Connecting with nature, connecting with ourselves

Connecting with nature, connecting with ourselves

open countryside

Fiona Stimson, a health empowerment and transformational change coach, shares her experience of reconnecting with nature during lockdown, and bringing the discoveries of her journey into her client work.

It has been a year of challenges, uncertainty and overwhelm for many. One of the positives of lockdown was that many people started to get out and connect more with nature, appreciating their natural environment. People were walking more as part of their daily exercise routine, growing plants and tending to gardens, and being more aware of the natural environment around them. The ‘great outdoors’ as it is often referred to, became a sanctuary for many, offering some stability, calm and beauty.

Many started to notice the presence of birds and animals, natural sounds, soft breezes, the changing light, sunrises and sunsets, the night skies, trees and the changing seasons. Many, including myself, found comfort and safety in the natural world, enabling us to rest, restore and revitalise, allowing healing time away from technology, computer screens, restrictions and human-made environments that can disconnect us from ourselves and the world around us.

Over time, our connection with nature has decreased. Various studies suggest that our language has changed since the 1950s, with less nature words being used in popular culture, while increasing human-made, urbanised environments, and the advance of technological change, have all had significant impacts. Personally, I have been aware of my connection with nature, and know that it has fluctuated over time. As a child I remember spending the majority of my time outside, exploring. As I progressed through adult life, I have, at times, become less connected, working longer hours in environments that did not have much affinity with the natural world, and that affected my connection and sense of self at the time.

A quote that I feel is a great reminder for us all is from Andy Goldsworthy, the British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist, who said, ‘We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we've lost our connection to ourselves.’

Our very existence depends on our relationship to all of nature, and if we are to heal our planet, we first need to heal ourselves. As coaches and mentors, this thought offers us a wonderful opportunity to expand awareness, meaning and connection for ourselves and our client.

The biophilia hypothesis

The term ‘biophilia’ describes an innate affinity of life or living systems that is universally appreciated. The term was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation, an attraction to all that is alive and vital. The biophilia hypothesis was then introduced and popularised by the American biologist, naturalist and writer, EO Wilson.

Wilson uses the term in a related sense, when he suggests that biophilia describes ‘the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life’. He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms, and with nature as a whole, are rooted in our biology, and that our love of nature is instinctive.

As humans we are inextricably linked to nature. We are members of a vast and interconnected community, which is much bigger than ourselves. This highlights the importance of our relationship with nature for ourselves and our planet.

The benefits of nature

What are the benefits of nature to your health and wellness? The effects of being and interacting with nature on our mental, physical and spiritual health have been scientifically proven in a number of ways:

• reducing stress, anxiety and depression
• lowering blood pressure
• boosting our immune systems
• lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol
• distracting the mind from negative thinking
• helping us be more creative in our approach and in problem solving
• increasing our attention and focus
• helping us feel more appreciative and grateful
• becoming more mindful, with improved sensory awareness
• improving heart health by lowering heart rate
• increasing our sense of environmental responsibility
• improving our relationships through increased confidence and feelings of happiness

How can you start your nature connection journey with your clients?

Increasing your sense of connection

We make sense of our lived experiences in our bodies. Somatic intelligence is the key to our perceived intuition and ‘knowing’. Over the last year I have been on a journey of deeper nature connection. As the pandemic unfolded, I continued working in an NHS hospital. Initially, the situation and support was unclear and chaotic, and we were being the best we could be in that moment. I felt myself acting on my natural instincts much more, because there were no definitive answers for anything that was going on. I went from planned to tactical manoeuvring, as I supported patients and front line staff.

I noticed that my own needs changed significantly in a short space of time. The most impactful change was the visceral call to the wild, which was tangible. My mind, body and soul sought peace, calm, quiet and time to heal and restore. They told me what I needed, and I felt, listened and acted. I started walking more, visiting wood and heathland. I felt the difference, which was cathartic, calming and soothing me. I gave myself everything I needed, and by doing so, I was able to be present for myself and those around me.

Inviting nature into your client experience

This is something I now offer my clients, who are impacted by cancer and chronic illness, and experiencing life altering circumstances. This is about awareness, in the first instance, and we work to develop the intention to support, learn and change. For my client base, this is not about the duration or challenge of the walks, but is about simplicity, making small micro changes that enable choice and value in living well.

One of my clients reported recently that she had come to notice during our coaching session how much time she was spending at various ‘screens’ since initial lockdown and going through treatment. She wanted to change that and committed to a different ‘place’ and ‘action’ to replace the screens around the home.

For example, for breakfast she replaced watching TV with sitting looking out into the garden, or being in the garden. Within a day, she had started to notice her natural environment. She was connecting with the birds, and noticed that if she sat quietly and in stillness, they came down close to where she was sitting. She had taken her usual short walk, only this time decided to extend it to take in the woodland that she had never been to before. She was finding value in herself and her surroundings, empowering her own health and wellness. The joy was tangible, and the experience was healing and restoring for her.

It is clear that mindfulness and presence in nature enable you to experience so much more. Being still, focusing within, breathing and sensing into your body and what you are feeling in relation to your surroundings, can all deliver clarity in what you need.

Towards the end of last year, I became carer to my father, who had been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. One day, feeling sad at the situation he was in, I went out for a walk in woodland, sitting alone in the middle of the woods, feeling and sensing into myself and my surroundings. After ten minutes or so, I saw a little head pop out of the ferns no more than 30 yards from me – it was a deer. Then to my amazement, a baby deer popped out, then a third deer. They all looked curiously at me. They were so calm, intrigued and at ease with my presence. I describe it as having a huge hug. It was magical!

I also sometimes take photos of what’s around me while I’m out. I find it mindful, and enjoy having the photos to look at, as it stimulates memories and can change my state in an instant, or at a later date.  Over the last year I have also started to post these on social media to friends, colleagues and family. I invite my walking clients to take photos during their session if they would like to. We sometimes share them afterwards, and it really brings the understanding and sense of ‘place’ at key points in the coaching session.

I encourage you to open your practice to include nature connection, taking time to notice what you notice. Through being present and noticing the sensations of our inner world, we can tune in and transform them by our own unique inquiry, free from judgment, storytelling, interpretation or mind wandering, integrating with our outer world. Energy flows where attention goes.

Top tips

• Take time for solo experience – be in your own company with nature, perhaps starting with 10-20 minutes per day.

• Put your phone on flight mode, reduce interruptions to your nature time.

• As you develop your solo time, focus on being present in the moment – ground yourself by finding a spot to sit or lie down, either inside or outside in a pleasant space. What do you notice? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? What do you taste?

• If you’re walking, notice where you are drawn to on your walks, allowing yourself to flow rather than premeditate where you are going. Slow down, notice what is around you.

• Notice how the time with nature helps you. What value does it offer you and your wellbeing?

• Take some photos of what’s around you and journal about your experiences.

Go gently, go compassionately, go with kindness and thought for our world.

Image: Wendy Teo