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Nature as a Therapeutic Modality
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Nature Awareness as a
Part 1: The Healing Qualities
Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS, FAAETS
This article on Nature Awareness
continues as Part 2: Coping with Loss using Nature.
There is a healing quality to
nature, which has been known for centuries be it taking time to smell the
roses, meditating on a mountain, lying in a wildflower field, strolling
by a meandering stream, or hiking in ancient redwood groves. Hippocrates,
the father of modern medicine, recognized this powerful attribute in his
Nature cures—not the physician.
People instinctively turn to
outdoor and nature-loving activities as a way of relaxing and enhancing
their well-being. Nature can aid in facilitating self-awareness and promoting
healing. For many the outdoors is a source of inspiration, solace, guidance
Time spent outdoors can
be restorative and healing. Whether running through a canyon, walking on
the sunny beach, hiking through a fern-filled forest, scrambling over rocks
along a creek side, watching the last few rays of the setting sun, strolling
along a moonlit night, or just sitting breathing fresh clean air, being
out in nature is one of the best prescriptions for overall health and encouraging
Above all, do not lose
your desire to walk.
Every day I walk myself into
a state of well being,
and walk away from every illness.
I have walked myself into my
and I know of no thought so
that one cannot walk away from
Nature provides us with a multitude
of ordinary, reaffirming and renewing experiences—the sound of the first
bird of spring, the sight of the early morning sun, the smell of ocean
mist, or the feel of sand in between toes.
One has to be alone,
under the sky,
Before everything falls into
place and one finds
his or her own place in the
midst of it all.
We have to have the humility
to realize ourselves as part of nature.
Being in nature one becomes
aware of the infinite circle of life. There is evidence of decay, destruction
and death; there are also examples of rejuvenation, restoration, and renewal.
The never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth can put life and
death into perspective and impart a sense of constancy after experiencing
a life changing loss or a death.
Yea, I am one with all
With wind and wave, with pine
Their very elements in me
Are fused to make me what I
Through me their common life-stream
And when I yield this human
In leaf and blossom, bud and
Live on I will….
There is no Death.
The many unending cycles of
nature provide real-life examples of hope after a loss and of rebirth following
death and/or destruction illustrating that loss is part of life. Nature
reminds us that time stops for no one. The earth rotates around the sun.
The sun sets on one day, only to rise again on a new day. Spring returns
after the dark clouds of winter. Sunny days of summer follow the spring
Sad soul, take comfort nor forget,
The sunrise never failed us
Celia Laighton Thaxter
The constancy of the seasons
provide some stability when everything else may be crumbling. In the darkest
of times, memories of better times—past winters melting into spring can
sustain us and provide hope—that happy spring days filled with joy will
once again emerge out of the gloom of winter.
Like a crocus in the
I stand knee-deep in Winter
Holding Springtime in my heart.
Joan Walsh Anglund
During the abundant dark days
and difficult times that inevitably follow a significant loss, the grieving
can utilize the ever-present power of nature for healing. Sometimes just
simple words and unassuming imagery can serve as reminders of the strong
natural forces around us and evoke the internal forces that exist deep
within us. If the bereaved are able to look beyond their grief and become
aware of the remarkable earth around us, these inner forces may surface
and help provide them with the strength to survive the loss.
In the depths of winter,
I finally realized that deep
there lay an Invincible Summer.
Nature’s Healing Forces
Nature has strong regenerative
capabilities to heal damage caused by fire, lightening, flood, earthquakes
or blights. Looking closely amidst the ruins of fire or flood affected
areas one can find signs of new growth and new life. Nature demonstrates
the ability to survive despite strong forces that challenge her.
If you watch how nature
deals with adversity,
continually renewing itself,
you can’t help but learn.
Bernie Seigel, MD
In May 1980 Mount St. Helen’s
erupted destroying an area 24 square miles. Scientists predicted the region
would remain a dead zone for decades to come. Yet, only five years later
after this natural devastation, a lupine bloomed at the base of the mountain,
as a testimony to the tenacity and the regenerative forces of nature.
Nature is always lovely,
Whatever is done and suffered
by her creatures.
All scars she heals,
whether in rocks or water or
sky or hearts.
The giant sequoia trees have
adapted to withstand fires by becoming fire-resistant. Black scars on the
tree trunks serve as reminders those that have survived fire and lightening
strikes. Fire is also a part of the sequoia’s life-cycle. Natural fires
are needed to open up the forest, thin out the competing species and make
way for the new seedlings.
Earth has no sorrow that earth
Nature’s healing forces can
serve as powerful recuperative images for those who have experienced a
death or other significant loss. Images of the rebirth in nature can be
useful as symbols for the strong internal forces, bringing hope of surviving
the loss. From monumental newsworthy events to ordinary insignificant occurrences,
one can witness the incredible destructive power and the amazing healing
capabilities of nature and be reminded that:
Nature is the one place
not only happen,
but they happen all the time.
