Using Nature for Emotional Regulation
Thanks to teacher Cassie for this blog!
I am, and have always been, a notably emotional person. As a child I was fortunate enough to grow up in the rural area of a smaller town with big backyards, horses in the fields to pet, neglected swimming holes, big trees to climb and ponds with frogs, water bugs and mud skippers.
As I reminisce of this I feel a bitter sweet ache.
I love living in Vancouver; it and North Vancouver must be of the most nature-rich cities in North America. I love that I can walk less than ten minutes to sit by a pond and see a duck and her baby, listen to red-winged black birds, look at grand willow trees swaying, and climb giant cedar trees.
I will however admit that the density of population affects me and seems to interfere with my ability to deeply connect to Mother Earth. I sometimes find it harder to feel that same stillness, peace and serenity I would find in the long hours of being barefoot in the sun-caked swamp looking for magical creatures. Maybe this is because the people who are all around, talking and laughing and enjoying the views, are not all feeling the same sort of reverence. And I know that if we all did all the time, the world would be a very different place.
As a child I used nature to help me come back to my sense of self. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know it is so. When I felt down, angry or confused I would go swing on the swing, crouch by the slough and look at the crayfish or lay on the big branch of our massive walnut tree and let my limbs droop over the sides.
I remember as a young adult I would rediscover just how vital it was to have time alone in nature when I would go camping with my friends and find myself wandering off alone, swimming to an island to sit on a log and allowing the minnows to nibble my toes. Sitting there I felt like I knew who I was, more than I had in years, and I felt indescribably grateful.
Now an adult, focusing on building a foundation to support me for the rest of my life, feeling the pressures and expectations of a fast-paced and outcome-oriented world, I am again rediscovering how important alone time in nature is.
I am currently in school to become an Integrative Energy Healing Practitioner and part of my personal work is to allow suppressed emotions from childhood to rise to the surface to be felt unconditionally. As I’m sure you are aware, it is not an easy task. Some days I will feel so down it’s hard to move and other days I will feel so angry with nowhere to direct it. Anger is the emotion I have been working with most in recent days. As a sensitive, caring person this feels paradoxical, but such is the nature of the human condition. Knowing that it is deep-seated and my responsibility to feel, I don’t ever direct it at anyone, but it can be so difficult to hold.
So I will go outside. I’ve found that I can never feel angry when observing nature. While I am not meant to numb the anger away with my previous coping mechanisms like food and TV, nature is a calming reprieve from the at-times exhausting and disorienting feelings.
Today I sat by a small, muddy, covered area of water looking at the yellow iris, the dark water and the reflections of the trees. After a few moments I saw a mother duck and her baby. She looked at me as though to say, “Hi, do you mind if we join you?” They swam right near; climbing onto the floating sticks and nibbling at the water, and I felt a smile spreading across my face as well as tears in my eyes as I took in the sweetness of this mother and her young.
After some time I said thank you to the mother duck and kept walking. I saw a crow that I liked the look of, sitting on a sign, and I stopped to watch them for a while. I have in the past felt that crows don’t like it when you look at them too closely but I said, “I think you look cool there sitting on that sign, crow. I’d like to take a little video of you if that’s okay.” I did so, and then I kept walking. A few moments later a crow landed beside, looking at me. I looked back at the sign and that crow had gone so I thought maybe it was the same. They were looking up at me, gazing, as though they found me just as pleasing as I found them. I let them know that I was going to crouch down and then I did, and despite the sounds and presence of others all around, we spent some time in each others’ company. I felt gratitude and humility, and I felt calm in my heart.
This sort of surrendering to emotions is much easier when we have the support of Mother Earth. There have been countless times when I have felt I can no longer hold all of me, so I lay back on the grass and ask Her to hold me. I feel the sensations in my body and notice my breathing, and feel as though what is no longer serving me is being given to the Earth, pouring out of me into the ground, to be recycled.
At this time of Social Isolation I have not received a hug in two months. How bizarre, for someone who grew up in an emotional, touchy-feely family. I have found that I feel just as soothed by hugging a tree.
There have been scientific studies done to show the healing power of having bare skin touching the Earth. In this one, the results that were gathered concluded that “Grounding increases the surface charge on RBCs and thereby reduces blood viscosity and clumping. Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.”
Grounding has also been proven to reduce inflammation, boost anti-oxidants in the body, improve sleep and promote healthy blood flow, according to an article written by The Sacred Science team.
So, how come we aren’t all walking around the parks barefoot, and allowing our children to do so? A part of me wishes we all were. But of course there is always a risk, and people want to be cautious. Why not find a place that you can confirm is safe, to lay on the ground with as much skin touching the Earth as possible, and look at the clouds. Feel the soft, squeaky grass between your toes and go give that Douglas Fir a hug. Your physical and emotional bodies will thank you.