the wild, we witness the simple honesty in the cycle of life. We’re all born. We flourish. We die.

Healing in the Wild: Nature Therapy by Em Capito, LCSWThere is a call to passion in the time of life; that brief window to flourish without fear. And there is beauty even in death, in the continuation of life in new forms. Every ending is also a new beginning.

Thoreau reflected often on the deep sense of spiritual renewal found in nature within his journal:

“In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean…but alone in distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout lands or pastures tracked by rabbits… I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that the cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home… It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.”

Where is the space for your wild?

In this season of renewal, reinvention and new beginnings, there lies an opportunity to do more than purge our closets or plant the garden. As John Muir so aptly put it, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

In these field trips into nature, we can purge inner storage, letting go of the past and finding forgiveness, while growing into our current challenges and blooming anyway.

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