Finding Wonder in Nature
What is it about nature that calms the mind?
The relationship between nature and mental health seems intuitively obvious, especially to nature lovers. When feeling down or lost in an emotional fog, merely going for a walk in the woods can sooth the mind and body, softening the sharp edges and balancing mood. Watching two birds play around in the sky can stimulate a childlike state of wonder, immediately lifting the trance of mental noise and bodily tension.
Cultures from all over the world speak to the importance of observing and communing with the natural world as a means of settling the mind. More recently, psychologists have been pointing towards the wide range of health benefits to spending time outdoors, from reduced stress and anxiety manifested in various pathologies, to increased creativity and well-being.
A lot of mental anguish comes from getting wrapped up in our thoughts, to the point where we are entirely identified with them, absorbed in stories of the past and future. This is totally normal,or course, and it’s a source of much human suffering. Observing the natural world can disrupt thelooping mind, as we are surrounded with a life force—trees, soil, air—that doesn’t seem caught up in overthinking. Being in the presence of nature gives us permission to relax and let go. Spendtwenty minutes next to a small river and be reminded of the way of the universe: a beautifully elegant flow, always yielding and impossibly durable. Nature is a teacher in this way, persistent in her lessons, unflagging in her composure.
The sound of wind blowing through the trees has a cleansing quality that reminds us we can let go of things and make space for the new. Witnessing a sapling grow out of place in poor soil conditions reminds us of our own dignity, our ability to thrive despite limitations. A bumble bee sleeping in an open flower speaks to our own innocence and vulnerability. A chipmunk frantically dashing about the trunk of a tree makes us laugh and remember our nature as wildly playful beings. There are countless metaphors to be found in nature, endless invitations to slow down and reflect. This is wonderfully abundant medicine for a tense mind.