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Nothing New - Lessons from Nature

About a year and a half ago we moved to a community with easy access to plenty of paths through natural areas. I’ve always enjoyed walking, and my old neighborhood had plenty of space to walk, and some areas that were more natural. But now walks along the Fox River, paths parallel to train tracks through more rural areas, footpaths through prairie lands, and trails through wooded hills are almost daily experiences no matter the season. And I feel the benefits of being in nature.


Generally speaking, after a walk – either a fast, exercise walk or a relaxed, sensory walk – I am in a pleasant mood. Something about how the outdoors engages the senses: the fresh air; the smells of grasses and leaves; watching scurrying rodents, wandering deer, and flying prehistoric- looking cranes; the sounds of honking geese, singing birds, and chattering chipmunks; the feel of solid rocks, squelchy mud, dewy grass, and crunchy leaves under my feet…it all works together as a balm to calm my nerves. I find myself less anxious and more relaxed. I see some “regulars” (and sometimes their fur babies!) as I walk; we form our own little community. When I come back, I’m able to clearly focus on whatever task is at hand…coaching, writing, visiting a loved one with Alzheimer's. I often sleep better on days that I walk. I also attribute my general good health in part to being in nature. I feel more integrated physically, mentally, and spiritually after spending time in nature. Nature is always teaching me. She teaches me to be patient; to engage all my senses; to take care of each other. 


Barbara Mahany’s “The Book of Nature – The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text” helped me to better understand all these things I’ve been observing and feeling. She does a great job of demonstrating how science, the wisdom of great thinkers, and various religious traditions all point to nature – from migration and tides to seasons and celestial shiftings – as a sacred encounter. This book shows how pre-literate civilizations to those of the Middle Ages to today all appreciate and learn from nature…it’s nothing new!  Although parts of the book were a bit “heady” for me, I found the takeaways so worth reading it from cover to cover!


When I taught early childhood, the seasons were a big part of our learnings: they offered lessons in patterns, in weather, and the life cycles of plants and animals. Now, in my post-classroom life, I find myself still drawn to reflecting on each season and what lessons it can teach. You may recall my Nothing New titled Leaning into Fall: Learning to Let Go. It’s amazing how much those falling leaves can teach us! Next time I’ll be focusing on what we can learn from winter…simplicity, silence, and slowing down.


In the meantime, observe how your mind, body, and soul respond to being in nature. Try taking a slow walk, intentionally tuning in to one or two senses. What do you notice about the world around you? Would you have noticed if you were walking quickly? How does it make you feel on the inside when you spend time outside?




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