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Seeing Ourselves Through Nature

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ocean lapping

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We can reconnect to ourselves, gaining a deeper, fuller understanding of who we are, by reconnecting to nature.

Nature, if we take the time to listen, can teach us so much about ourselves. For writer Anna Lovind, it’s nature’s rhythm that serves as teacher—the periods of massive growth and abundance followed by periods of decline and even death. Lovind has learned that after the sprouting and blooming of ideas, rest is vital and simply part of the process.  

“I’m a much healthier [and more creative] person when I allow myself to move in cycles, to slow down during the dark season.”

Lovind also has learned to trust life’s natural unfolding from watching trees. “I notice how they let go of their leaves with such ease…and then emerge again in due time. No rush, no striving to grow their leaves in March instead of April. When spring comes, the buds burst. No one needs to make it happen, it happens by itself in due time.”

Stephanie Lisa Kelly, a writer and facilitator who works at the intersection of the psychological and the mystical, finds that nature’s ecosystem is a powerful metaphor for our own myriad layers.

“We are conditioned to compartmentalize ourselves into roles and labels, which can limit both our perspectives and our behavior,” she said. “[O]nce we stop thinking of ourselves in terms of the roles we inhabit and start to understand ourselves in terms of an ecosystem, we get access to the rich complexity of our being.”

Instead of seeing ourselves as either/or—lazy or productive, good or horrible, worthy or undeserving—we start to see our nuances, Kelly said. We see shades and hues and rainbows, and we realize that the parts of ourselves that we judge—ever-so harshly—may actually be “understandable, even acceptable.”

We can reconnect to ourselves, gaining a deeper, fuller understanding of who we are, by reconnecting to nature. Below, you’ll find a range of ideas to help you see your multilayered reflection in our magnificent natural world.

Contemplate the big questions. “The bigness of nature helps to shock our ego into silence and makes it much harder for it to maintain the story that it’s the center of the universe,” Kelly said. This carves out space for our inner wisdom to come through. It helps us expand our understanding of ourselves, going beyond “shoulds”—I should be a certain way—expectations and limiting beliefs. 

Find a natural spot to sit—a park, the beach—and reflect on such questions as: Who am I? What do I stand for? How do I want to contribute to this world?

Reconnect to your senses. Reconnect to your body by paying attention to everything around you. Lovind suggested noticing both the beauty and decay of nature; the “shapes and form and the way light falls between tree trunks; the rough surface of bark; the velvety surface of moss; the way the earth smells after a day of intense sunlight.”

Kelly also stressed the importance of focusing on the subtleties with all your senses. “[T]ouch things—trees, earth, leaves; feel the textures, the variety and diversity; notice the air against your skin.”

Explore the animal kingdom. Learn about different animals: their qualities, their motivations, how they view the world, Kelly said. “Because we are meaning-seeking creatures we reflect and respond to characteristics and qualities that we either see in ourselves or would like to develop,” she said. “[T]he animal kingdom is a very rich place to explore with less human bias around those qualities.”

Examine natural objects. Pick up a natural object that you’re drawn to, such as a stone or leaf, Kelly said. Ask yourself, “What does this symbolize?” Think of it as “an invitation for your subconscious to give you a message that you might need in that moment.”

She also suggested considering the object’s characteristics and asking: “How am I like that thing?” Give your imagination full and free reign. “As soon as we open ourselves to interpretation, to symbols, we create space for inner wisdom to come up.”

Reflect on nature’s lessons. What can nature teach you about being in your life? About how to savor and show up? For instance, trees also have taught Lovind about foundation and balance. A planted tree doesn’t grow much in the first few seasons, because it’s focused on cultivating a strong root system, she said. When it’s built its sturdy foundation, the tree refocuses its energy on growing new branches and leaves.

“This speaks to me about allowing new projects to take root before expecting them to grow and flower, and also about my own need for balance between steadiness and expansion,” Lovind said. “The perfect proportions may vary depending on where I am in life, but I always, always need both.”

Exploring the nature all around us helps us explore the nature within us, delving into the core of who we are, learning vital lessons. In fact, there’s really no distinction. As Lovind said, “We’re part of the natural world.” This is why it so beautifully reflects us—and we reflect it.


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