By Shirley Gleeson, Managing Director, Nádúr
Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dellinger:
It’s 3:23 in the morning
And I’m awake
Because my great great grandchildren
Won’t let me sleep
My great great grandchildren
Ask me in dreams
What did you do when the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unravelling?
Surely you did something
When the seasons started failing?
As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest
When democracy was stolen?
What did you do?
Research has shown that the stronger our emotional connection to the natural world is, the more likely we are to fight for it and protect it. There is a link between the level of nature connectedness and pro environmental behaviours (Martin et al, 2020) With rapid urbanisation, digitalisation, and the frantic pace of modern life, people are becoming psychologically disconnected from nature as they are spending most of their time indoors. Simply learning facts and figures about climate change or seeing what is happening to our planet on TV is not enough. People need to fall in love with the earth again, rediscover its beauty, and find their place in the web of life. We as a people in Ireland are deeply rooted in Celtic Spirituality. The Irish landscape has shaped us. We must learn to reconnect with this deep love of the land in order to protect it for future generations. As Thomas Berry concluded, you cannot have healthy people on a sick planet.
The following are ten tips to help strengthen this connection.
- Focus on your five senses. When walking in nature, focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Watching the light dancing in the trees, the smell of the forest floor, the taste of sweet ripened blackberries, the feel of the cold water in the running stream, the sound of the ancient call of the wood pigeon. This is the basis of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese wellness practice that is spreading worldwide. Research has shown that breathing in the phytoncides (the chemicals emitted by the trees) can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and enhance your immune system. (Hansen et al, 2017)
- Find your Sit Spot. Have a regular place in nature that you go and simply sit and look at what is happening around you. This could be your back garden, local park, or even a comfy place by your window if you cannot get out. Spend time there at different times of the day, dawn, or dusk, simply noticing the different qualities in light, tempeture, and different seasons. Become curious about everything your encounter, the robin, the bees, the oak tree. Encourage your children to find their place in nature; this will help develop a strong emotional bond with the earth that can last a lifetime.
- Earthing: Walk barefoot or lie in the grass. When we make direct contact with the earth our bodies receive a charge of energy that makes us feel better, fast. There is nothing nicer than (on a sunny day) lying in a beautiful wild meadow surrounded by cowslips, daisies, and buttercups. All our cares tend to melt away.
- Storytelling: Tell your children stories about your favourite place in nature as a child, special memories you have, and encourage them to share their stories. This can help foster the emotional connection not only with the natural world but also within families.
- Beauty: Learn to see the beauty in everyday life. Notice the clouds moving gently across the sky as you drive to work, the dew on the grass in the early morning light, the delicate sculpture of a spider web glistening. As John O’ Donoghue wrote in his poem For the Senses:
May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights
That seem worn
To Your usual eyes.
- Conversation with a tree: This is a really playful activity that speaks to the imagination and our inner child. Go out and simply sit with a tree, quieten your mind, listen with all your body’ and ask yourself: ‘If this tree could speak, what would it say? Bring a journal and you will be surprised what you will discover! This is also great for children
- Ethical foraging: Spend time with your family outdoors in the different seasons. My memories of getting up at dawn to pick field mushrooms, eating beech nuts from the ground, and collecting blackberries have lasted a lifetime and really shaped my life’s direction and focus on the natural world. They will also get a sense of the sheer abundance of nature and what it provides for us every day.
- Developing reciprocity: We get so much from nature; see how we can give something back. Find a local conservation charity to donate to, volunteer your time with an environmental organisation, or simply go to your local park and pick up the litter. It is very important we just don’t “take” from the natural world, that we always think about the rights of nature and how we can engage in pro environmental behaviour.
- Wander and wonder: Spend a couple of hours in nature, just being there, without any goals, simply following where your body wants to take you. As the great poet Mary Oliver wrote in Wild Geese: ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’. Contemplation ,silence and simplicity are powerful gifts that we often overlook.
- Notice 3 good things in nature each day: This was an effective campaign run by the University of Derby in 2016, (Richardson et al ) which succeeded in enhancing people’s connection to nearby nature. Record in your journal three good things in nature you notice for a week. See how your focus changes and if you can, continue recording for a month.
Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and nature therapy: A state-of-the-art review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(8), 851.
Martin, L., White, M. P., Hunt, A., Richardson, M., Pahl, S., & Burt, J. (2020). Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing, and pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 68, 101389.
Richardson, M., Cormack, A., McRobert, L., & Underhill, R. (2016). 30 days wild: Development and evaluation of a large-scale nature engagement campaign to improve well-being. PloS one, 11(2), e0149777.