A few weeks ago, I was experiencing a great deal of sadness. (Yes, even therapists deal with loss and grief.) It was a dark time and I was struggling to maintain my equilibrium and energy for the work and people I love. So when the opportunity to go on a hike with my husband materialized it was the last thing I felt like doing. The intense urge I had was to curl up under the covers and binge watch some irreverent comedy, not climb Grizzly Peak.
But, another wiser part of me knew that to shed my despair I must practice opposite action to my urge. Opposite action in this case meant throwing off the covers, finding my hiking boots and backpack and saying, “Yes.” And, it turned out to be the perfect remedy.
The first part of the trek was muddy and slippery and full of fallen trees from the last big storm that ripped through our area in November. Some of the fallen trees had been chain-sawed apart making a passage for us, but in other places we had to clamor over logs or find our way around, creating another trail in the process. During this part of the day, I thought about how like life this seemed to me, so many obstacles to overcome, so much unexpected chaos and destruction. And yet, all around me in the midst of it, beauty. All around me life springing from the decay.
After the first few miles of walking, I felt my shoulders release into a pleasant ease and I was able to be more in the moment. The angst of the prior few weeks, the recycling of what was said and not said, the profound sense of loss, though still present, faded into the background.
The second part of the hike took us through lush old growth forest, and then eventually near the top of the mountain, into the open where flat rocks stretched out around us and trees burned by a fire a few years ago stood stark and black against the blue, blue sky. Beneath them hundreds of young trees, branches tipped with new growth flourished.
We ate our lunch at the edge of the precipice looking out across the Rogue Valley and south to Mt. Ashland and Mt. Shasta. To the north we saw Agate Lake and the mountains hiding Crater and Diamond lakes in their mighty folds. It was spectacular. It was perspective.
After lunch, I lay back on the rocks and let the sun seep in and felt healing sink into me with the heat.
That day was a turning point, and though my sadness is not gone, it is tempered. It exists again along-side all the beauty and gratitude in my life. Not one or the other, not pain or peace, but both.
You don’t have to hike to the top of a mountain to enjoy the healing power of nature. It can be found at the local park, in your own back yard or at the bird feeder hanging outside an apartment window.
I once had a client who shared with me how the return of hummingbirds each year filled her with joy and how she learned inner stillness by standing outside with enough quietude so they would come and drink in her presence. Through watching these tiny birds she learned mindfulness. She learned to stop in the midst of her busy life and be fully herself and fully aware and fully at peace all at the same time.
So, yes, nature can heal. All we must do is open ourselves to the possibilities. Here are some suggestions for how you might encounter the wonder and resilience of nature and take in its goodness, while maybe, just maybe, discovering those same things are a part of you.
•Plant something. Watching a seed germinate and become can be inspiring. I am always amazed that a tiny amaranth seed can turn into a giant plant with voluptuous red plumes or that a sunflower seed can transform into a monster that towers over the roof-tops. This can remind us of the miracle of life and that we are a part of this.
•Get out into the sun for 10-15 minutes a day. Vitamin D is essential for health and many of us are deficient. A little sun goes a long way, so don’t over-do it. Just a few minutes a day may help ease depression and other ills.
•Go for a walk. Even if you just go around the block, get out and move. While you are walking notice as many details of nature as you can. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? This time of year so many things are blooming. Stop and smell the Spirea.
•Buy or borrow a book on birds or plants. I recently picked up a book at a yard sale on identifying Western trees and plan to keep it in the car so I can learn the names and habits of the many trees I see every day.
•While you are at it, join a bird watching club or become a master gardener.
•Draw, paint or write about what you see in nature. Read nature poetry.
•Bring nature inside by picking or buying a bouquet of flowers. Even the midst of winter seems a little brighter to me when I have a vase full of merry flowers on the table.
•Camp out and sleep under the stars. Marvel at the beauty and mystery of the universe.
•Go for a hike.
•Swim in a river, lake or stream.
•Make compost. Turning kitchen waste, leaves and manure into a rich, life-giving substance can be a powerful metaphor for allowing our own wounds to be the substance of growth and blossoming.
•Take your kids to a playground. Let them play in the dirt. Take them on a “nature walk” and help them discover plants, bugs, worms, birds, trees, wind and water. Ask them how they think it is all connected.
Since my Grizzly Peak hike I have been reminding myself to look deeply and listen intently and to get outside more. Yesterday I weeded, spread compost and planted flowers, and sat for a time and just watched a hawk circle and dive.
My Help is in the Mountain
By Nancy Wood
My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company.
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.