I recently got back from spending a few nights in nature, camping, with no cell service – by myself! This experience was actually surprisingly powerful and provided me the time and space to allow insight into my life to come through in order for me to get clear and align with what is working and what isn’t. Not only is there tremendous healing power from nature, but spending time alone, truly alone — without the distraction of Facebook or movies, proved to be a very healing experience for me. Let me explain…
Some of you who are reading this are probably thinking, who cares? I go camping, hiking or out in the wilderness all the time by myself, what’s the big deal? Well, if that’s you, good on you, keep doing it. Then there are those of you who may be thinking, now why on Earth would you do that? Let’s not forget about those of you who may also be thinking wow, I wish I could do that. For me personally, this was a scary thought, I actually felt like I was going to be bored and miserable the whole time but was I ever wrong about that one…
What Inspired This Idea?
I recently returned from 4 months abroad and came back to the city that I originally departed from. Upon my return, I had been running around meeting up with everyone, hanging out with friends all of the time, and essentially distracting myself with other people. What was I distracting myself from? That’s simple, myself.
There were a number of things coming up for me during my travels and lots of things that I needed to integrate as well as a list of personal “to-do’s” that I had been neglecting. So, I had originally planned to have a celebration for my 28th birthday by going out for dinner and maybe some dancing with friends. That was until I was faced with the stark reality that I had been forgetting about myself completely, and making time for everyone else but me. That’s when I decided that I needed to spend some time on my own and thus the idea of going camping, away from people and any and all distractions, would serve me best. I told a few friends about the idea and asked them to hold me accountable because as soon as the idea entered my head I felt so afraid, but more like the good kind of excited fear that you get when you know you are doing something different and stepping outside your comfort zone. This ended up becoming the greatest birthday gift I could ever received, and best of all, I gave it to myself.
Why Was This So Powerful?
As I mentioned earlier, prior to this experience I had this idea that I would just be sitting there, bored out of my mind waiting anxiously for the time to pass. What I ended up getting was comparable to any insight I’ve ever received during any ayahuasca or other plant medicine experience. Just being there in nature, on my own was instantly calming, from the moment I started driving to my destination, through the whole process of setting up my tent and space. Then, after that I was just left with nothing but time, to reflect on anything that was coming up. I felt present and connected; the cool thing about nature is that it essentially puts you right in the moment.
Something I had been putting off since my arrival back home, was writing a letter to my Dad, I won’t get into all the details of what that entails, but the insight to do it came to me upon my travels. The more time I let pass without doing it the less important it seemed, completing this letter was one of the things I wanted to do with all of the spare time I had while camping. On the morning of the second day, I sat there, amongst the trees and sunshine and let it all pour out. That alone provided me with the space in my heart and mind to just sink into the rest of the experience.
I walked down to a beautiful river and sat in the sun beside a tree and just felt the immensity of it all. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I had the opportunity to sit there and take it all in and be a part of it. Everything around me felt so alive and energized and this energy was coursing through me as well. Typically, I’m not one for sitting down to listen to a guided meditation and do it, the meditation I had whilst sitting in the nature was one of the most powerful I ever had and I didn’t even need to try, it just happened so effortlessly.
A while after that, all of this clarity started flowing through me, it was essentially allowing me to look at my life from an objective point of view. I started writing, and in doing so, I came up with a prioritized list of personal and work tasks that I needed to accomplish, I essentially organized all of my jumbled up thoughts, stresses and anxieties and got them all out and on paper so I could sort through them. Because I hadn’t been giving myself the time and space to actually do this, I had been feeling so overloaded with things that kept building up and because there were so many I just kept pushing them aside. I see clearly now, how that was all unnecessary chaos that could have easily been avoided had I taken just a few hours to myself during the week. Now that all those thoughts were out of my head and on paper, I could effectively clean up the mess that was occupying my mind and create the space to allow for the space and stillness to come through.
Keep in mind, that this all happened simply by allowing myself the time and space to do it. Camping may not be your thing, but spending time alone in nature is very powerful. I have a feeling that just being so connected to technology, people, and even the cities we live in, cause a lot of anxiety in our lives that can take over if we don’t allow ourselves the time to disconnect from tech and connect within.
So, This Was Only My Experience, Will It Work For You?
So yeah, this worked for me, but who says it will work for you? Well there are tons of scientific studied full of evidence that proves natures efficacy for treating stress, OCD, negative thought patterns, ADD, depression and so many other things. Here are some fine examples of that..
Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.
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Brooding is a state of constant worry and stress about everyday things in our lives. This type of thinking is not healthy or helpful and is actually detrimental to our overall mental health. In many cases, these thinking tendencies act as a precursor to depression. Not surprisingly, brooding is much more common to people who live in cities than to rural dwellers.
This sort of rumination is strongly associated with increased activity in an area in the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This sparked the interest of Gregory N. Bratman and his colleagues because it was something they could measure, particularly before and after exposure to nature. Thus began a second study.
38 healthy adult city dwellers were gathered and asked to complete a questionnaire to determine how frequently they were brooding. Then researchers took brain scans that measure the blood flow that was passing through each person’s subgenual prefrontal cortex. The volunteers were split into two groups: one was assigned to go for a walk through a lush, leafy, quiet park on the campus while the other was assigned to a loud, multi lane highway with busy traffic. Neither of the groups were allowed to walk in pairs or listen to music during the exercise.
As soon as they completed the exercise they returned to the lab and answered the same questionnaire, then had their brains scanned again.
The results were as to be expected – the group who walked along the highway still had increased levels of blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex and their broodiness scores were unchanged. The group who walked amongst nature, on the other hand, showed very meaningful improvements in their mental well-being. They were not dwelling on as many aspects of their lives and less blood was flowing to their subgenual prefrontal cortex. Indeed, this area of the brain appeared quieter.
The results of this study “strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments could be a simple, effective, and almost immediate way to improve moods for those who dwell in cities,” said Bratman.
Living Near The Ocean
New research published in Health & Place has found that living in a residence with a view of the ocean is associated with improved mental health. The study looked at the visibility of green and blue spaces for residents in Wellington, New Zealand. Green spaces are forests, parks, and other similar areas, while blue spaces are defined as water regions like oceans and rivers. Researchers used topography data and compared it with information that assessed anxiety and mood disorders, which had been gathered from the New Zealand Health Survey.
The researchers (from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and Michigan State University) also took into account people’s income, age, and sex, and eventually found a positive correlation between people who had a view of the ocean and positive mental health.
Really, the evidence speaks for itself, if you are feeling lost, down, anxious, confused, depressed, unclear, disconnected from yourself or anything really, a quick separation from “reality” and a connect to nature could be the exact medicine you need and the best part is, there are no side effects and it is absolutely free!
Never forget that you, as much as anyone else, are deserving of your own love, care, and affection.
Special shout out to Dr. Bronner and his magic soap for the “All-One!” hat as pictured above.