Please step outside!
Consider the following words and their definition from a well-known online dictionary. ‘The natural world’ (noun): all of the animals, plants, and other things existing in nature and not made or caused by people.
This definition excludes us humans from the natural world and I wonder how this influences the way we see ourselves; after all, we are animals - mammals - and we’re part of nature. Whilst we may alter the face of the planet, create built environments and live in ways that are having a negative impact on other species of life around us, we are fundamentally part of the interconnected systems of life on the planet.
If we want to find healthier and more sustainable ways of living, we need to find ways to live in harmony with nature. Yet, it seems that, sometimes, our language disconnects us from the rest of life around us.
We seek and share information with the language we use like no other species of life on the planet. In this way, we’re all storytellers, creating narratives about our experiences as we move through life; we use words to describe our experiences, to communicate and to connect. Yet, our words are really only sticks that point to something. They can only go so far in describing our experiences, our feelings and our thoughts.
Often, we can become lost in the words of our stories, stuck in the past, or worrying about the future, unable to really be present and see clearly. At times, when we’re stressed, it’s likely that we’ll be experiencing unhelpful ways of thinking. These might include processes like ruminating, catastrophising and overgeneralising. These processes themselves can cause us to become anxious and depressed and keep us stuck in cycles of depression and anxiety.
When we go outside, it can be easier to step out of some of these processes. We can connect with something bigger than ourselves and be soothed by the non-built environment.
Therapy in the outdoors can be particularly effective because we’re operating in a different framework. There’s something about the rhythmical movement of walking that not only grounds us, bringing us into the present moment, it also helps new ideas to come into our awareness.
As we begin to notice thoughts and responses which have become unhelpful, we start to see things from a different perspective and find solutions to problems. We can also use the symbolism of the things we’re drawn to, working with metaphor to make sense of our processes.
Consider how the language you use shapes your life. For example, how you talk to yourself and the words you use to describe yourself. What underlying beliefs about yourself do these words point to? Being reminded that we’re part of something much bigger can be a powerful experience, helping us to change our perspectives and recognise ourselves as the vulnerable mammals we are.
When we connect with the rest of life around us, it can really help us to thrive, providing a source of support, a sense of belonging and greater compassion for other examples of life on earth. In order to be whole and healthy, it seems important that we recognise ourselves as being part of the natural world and spend time working with it.