How noticing the landscape can help soften your own


I came across three oak trees on a walk this week, lined up inside the entrance to an old farmhouse. There was a sudden gust of wind and I could hear it travel down to me from above. Looking up, I was under the branches, my eyes followed the branches in and towards the trunk. Seeing the trees reminded me of my childhood summers. My friend Vicki and I spent our days climbing over and under trees and scrub locked into a world of imagination. 
In Vicki’s garden, there was an old oak tree. Climbing up was easy. Our small hands and feet felt their way up the trunk. We would take turns standing on the branch and hold the trunk. The horizon was full of possibilities and ready for exploration. We’d shimmy up the branch, our legs dangling on either side. Vicki would jump, land, and roll the gentle slope under the branch. She’d look at me, I’d shake my head, her dad would come and I’d climb down over his shoulders. He’d tell me not to climb the tree, I’d agree and the following day he would be there for me yet again. One day I did jump, land, and roll and Vicki’s hand pulled me up and we carried on our adventure.
Under dense, thick scrub amongst the trees, we always had an agenda. We’d come out into a field and run across to scale a large boulder and take a break. Recently, I read that this scrubland is very important to trees. It connects all plants and trees to each other. If feeds them and offers a protective form of communication. If we had known that the trees could communicate, we’d have lost our lives with the excitement. But then, we spent so much time amongst the trees, always safe, maybe on some level we heard them?

Ecopsychology

Ecopsychology has emerged as a field of study in the last twenty years. A major study published in 2019 surveyed over 20,000 people. It found that people who spent two hours a week in a natural environment were more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. It’s well known that getting back to nature is good for health, this is the proof.
As a child, the landscape offered me a huge invite to extend my imagination. There was no stone unturned or tree not scaled.
The natural world solidified something in us. We understood its power, we knew it would hold us up.
Studies in ecopsychology are increasing. And all the results point in one direction – nature is good for both physical and mental well being.
In 2016, the World Health Organisation published its Urban Green Space action plan. One aim is that urban residents have adequate opportunities for exposure to nature.  Further proof that the natural world is essential for our wellbeing.

Sharing it

Any time I have walked along the Cliffs of Moher, (I live close by), I have had to step aside and let people get their perfect photo. I have been guilty of this myself in the past, taking the photo and then forgetting where I was. This experience of the natural world on a visual level is beneficial but there is so much more to gain. To deeply enjoy the natural world is to deepen how we interact with it and immerse with it. We can buy so many experiences right now, but have you ever stood in a forest, closed your eyes and listened to the wind come? How it hits the top of trees first, like a spirit, then bounces down from tree to tree until it sweeps you up? That stuff is free and truly priceless.

Forest Bathing

A term coined by overworked Japanese people. People had to be shown how to sit still amongst the trees and come home to themselves. When I worked in Dublin, I walked through Bushy Park on my way home most days. I came out feeling that the trees and ground had absorbed all the excess from me.  My shoulders dropped as I walked through the park.  I let go of the workday and had been replenished with something else.

Taking It In

In the coming weeks and months, there will be more uncertainty. It is a time to reach deep and look for the certainties in the world right now.

When the rise of anxiety or the pull of depression comes, I know that the best thing I can do for myself is to go outside. I search the beauty of the landscape of wherever I am, calm the inner landscape within me. Doing this makes me softer and kinder to myself. Connecting to the elemental power of the natural world, I can bring it in and let it sustain me.
If you are living in an urban landscape there are ways to find this power. Look up towards the sky, find the sun bounce against the buildings.  Find a tree you walk past and start putting your hand on it as you go by. It’s surprising how this small act can change something within you. It might invoke a memory or spur your imagination.  

Some of you reading this will think you’ve no imagination but remember, you are an ex-child. And when you were a child, you lived in an imagined world, full of possibility, monsters, other worlds, and hope. Spurred on back then by the natural world, perhaps it’s time to give it another go?

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