It’s finally spring. The snow has melted, the days are getting warmer, and the world is slowly turning green around us. After a long winter, these first few weeks of nice weather are truly glorious. However, if you live in an area that is seasonally dependent (like us here in upstate New York), the summer months can come at a cost. The steady increase of vacationers and visitors to the North Country often means working more days and longer hours, with less time available to bliss out in the good weather. We may be surrounded by nature here in the Adirondack Park, but weeks can go by without a chance to enjoy it.
Communion with nature is integral for mental health and spiritual growth. We’ve all heard of the negative effects of being shut up in an office all day sitting at a computer, or standing on our feet for eight hours. While we need to do what we can to make money and provide for ourselves and our families, it is just as important to unplug and spend some time in nature. Whether you live in the Adirondacks or a concrete jungle, here are some quick, simple ways to get back to your primal roots.
Do you wake up early to get ready for work or perhaps start your day early with small children? Then you may have noticed that (especially in these warm months) the songbirds are very vocal during the sunrise hours. Open a window, allow yourself a few minutes to listen. How many different bird songs do you hear? Take a glance out of the window and see if you can spot the little birds, perhaps even whistle back to them, imitating their songs. Can’t hear any birds from your home? Check out Bird Note, a wonderful podcast that features the calls of different birds every day. Each show only lasts a minute or two and can easily be squeezed into your morning routine.
If you find yourself outside during the day, find some soil, sand, grass, or rock. Go ahead and pick up a handful. Close your eyes, smell it. Is it dry or moist, cold or warm? Run it through your fingers and allow it to sift back to the earth. Allow your hands to be dirty for a few moments, they can always be washed. How do your hands feel; gritty, slimy, soft? Consider the earth as a whole and that the handful of dirt you’re holding is part of the same source as that from the other side of the planet.
Scrapping the cliche here, when was the last occasion you spent some time with a tree? Have you ever really stopped to regard the trunk; the texture of the bark or the lichen growing up its side, the sound of the limbs creaking in the wind, the way the roots descend into the ground. Look for patterns in the bark, regard the fractal quality of the trunk giving way to the tiniest of twigs, experience the overlapping shadows of the leaves. After that, you may find that hugging a tree is not so strange.
Your New Roommate
If you feel up to a simple, committed relationship, get a houseplant. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you have no green thumb, there are plants that are almost impossible to kill and easy to care for (succulents, snake plants, etc). Put it somewhere that you will see it every day, if not to remember to water it then to have an opportunity to acknowledge it. Wish it a good morning, name it, give it a nice little pot to live in. Sometimes it’s easier to bring a bit of nature into our lives when we cannot find the time to extend our lives into nature.
Altar? I hardly know her!
If you’re like me, the word altar, with its religious connotations, can be a bit disenchanting. But, you don’t need religious intent to create a mini tribute to nature in your home. It can be as simple or as ornate as you’d like; a small space on a windowsill or an entire tabletop. Find some objects like stones, crystals, dried flowers or leaves, feathers, or shells and arrange them on a scarf, an old plate, or even a piece of tree bark. You can switch around these objects daily, weekly, monthly, or even seasonally. Just as with your houseplant, set up your altar somewhere you can see it every day. Though the objects may be precious to you, don’t be afraid to pick them up and handle them. Absorb the energy from their arrangement.
Water: Life Source
I am lucky enough to live next to a beautiful waterfall that I can visit and observe every day. Some of you may live by the ocean or a lake, while some may live in the desert or a busy city. Taking a few moments before a body of water, regardless of size or source, can be very cleansing, you don’t even have to get wet. Listen to it, smell it, watch it move with the current or ripple toward the shore. Look at what is reflected in its surface. If you don’t have access to a natural body of water, you can pour some into a bowl, take it outside or to a window, create ripples by blowing across the surface, look at your reflection, take a sip. Water is an essential part of our lives, but how often do we spend time considering its movement, its effects, or its necessity.
The Sky’s the Limit
Well, it doesn’t have to be. There are limitless options to connect with nature, but sky observation is one of the most ancient ways to do so. You don’t need to be on top of a mountain or in an observatory to take a glance upward. Challenge yourself to lift your head several times throughout the day and just notice the sky. What do the clouds look like? How does the light compare with your mood? Where is the sun? And when the sun goes down, check in with the stars, the moon, or the seldom acknowledged night clouds. We can go throughout an entire day without looking up, yet it only takes seconds to do so. In lifting our heads, we often able to lift our moods as well.
Dare to be Bare!
Is there anything more natural than being naked? Now, I’m not suggesting we all strip down and go running through the streets, but at the end of a busy day when you’ve had barely any time to do anything beside work, go home and spend a few minutes completely naked. Not to critique yourself in the mirror, but to simply lie on your bed or even fold the laundry. If you’re like me and don’t often get time to yourself (#momlife), then spend some time barefoot. Let your feet be free, maybe even take a step outside. Shed some layers and feel the freedom that is inherent within.
These simple exercises can be done in five minutes or less (or more!). While they may be varied in their content, they all require a brief commitment of observation, and with continued practice, you may find your observational skills can positively begin to impact other areas of your life. Turning your attention, however briefly, to the natural world and how we exist within it can be a wonderful way to lift your spirit, cleanse your mind, and bring you back to the earth. In an age where so much of our life exists in The Cloud, it is necessary to ground ourselves, to root down with our primal being, and occasionally allow instinct and emotion to supersede the rhythms of our usual routines.