There’s an old saying, “Nature isn’t a place to visit. It is home.” Nature holds a special kind of energy. Not only is it pure, but it is also wild and spirit-renewing. So, why does taking a stroll in the wild make us feel almost euphoric?
Experiencing the larger world, outside of ourselves, can begin to broaden our mental and emotional perspectives. Your mental health and well-being become elevated, and you stop focusing primarily on your inner negative thoughts and perceptions and enter into a state of clarity.
In a recent episode of Lean In, I spoke with a true wilderness explorer, Terra Roams. Best known for being the first woman ever to take on the 17,000-kilometre solo trek around Australia, she has a lifelong, deeply rooted and almost poetic love for nature.
In our conversation, she gave some insight into her own mental health struggles, and just how nature became her mentor and personal healer.
Nature Is The Best Educator
The natural world holds so much wisdom; it is, without a doubt, a profound and wise teacher. Not only do we have the philosophical aspects; such as the cyclical notion of nature that something good will usually follow something bad. You could see this as the freezing ice will melt, the raging storm will pass and winter will always make way for spring.
But then there are the practical aspects too. These strange and wonderful physical markers that give us a clue to what is about to occur. Take the humble ant, for example. This tiny dot of a creature is deeply in-tune with its surroundings, including the weather.
As a young child, Terra recalls learning about ants acting as a barometer. “I’d watch them carrying their eggs from nest to nest, and then I’d look up at the sky, there’s massive cumulonimbus clouds building up into a storm. They’re right, the ants are showing us what the weather’s going to do.” For a solo wilderness adventurer like Terra, these kinds of lessons are invaluable.
While we may not all be open to the subtle changes and reactions nature shows, in learning just a few lessons and tapping into our ancient being, we become just that little bit more physically and emotionally connected and dialled into our wider sphere.
Nature Is The Best Medicine
We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis. We have a worldwide epidemic of people experiencing loneliness, hopelessness and feelings of profound demoralisation. Rapid urbanisation and lack of outside connection are huge contributing factors, so the preservation and reinstatement of natural spaces could be incredibly useful if we want to maintain a happy society. Why?
Well, there is a consensus among multiple scientific factions that immersive experiences in nature positively affects not only cognitive function but also emotional well-being and overall mental health.
“Nature is a real healer,” Terra beams. She understands the healing possibilities that nature holds more than most. “I’ve actually grown up with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“I would have these big, massive emotional ups and downs. When it was really hard to cope with, I would go off on my bike or run off into the bush, park myself somewhere and have a good cry.”
As odd as it sounds, Terra found that by immersing and communicating with nature, it felt like there was an underlying essence of being nurtured. In her isolation, it gave her the space to release whatever she was holding within her, without judgement, under the compassionate, quiet and watchful eye of the world.
Nature is Perfect For Meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are practices that are (thankfully) gaining popularity, and seem to reflect society’s current need for connection. Meditation is known to reduce stress, control anxiety, enhance self-awareness, encourage clarity and even generate a stronger sense of compassion.
Caring for your mental health is so important, and taking the time to wander in nature can give you the space to do a little bit of self-enquiry and personal housekeeping.
Terra would walk for hours on end, just one step in front of the other, heading for the horizon in a state of Meditative Walking. “The body responds to that meditation, and it stays calm, there’s less stress on the body,” Terra said. “Every step I took was a step to better health.”
One of the most profound lessons she learned while walking in the great outdoors was she had uncovered her ability to choose what to deal with should things need processing. A memory or traumatic thought would pop up, and she began to have the control to put it aside in the ‘deal with later’ pile. “It was gone, until later and I’d keep going in meditation, and I can do that still.”
Nature has a beautiful balance, and when you connect to that, it can have profound effects on your overall well-being. “Everything is in harmony with you and nature alone. We are nature, when we are out there, we’re wildlife.”
To hear more about Terra’s extraordinary story Listen to Episode 15 of Lean In here.