Many of us struggle with anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and alienation. We say that we are fine when asked, but we don’t feel fine. Part of our suffering may be rooted in what psychologists and scientists call Nature Deficit Disorder or Nature Deprivation. When we are disconnected from physical time in nature, we suffer. When we mistake our thinking for being, we miss out on the actual relationships that support and inform our well-being. When we rely too much on machines and devices, we miss great swaths of our lives as sensual beings in relationship with powerful and eternal forces. We fall into the trap of mental ruts, the repetitive thoughts that lead us to feel separate. However, as human beings, we are not only connected to what we call “Nature.” We are of the same stuff, of the same elements. Our bodies are composed of water and space, and although we may feel solid, we are not. Neither are we separate from one another. We are only connected. We are built for connection. This connectivity runs through everything, and we can move into the feeling of being connected more and more deeply as we move into our awareness. We can learn to feel our connectedness, and the benefits for our physical and mental health are many.
When we consider the connectedness that is the reality of existence, we discover that our separation is an idea nurtured in modern human society. We can learn to explore our fundamental connectedness, and in doing so, we can uncover and live into powerful relationships that Brian Swimme, a professor of evolutionary cosmology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, calls “allurement” in his book The Universe Is A Green Dragon. Swimme discusses how the ordering of the universe can be understood as a profound intimacy rooted in the balancing of attractions, the forces that push and pull in all relationships. He considers the rotations of the planets as examples of this allurement, and suggests that human beings are also in a state of allurement, in deep relationship not only with one another but with all of being.
For example, each of us is in relationship with the force of gravity, an example of what is called “biophilia,” our deep connection to nature. When we calm the mind enough to settle into the feeling of being the body, we can open into an awareness of the voice of gravity in our physical being. The gravitational pull is omnipresent in our lives on planet earth, and is a dependable and profound relationship for each of us, and for all beings on the planet. We are not separate
from this force. We are not exempt from this force. We rely on gravity. We are defined by gravity. When we stand up, our feet remain on the ground. We trust this reality so deeply that we rarely consider its power in our lives, but there it is.
In 2021, I joined a year-long online sangha with Will Johnson, founder of the Institute for Embodiment Training, a teaching school that views the body as a doorway, not an obstacle, to evolutionary growth and spiritual opening. Through a practice that he calls Hollow Bamboo Dharma, the practitioner moves deeply into somatic awareness and then further still, into the dissolution of separateness, and into the shimmer of unceasing connection and flow, which is the actual nature of existence when considered from experiential knowledge rather than belief or concept. We can learn to practice this expansive and expanding connectedness in many varied forms. Will Johnson draws upon the work of Persian mystic and poet Rumi for insight and inspiration. In his book Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved – The Radical Practice of Beholding the Divine, Johnson offers the practice of deep visual gazing as a way of removing barriers and the feeling of being separate in relationship with another, opening the way for deep healing.
A powerful movement for human healing is expanding across the globe. By opening our awareness in the More-Than-Human-World through the senses, our physical and mental well-being improves. This movement started in Japan with the work of Yoshifumi Miyazaki, as Shinrin Yoku in Japanese, or Forest Bathing. He first noticed that he felt better after spending time in nature. He wanted to understand why. A decade or so later, science developed the tools that could measure the effects, and they include lowered heart rate, increased immune function, a sense of connection and well-being, to name a few. Opportunities to engage in what is also called Nature Therapy or Forest Therapy abound. These sessions are intentional periods of engagement, when participants are encouraged to move away from thinking and into awareness through the senses. In doing so, feelings of well-being and connection increase. Deepened appreciation for life, for the complexity and detail of life are commonly described. Forest and Nature Therapy guides and guided programs across the globe are
available help us to move out of our limiting thoughts and into the vast space of connection, where we can learn to heal ourselves and our planet.
Many paths to well-being exist, including the simple practice of moving into our awareness and out of the limitations of our thoughts. Scientific evidence shows positive results for our well-being when we engage with our inherent connection with one another and with the earth. Regardless of how much we hear that we are separate and divided, we are here together.
Anne Markham Bailey is a poet, writer, the author of The Practice of Being, a guide
to creative awareness practice and a member at Practice Works. She is a Nature Therapy guide rooted in Birmingham,