I love a nice, big city – crowded sidewalks filled with interesting people, cuisine from all over the world, tons of fun things to do, and every kind of neighborhood you can imagine. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned that nothing restores my sense of inner peace like a walk through the woods, or an afternoon at a quiet beach. Even a few minutes watching the birds at a park can be a healing experience. I find that a quiet morning in the yard can help me to feel more creative, less anxious, and way more centered by the time I get to work. Now science is starting to know why.

As human beings, we are wired to be in tune with our environment. Think about it – in the evolutionary timeline, cities (with all their lights, sounds, and stimulation) are a relatively new invention. Even today, most people around the world don’t live in busy, urban places. This means that for much of humanity, and for most of our existence as a species, we have had to build our lives and cultures around other things besides the hustle and bustle of modern city life. Whether it was the cycles of the moon, tides of the ocean, harvest of the crops, or changing of the seasons, we were built to be in harmony with our planet.

That is why getting aligned with nature is sometimes so therapeutic for us. Our biological rhythms are naturally at home with the Earth. So no matter how much we might consider ourselves to be “city folks,” we will find that time in nature does the soul some good. You can take people out of nature, but you can’t take nature out of people.

Try some of these “nature connection” practices that will help you incorporate more Vitamin N (that’s “Nature,” folks) into your daily life. Your brain, body, and spirit will certainly thank you.

  1. Find a sit spot. Naturalist Jon Young encourages everyone to find a particular place to simply sit with nature each day. The spot should be somewhere close to your home so that it’s easy for you to get there each and every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. It could be your backyard or a tree down the road. The important thing is that once you get there, you spend time just sitting quietly and observing what you see, hear, feel, and smell. Quiet your mind, open all of your senses, and simply be present with this place. As you do this each day, you will start to feel a special bond with your sit spot, and will begin to notice new things around you (“hey, when did that tree get here?”) This is nature teaching you how to be mindful. You just created a refuge for yourself.
  2. Map your world. If you’re like me, you have no sense of direction, and a simple attempt to find the closest grocery store might land you on the other side of town. Today, we rely on our phones to tell us how to get around our own neighborhoods. But there is power in learning how to navigate the world on your own. Take a day to wander through your neighborhood with a sheet of paper and a pencil. Literally draw a map of your community, with roads, landmarks, and even walking paths clearly laid out. it is amazing how taken the time to map your world can give you a sense of orientation and ownership over your space. By creating a map, you figure out exactly where you are, and where you can go. Literally, but also figuratively. Try it, and see if you develop a whole new sense of direction.
  3. Study a life. Pick a living creature, any creature, and learn about it. Doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite kind of dog, a certain type of butterfly you often see around your garden, or that exotic species of big cats that you once saw on the cover of a magazine. The point is to choose some non-human life form, and build a relationship to it by learning all about it. Why? Because it is by building a relationship to the lives around us that we start to be truly invested in caring for our natural environment. When we see how much we share in common with other living creatures – wanting safe homes, caring for our offspring, feeling afraid when in danger, worrying about attracting a mate – we start to understand that we are not on this planet alone. Life is happening all around us, constantly.
  4. Find your rhythm. We get used to getting up when our alarm tells us to, eating when the boss allows us, or going to bed when the TV gets boring. But what are your natural rhythms? In other words, when would your body prefer to get up if no other demands where dictating your schedule? Would you rise with the sun like the birds, or come creeping out at dusk like the puma? Focus some time and attention on how your body naturally feels throughout the course of a day. What are your peak times? When do you start to feel a slump in energy and motivation? Do you notice any correlations with what the sun is doing during those times, or if certain times of month produce a certain type of energy, creativity, or mood for you (and to be clear, this applies to both men and women)? Humans, like all creatures on Earth, are wired to operate on rhythms and cycles. It’s just that we’ve invented technology and systems which allow us (or require us, in some cases) to ignore our natural patterns. For one day or week, choose not to ignore those patterns. See what happens, and you’ll probably learn a lot about yourself and what your schedule actually needs to be in order for you to operate at your highest level.

Let me know how these ideas work out for you, and what differences you notice in yourself and your environment. And while you’re at it, check out Outdoor Afro for opportunities to connect with folks of color interested in hiking, camping, and playing outdoors.

Blessings, and may the Force of Nature be with you! 🙂

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