Nature as a Therapist
It is such a secret place,
the land of tears.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Nature can become a place of
refuge for difficult times. When life stresses start closing in, one can
escape to the wilderness physically or mentally. Being in nature helps
to clear one’s head of life’s demands and disruptive thoughts. This clarity
of thought may lead to finding answers to life’s questions and discovering
insights to life problems.
Look deep, deep into nature,
You will understand everything
Raising our conscious awareness
and tuning into nature, we can begin to tap into her abundant healing powers.
Nature can be utilized as an ever-present trusted therapist to assist in
the healing journey, a source of solace, and a close friend who is always
ready listen to share our grief and our tears during hard times. Nature
can provide a place on can turn to in times of deep sorrow, a place to
stretch the legs.
When we need these healing
there is nothing better than
a good long walk.
It is amazing
how the rhythmic movements
of the feet and legs
are so intimately attached
to cobweb cleaners in the brain.
Anne Wilson Schaef
Many of us find it difficult
to see the blue skies beneath the passing gray storm clouds. It is true
that if one hopes to see the rainbow, one must first live through the rain.
Writer, speaker and author Helen Keller, who faced life being both visually
and hearing challenged, shared her optimistic perspective on dealing with
Keep your face to the sunshine
and you cannot see the shadow.
In nature one can discover many
tangible, examples of powerful, natural imagery. Putting into words, verbally
or in writing, the ordinary natural processes of the life cycle gives the
grieving symbolism for rebirth and faith in the future. These images can
help to instill hope in overcoming adversity and surviving loss.
Expect to have hope
The dry seasons in life do not
The spring rains will come again.
Sarah Ban Breathnach
Grief descends like a winter
snowstorm, covering everything in sight, in a mind-numbing blanket of sorrow.
When a life-changing loss occurs, it is as if one has entered an eternal
state of winter. Yet, the seasons that change year after year serve as
constant reminders that nothing is permanent. After the long winter come
the warm days of spring to melt away the enshrouding white blanket of grief.
The once white landscape is altered turning into bright fields of multi-hued
wildflowers, as the lands and animals awaken from their long winter’s sleep
into springtime as if to tell us that:
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such old
Another effective nature imagery
scene for dealing with loss is to envision a mountain of grief that must
be climbed. The journey up the mountain begins with one small step, followed
by another and another, until somehow, with time, the grieving ascend the
mountain and reach the summit. Ultimately, those who reach the top of the
mountain of grief do it by taking step after painful step.
What saves us is to
take a step,
then another step.
It is always the same step,
but we have to take it.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In the process fears about the
climb, hopes about reaching the end of the journey, at first seemed insurmountable;
but they are met and conquered. Coping with loss, it is our own internal
grief response which must be faced. Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Mount
Everest, points out:
It is not the mountains we conquer,
Sir Edmund Hillary
or a variation on this quote:
You never conquer a
Mountains can't be conquered;
you conquer yourself
your hopes, your fears.
Healing from Loss & Grief
I drop my head in my
so empty hands
abandoning myself to deep dark
and know that with the passing
will come relief.
During the healing phase of
grief, the bereaved need to be reminded by those close to them, of all
they have endured, commended for the monumental effort to face the pain
from the loss and admired for coping with the intense, internal struggles.
I never knew a night
Light failed to follow on its
I never knew a storm so gray
it failed to have it’s clearing
John Kendrick Bangs
With many losses, the pain never
entirely departs, rather it becomes a part of the bereaved, tucked away
in a corner somewhere in the deep recesses of the heart. There it remains
at a constant low level ache. As one begins the healing process, the pain
lessens to a level that he/she can function. Hopefully in time, the loss
and the grief are integrated and become barely perceptible. Life begins
anew, but it is a life forever changed. The bereaved person has been transformed
by the loss—like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon to hibernate during dark
times before emerging as a butterfly in the spring. The grieving process
usually ends when people realize that they will survive and focus their
energy on living.
He'd begun to wake up
in the morning
with something besides dread
in his heart.
Not exactly happiness,
not eagerness for a new day,
but a kind of urge to be eager,
A longing to be happy.
The recovery phase begins slowly
piece by piece.
Piece by piece I re-enter
A new phase,
a new body,
a new voice.
Birds console me by flying,
Trees by growing,
dogs by the warm patch they
leave on the sofa,
unknown people merely by performing
It’s like a slow recovery from
this recovery of one’s self.
Elements of nature can aid in
the healing process providing hope where there appears to be none, knowing
that the dawn follows the darkness, sunny skies emerge after storms and
spring follows winter.
We must live through
the dreary winter
If we would value the spring;
And the woods must be cold and
Before the robins sing.
The flowers must be buried in
Before they can bud and bloom,
And the sweetest, warmest sunshine
Comes after the storm and gloom.
This article on Nature Awareness continues as
2: Coping with Loss Using Nature.
Nature can do more than
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