For the vast majority of human history, the idea of “getting out and connecting with nature” would have sounded weird. We were nature. We were constantly surrounded by it and we engaged deeply with it. How could we have possibly been disconnected from it? Now, however, many people consider “nature” to be the 2-acre park in the middle of their city. This has led to a great rift between humans and the natural world, as well as between how we perceive ourselves and who we really are at the core.
I grew up with nature constantly at my fingertips. Yet I lost my connection with it as I grew older. It was only after completely losing my passion for and direction in life and developing anxiety and control issues, that I realized I needed help. Not knowing what to do or where to turn, I suddenly found myself in the woods again, hiking. And it was through this outlet that I gradually began to find my way back to wholeness. My story of healing my soul has been a long one, but my experiences have led me to a greater understanding of how the human-and-nature connection can guide you to a deep sense of peace and joy. Below, I’ve listed my top three ways to engage with this healing yourself:
Be open to healing
This might sound obvious, but it’s important: in order to truly heal, you have to accept that you need healing, and believe that it can be done. Understanding that wellness and vitality is the core of your being, and accepting that you have the ability to heal, and believing that you can heal, is the foundation to creating real change. Whether the healing work you’re doing is physical or emotional, mental or spiritual (or maybe a combination of all of them), being open and willing to receive, rather than feeling pessimistic, is step one.
Surrendering to a power that’s greater than yourself and relinquishing control is important in order to fully open to healing. This “greater power” doesn’t have to be religious at all- simply understanding that nature, and all of what you’re walking into when you face the woods, is more powerful and completely out of your control can give you that sense of release, of putting your pain and problems into the hands of another.
Feel yourself come alive again in the cold and the heat, in the creeks and in the mountains. Nature is there for you, holding space for you to begin the long journey back to yourself.
Listen to nature
The Earth can take your pain. I know, humans are throwing a lot at Mother Earth right now, so it might not feel right to ask her to support you. But that’s where the real work comes in- if we’re going to help the Earth to heal, we have to create a relationship. So cry to the trees. Be alone, all the way out in the woods and just speak to the nature beings around you- the trees, the plants, the animals, the fungi, the soil. Tell them everything that you’re unwilling to tell other people, and listen to the response.
They won’t speak in words, they’ll speak in wind and temperature and precipitation and sunshine and clouds and colors. Be still and quiet- this is a great time to practice being in a meditative state. The language of the forest will translate into answers in your heart that you can feel if you’re very, very still, and without distraction.
Engage with other hikers
My severe social anxiety makes engaging with other people difficult. But I discovered something on my solo hikes: every single person I passed out on the trail was friendly, smiling, and genuine. I’ve never met a person out on the trail who was there for any reason other than they simply desired to be there. Each kindness I was shown felt like a nudge. I joined a hiking group and slowly began coming out of my shell. Engaging with others who share similar interests and passions can be very healing. It’s an easy way to dip your toe into conversation, if that isn’t your strong point.
I noticed that my anxiety was slowly dissipating when I would make eye contact with strangers, say hello to someone on the elevator, and look forward to, rather than dread, social events.
The group connection and conversation that arises on the trail can lead to deeper, heartfelt topics. There’s something about the trail that helps a person blossom and find peace. Conversation flows more easily, and friendships spark.
To find local hiking groups near you, check out Meetup.com. I’ve joined eight groups in my area and choose group hikes that look fun and challenging. I meet new people on each and every hike, so it could also be a great tool for making new friends if you’re new to an area!
Where I am Now
My love for the Earth hasn’t just stopped with hiking. I’ve realized that there’s so much more to the natural world than just walking through it. There’s an incredible amount of work to be done, and so much pain that can be healed by slowing down and returning to nature- both human pain and earth pain. Since that first tentative step onto the trail, I’ve felt my purpose in life completely blossom into a deep, connected sense of knowing that I had the ability to affect change in other people’s lives and, in turn, the life of the Earth as a whole. My career is now based in this work. I lead hikes and retreats for women. I teach them how to deepen their sense of embodiment, strength and joy in the natural world, healing and nurturing the self and the land.