“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” – Dr. Albert Schweitzer
In the past few decades we’ve started to wake up to the importance of nature, and to contact with the natural world for human health, well-being and functioning. Research shows that there are four main reasons why nature aids human functioning:
- In the natural world we have a sense of being away from the day to day stresses and strains of life.
- Being in nature helps us to put matters in perspective.
- The natural world stimulates and pleases our senses.
- Being in nature usually makes people feel that they are in a supportive and harmonious environment.
- Showing people views of pleasant natural scenes promoted health-oriented behaviours and and reduced the desire to engage in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and drinking.
- Viewing nature can actually encourage healing. Hospital patients who could see a natural scene through their hospital window (as opposed to a brick wall) were discharged more quickly, needed less painkilling drugs and were generally deemed to be more cooperative by staff. Also exposure to such scenes has a positive impact on physical health by affecting blood pressure and muscle tension.
- People exposed to greener environments enjoy lower levels of income-related health inequality, specifically ‘circulatory diseases’.
- In inner-city apartment living, having nature nearby as opposed to people living in barren condition, reduces the propensity for aggression.
- Even limited contact with nature is not confined to physical health but extends to mental health as well mainly through the reduction of stress and anxiety. Another study showed that A walk in the country can counteract depression.
- The benefit of the environment on our lives is not confined to health but also extends to cognitive abilities as students taking exams found that there was a higher cognitive performance for students who could view a natural scene out of the window as opposed to a entirely ‘human-constructed’ scene.
- Walking in the park at any time of the year has benefits for both attention and memory: after spending an hour in nature both increased by 20 per cent. The results show that this effect does not occur for those who took a walk in an urban area. The researchers found that even when participants viewed images, of natural environments and urban environments, those viewing the natural ones did better on the attention and memory tests. According to the authors being outside in the natural environment fulfils basic needs and produces similar effects to meditating.
- People who spend time in ‘treed public spaces’ are more likely to talk and interact with others – thus enhancing community.
- Researchers were also able to demonstrate that green space users can accurately assess how many different kinds of species live in urban parks, particularly when looking at plants. Their results indicate that successful management of urban green spaces should emphasise biological complexity to enhance human well-being, in addition to biodiversity conservation.
At our deepest level as humans we remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into existence. We naturally experience pain and a sense of loss when we witness the destruction of the environment. Our reconnection back to the Earth is a critical part of our human wellbeing and the wellbeing of all life on Earth.
Work That Reconnects
More than half of all animals gone in the last forty years, according to the Living Planet Index. Most ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably, according to Millennium Assessment Report. We’re living inside a mass extinction event, say many biologists, but without hardly consciously noticing.
How do you feel about the destruction of our natural world? About pollution, over-development and the poaching of the elephant or tiger. Or closer to home, the development of local land and the loss of that tree or pond you loved.
Many people find these issues so painful that they suffer from depression or severe anxiety because it’s simply overwhelming. They don’t know what to do or how to respond and feel powerless.
The Work That Reconnects is a workshop process that gives a place to share our love of nature, our collective grief for the Earth’s sorrow, and connection with each other. These workshops have been taking place around the world since the 1980’s where people get together in a facilitated environment to share what we think and how we feel about nature and our human place in it. This can be hugely empowering and has helped thousands of people to find the resources to make an active contribution to those areas they feel strongly about rather than feeling lost and powerless.
Drawing from deep ecology, systems theory and spiritual traditions, the Work That Reconnects builds motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture. First emerging in 1978, this pioneering work has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy.
The Work That Reconnects has inspired thousands of people to take heart and work together for the sake of life on Earth, despite rapidly worsening social and ecological conditions.
Watch Joanna Macy in this short video Embracing Pain
To learn the basics of the Work That Reconnects and its distinctive approach, I facilitate workshops that range in duration from a few hours to a long weekend.
The Work That Reconnects extends far beyond dedicated events, its methods can be widely used in classrooms, faith communities, grassroots organising, and environmental and human rights campaigns.
To learn more about the approach, contact me and also see The Work That Reconnects website. I will be running some workshop weekends in 2017.
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk