As a licensed clinical psychologist and corporate trainer, clients come to see me every day seeking relief from their stressful lives. In most cases, I have a simple solution that would bring them immediate relief and wouldn’t cost them a penny. Although it may not serve my best economic interests to provide this straightforward advice, I dispense these three words freely: Be in nature. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I make this recommendation, most people ignore it. Let’s explore why I’m such a strong believer in the rejuvenating and depression-fighting powers of nature.
By nature, I’m referring to an environment that fosters stillness and silence. This doesn’t necessarily mean a national park or a rural location far from city life. In fact, in the midst of nearly every busy city, where you’re surrounded by buildings, people, and urban gridlock, you can still stand outside, look at the sky, listen to the birds, hear the wind blow, watch trees sway, and observe a sunrise or sunset. In other words, nature is accessible to all of us. Nature can even be something we bring indoors. Potted plants and flowers are simple and wonderful ways to bring the outdoors into our homes and workspaces. When we’re feeling anxious, having plants and flowers nearby encourage calmness.
The benefit of appreciating nature is it reminds us of our natural state. This is the quiet place free from mental noise that fills our minds throughout the day. When we embrace nature we are able to observe our thoughts. Our mind chatter otherwise goes unnoticed if we aren’t aware of it, or it stresses us out if we realize its presence.
The mental commentary that seems to go on and on without end is not our natural state. It is something we learned to do early on, and it often makes no sense, has nothing to do with what’s occurring in the present, and we have little control over it. When you see small children engaging in whatever activity they’re participating in, whether it’s playing with a doll or eating, you’ll see that they are fully engaged in the moment, free from mental commentary. Nature reminds of that this state is accessible to all of us. And by tapping into our natural state, we realize that within us, we were born with everything we need to experience happiness, inner peace, and healing from past wounds.
Nature in the Short-Term
A daily practice of appreciating nature is one of the most beneficial activities you can do to increase happiness and reduce stress. While you may feel like you have no time in the day, it only requires a few minutes. Start by taking a five-minute walk outside every day. During this time, disconnect yourself from electronic devices.
When you’re walking observe your surroundings. Watch carefully. Look at the sky, notice the leaves on trees, and see small animals are around you. Listen attentively, hear the sounds of birds, the wind rustling leaves, and even your own footsteps. Over time, you’ll notice there are endless things to observe and listen to.
Next, consider eating outdoors when the weather permits. Rather than eat your lunch at your desk or in the company lounge, take it outside. And keep the electronic devices quiet. Avoid multi-tasking while you’re eating. In other words, no reading, no texting, no meeting with colleagues. Eat in silence and observe both the food you’re putting into your body and your surroundings. While eating like this may not be possible five days a week, make time to do this as much as possible.
Nature in the Long Term
The next step to appreciating nature is a silent retreat. While embracing nature on a daily basis will benefit you over the long term, extended periods of silence will bring about even more peace of mind.
In this retreat setting, you leave anything behind that will draw you away from embracing and being present with your surroundings. These include electronic devices, music players, and even books. Reading may seem like a tranquil activity, but I’m recommending using the retreat setting to encourage stillness and being one with nature.
While this may seem like an impossible suggestion, I recommend a retreat setting on a regular basis, such as a weekend a month. I understand with our busy lives, you might think my suggestion crazy, but the fact is, the lives we lead today are often filled with so much activity that wears us down, the retreat setting is more important than ever. With the speed at which we’re expected to perform in the workplace, high costs of living, and stressful commutes, no wonder so many of us feel overwhelmed and downright exhausted.
Being in nature is our opportunity to check in with ourselves and listen to our bodies and minds. We may realize that our mind chatter is so intense that the stillness of nature is actually stressing us out. We may be exhausted once we’re at our retreat destination. All of this is important information that will help us take better care of our minds and bodies.
There are several retreat setting options that are ideal for an extended retreat. National parks provide a stunning place to escape bustling city lives. Religious and non-religious retreat centers are located throughout the country. These include monasteries, convents, and institutes. Prices vary, and many have meal services so you can show and be still without having to think about meal preparation.
While weekends are great, once you realize how much you are benefitting from extended periods of silence, you may consider a week. Some retreat centers are rooted in meditation. At some point, your craving for silence may result in embracing a meditation practice. And that practice may eventually lead you to meditate for hours a day during a silent retreat. While not for everyone, this is one of the most transformative practices you could ever embark upon.
The daily stillness we make a part of our regular lives will require discipline. Every minute we spend on a walk outside or eating lunch in a park represents our commitment to caring for ourselves. Extended periods of stillness are the next step in our process of developing inner peace. The truth is, if we seek happiness, then the stillness of nature is where we’ll tap into the greatest source of happiness in the world: our own selves.