In search of holy ground: towards an ecologically-informed life
For most of us humans there is an intuitive response to natural spaces. Perhaps this is true for you? Take a moment to think of a place in nature where you receive solace. Let it slowly fill your mind and claim your senses…. What happens in your body as you connect with being in that place? What happens in your mind?.....
This is where my mind quite naturally went whilst lying bed-bound, imprisoned in my ailing body for many months during the peak of a healing crisis that would eventually lead me to seek therapeutic help and, later, train to offer it myself. Years of somatised pain stemming from birth and attachment trauma, which resulted in self-destructive patterns then evolved into an arresting embodied response: severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and IBS. Unable to study, unable to sleep, an 'invalid', I spent two years in this physical crucible – “the wilderness years” as I referred to them then. The confusion and loneliness were excruciating.
Many are the gifts harvested from that bleak time. From a recovery perspective it was a rock-bottom. From a myth-poetic one it was an initiation: the invitation being "Become yourself, or die!" As I lay there visions of striding across landscapes would come to me. Open moorland, up and down hills, across streams and valleys. The invigorating freedom of movement combined with the inviting promise of wild space mysteriously spoke to me. Through the stale, stagnant air of that psycho-physiological implosion came a fresh breeze carrying the mild scent of hope to a hopeless man….
So, what did you experience in your moment of imagined nature connection?
For me, and for so many of us it seems, there is a softening, a loosening, a sense of unburdening that is reflected in the breath opening up, tension easing and the mind clearing. It's effortless. As we submit to ever less exposure to the natural world in our daily lives, and the impacts of this disconnection become increasingly and concerningly apparent on a global scale, there is growing interest in the role of nature in human health.
A research commission published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal 2017 details some of the existing literature reviewed. The conditions reported to have been positively affected cover a vast list of health measures ranging from reduced anxiety, depression, ADHD, aggression and increased sleep, life-satisfaction and prosocial behaviour through to improved blood pressure, immune function, birth outcomes, child cognitive and motor development, general health and reduced mortality. There is much we don't know in terms of cause and effect and more research required to give a fuller picture. But coming back to our earlier imaginative engagement with a natural place it doesn't require hard science for most of us to know that when troubled the serenity of the natural world will likely have a positive effect on us.
No one describes it more elegantly in my estimation than Wendell Berry, that great American poet, farmer, writer, activist. I will leave you with his words for now, but next time I’ll explore the question “Why does nature have this effect on us?” and share more about it's role in my journey back to life.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.