Listen to the wind it talks, listen to the silence it speaks, listen to your heart it knows.
-Native American Proverb
Annie sat amongst a group of women on a gently rolling one-hundred-acre farm as I handed each of them a fresh-cut herb.
“The deep-crust white pizza from The Cardinal Inn!” Annie blurts out with joy. She holds the swig of rosemary near her nose and inhales another generous breath. “The smell of this rosemary instantly took me back to the town I grew up in, the white pizza smothered with mozzarella, garlic, and a hint of rosemary. We used to enjoy it after football games. This scent revived all the good memories in an instant!”
A newly retired physician from a large medical center in Boston sat in a circle of women, reflecting on the Nature Attunement Experience™ I guided them through at a local garden center.
The doctor gently said, “We’re killing ourselves.”
Her revelation led to an in-depth conversation on how we as humans are harming ourselves by not properly taking care of our planet. Further discussion led to ways we might begin to change this. Higher levels of sustainable, conservation behaviors are consistently found in the literature when people are more connected with nature.
Inviting and being open to what nature wants to share with us is not new. Collective communication and having a reciprocal relationship have deep roots in Indigenous cultures. Our modern society, however, has become so far removed from this ancient, well-recognized practice that it often takes guidance to re-awaken this relationship with nature.
Connecting with the natural environment holds immense, limitless benefits to our holistic health. So much so, that healthcare professionals, mainly physicians, around the globe are now “prescribing” nature to their patients. What this “prescription” entails varies and research on the practices and outcomes is early. In addition, historically medical prescribing has poor adherence results, often at just 50%. ( 1 , 2)
Acknowledging the vast benefits to our minds, bodies, and spirits, that connecting with our natural world offers, I question is “prescribing” nature the best way to encourage people to get outdoors, take a hike, grow a garden, or just put a small plant on our kitchen window? Personally, I say no. Please bear with me as I explain.
Pre-Judeo-Christian times, the humans who lived on our planet did so in harmony, with reverence to the natural world. Indigenous People are so deeply connected with our natural world that they have a kinship with wild animals, some have come from running rivers. In this worldview, relationship is everything and Mother Nature is a treasured and respected relative. The Indigenous People who have survived the horrors of colonialism still carry this sacred, sovereign way of being. Why are we not listening to the Indigenous knowledge that instructs us to the new ways of living harmoniously on this planet we all share? How has it come to be that a ”prescription” has come to stand in for this invitation to a relationship?
We also know that communities called Blue Zones have populations of people who live the longest, consistently reaching age 100, and the healthiest lives on earth. Their simple ways of living, are well documented. One of the key lifestyle practices people living in Blue Zones do is walking and engaging with nature. Why are we not exploring integrating these into our modern lifestyle?
Intentionally connecting with our natural world through our six senses has shown to be beneficial to humans in many ways. Just a few to mention include feeling calmer, enhanced sleep improved ability to focus and be creative, and improved immunity. What makes this practice even better, is people who are connected to our natural world also exhibit stronger conservation/sustainable behaviors, hence a more respectful way of living with Mother Nature.
Rather than simply “prescribing” nature, healthcare professionals can encourage and establish healthy nature relationships. To practice this relationship they can role-model nature connection, advocate for more nature to connect to, advocate for sustainability as the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is doing, conservation, ensuring access for all to our natural world, and developing “Nature Connectors” instead of (nature pharmacists!) to work in natural settings for those who need guidance, coaching, and assistance.
Connecting with nature is as essential as eating a healthy diet, moving regularly, sleeping soundly, and managing stress. In fact, I believe our natural world is the hub that connects all of these key healthy lifestyle practices.
Turning what needs to be just simple essential nature relationship practices into a clinical, “prescribed” way of life is not in our best interests. As a nurse who has practiced in various settings over the past thirty years, including home care where you intimately witness how people actually live and adhere to prescriptions, I can tell you people may say, “Okay”, in the hospital or practitioner’s office when given prescriptions but they most often do what they to (or have the ability, finances or support) to do when they leave.
Connecting with our natural world needs to become a cultural norm and this is going to take creativity, collaboration, and resources to make this happen. It also needs to be inclusive, especially of Indigenous knowledge and practices.
Please share your thoughts on nature "prescriptions" in the comments section below. I would love to hear your opinion.
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Around the world, people will plant trees, clean up parks and beaches, and maybe plant a pollinator garden in celebration of Earth Day on April 22. While these and other one-day activities are a step in a more sustainable direction, what would the impact be if we collectively stepped back and committed to connecting with our natural world?
Indigenous people around the world have a profoundly different relationship with our environment. When Aleena Kaw of Red Star International, talked about how the Klamath and the Yoruk nations emerged from the river, as opposed to believing they emerged from the river, in a discussion hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it resonated deeply with me.
Personifying non-humans is a huge mind-shift for many of us. Personifying our natural world invites us to establish a relationship with her and affords nature rights to personhood. Rivers, for example, are being granted legal rights to personhood around the world. The Ganges and Yamuna Rivers are now considered legal persons and now have the right to be clean and healthy, versus polluted. The Magpie River in Canada was legally granted personhood and is now empowered with nine rights including the right to sue.
Those of us who are not indigenous, have an opportunity to shift our thinking from our current way of looking at our environment as something we dominate over and use for our own good, to developing a relationship with our environment. When we connect with our natural world, we have the opportunity to develop a healthy, reverent, reciprocal way of being with our environment, much in the same way we enjoy and cherish our connections with other people and pets.
How do we begin to transform our way of thinking? Here are a few ideas:
Earth Day provides us an opportunity to set a new intention, just as many of us do for ourselves on New Year’s Day. Setting the intention to connect with our natural world will be a meaningful way to celebrate Mother Nature this Earth Day. As the legendary oceanographer once said, “We protect what we love.”
Looking to connect with Mother Nature, enhance your holistic health, meet new friends, and have some fun? Join us as we launch the Walk With Mother Nature™ program on May 9th. Learn more: LINK