The Power of Nature: Ecotherapy and Awakening

As a teenager, I suffered from depression and anxiety too, and nature was one of the few things which brought me solace. I lived in a big city – Manchester, in the UK – where there weren’t many natural spaces. But in the evenings I would go back to my school, climb over its gates and wander around the playing fields in the dark, relishing the solitude and open space, staring up at the sky and enjoying the presence of the trees and grass around me.

Now, I no longer suffer from those problems, but I still feel the wonderful healing effects of nature. This is ecotherapy. I love the sense of ease and harmony which nature gives me, and the feeling of connection I experience. I feel a marvellous sense of ‘at home-ness’, as I call it.

As well as healing to heal our minds, nature can transform us. Before I wrote a book called Waking From Sleep, I collected many examples of people’s ‘awakening experiences’ – moments when their vision of their surroundings became more intense, and they felt a sense of connectedness to the world and towards other people. The world became a more harmonious and meaningful place, and a strong sense of well-being filled them. And I found that a high proportion of these experiences were related to contact with nature. People would ‘wake up’ in this way when they were walking through woods, climbing a mountain, swimming in a lake, running along a beach, staring up at a clear sky, and so on.

This is certainly true for me. I have awakening experiences very frequently when I’m in nature. If I go walking in the countryside, there usually comes a point when a feeling of well-being begins to glow inside me, and when the trees and the fields and the sky around me seem to be more alive and beautiful, and to be shining with a new radiance. The clouds above me seem to be moving with a dramatic beauty.

Just this weekend, I went to Wales, and had a wonderful experience while walking along a beach, staring at the sea. In fact, I always have this experience when I’m close to the sea, and I especially when I swim in it: I have a strong sense that it is alive, with its own consciousness or being. I feel awed by its power and presence, and it feels an enormous privilege just to be there to witness it.

Nature is a source of poetic inspiration to me too. Some of the poems are direct accounts of awakening experience I’ve had in nature. But in a more general way, I often find that it’s after a period of contact with nature that the impulse to write poems arises. Poems seem to flow from a deep unconscious place, a source of insights and impulses which are paradoxically beyond words, but which somehow require expression in words. The busy-ness and stress of everyday life can sometimes block access to that place – but nature certainly takes me back there.

Why does nature have such a powerful healing effect? It’s not surprising that nature has a therapeutic effect when you consider that human beings – and all our evolutionary forebears – have been closely bonded with it for all our existence. It’s only in recent times that many of us have been confined to man-made environments. For us, contact with green spaces is therefore like going back home, and fills us with the same sense of safety and belonging. We crave nature in the same way that a child needs a mother, and derive the same feeling of comfort from it.

But the spiritual aspect of nature is very important too. As Eckhart puts it in A New Earth, natural phenomena are portals to the divine, with an ‘ethereal nature’ which means that their ‘form obscures the indwelling spirit to a lesser degree…There is an inner opening, however slight, into the realm of spirit.’

This quality has a calming and mind-quietening effect. Like a mantra in meditation, the beauty and majesty of nature draws our attention away from the ‘thought-chatter’ which normally runs through our heads, which consequently begins to slow down and fade away. Our whole being relaxes and expands, and now that they’re no longer sustained by constant thinking, our ego-boundaries begin to dissolve. We transcend separateness and become connected, both to the landscape and our own deeper selves. A sense of inner peace fills us, a glow of serene energy which intensifies and clarifies our perceptions.

We feel that we are where we are meant to be, that we have become who we really are: not separate individuals, but part of a rich and intricate of network of being, with an essence which flows from the same spiritual source as the whole of the natural world.

Steve Taylor is the author of several books, including The Fall and Waking From Sleep. He is also the author of volume of spiritual poetry, The Meaning. He leads the Returning to Harmony on-line course, based on his book Back to Sanity. For further information, see www.stevenmtaylor.com

14 responses to “The Power of Nature: Ecotherapy and Awakening

  1. I love the spotlight you’ve shone on ecotherapy. I enjoy going outside for nature walks, and consider my daily walk my “meditation” time. I take my dog and we enjoy the sunshine, the different shapes of the clouds in the sky, the birds circling, and occasionally the deer wandering across our path. I don’t understand how my coworkers can spend 10+ hours at their desk without taking a break to walk outside, smell the rain drops or the newly cut grass or take a big gulp of fresh air. It is therapeutic in so many different ways and a certain stress reliever. I always feel so much stronger and more connected with the Universe by the time I return home, ready to face the rest of my day in a happy, harmonious way.

  2. Hi Steve
    Your poems are so uplifting ……..
    I first realised the power of poetry when at school 50 years ago, one of the poems on the curriculum was to the mystery and beauty of nature, by Joseph Mary Plunkett:

    “I see his blood upon the rose
    And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
    His body gleams amid eternal snows,
    His tears fall from the skies.

    I see his face in every flower,
    The thunder and the singing of the birds
    Are but his voice – and carven by his power
    Rocks are his written words.

    All pathways by his feet are worn,
    His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
    His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
    His cross is every tree.”

  3. I live in one of the largest cities in America but I have always been drawn to the natural outdoors where there are trees, grasses and bodies of water. Even before I became aware of authors like Eckhart and Deepak, I would find myself going to one of the city parks and walk, jog or sit just to be quiet. I now have a greater awareness of why. Nature welcomed me to come and share in its beauty without ceremony. This points out to me that there is something guiding me without me being fully conscious of it.

  4. Beautifully expressed Steve, thank you. For me, the ocean provided awakening moments when I was fortunate enough to live on a yacht for several years, during my grieving process for my teenage son. To be on deck at nighttime under a full moon or a starry sky allowed me to connect with my son, because I had linked in to the Oneness of All. I didn’t know this at the time and it wasn’t until I read ‘The New Earth’ (at a time I thought I was really losing my marbles)that I understood the awakening of my Soul. I eventually wrote a book about my journey through grief and how it can be an incredible opportunity to awaken the Soul; and Eckhart’s teachings are referred to throughout as they were a huge support to me. Arohanui (much love) form New Zealand, the land of the New Light.

  5. I know this feeling of utter contentment, of peace, beauty, the smell and feel of the ocean, or wet leaves in the forest and the total beauty of it. So its called…ecotherapy. I think its our oneess with nature. Its where we came from.

    All good things!

    1. Well, it’s called ecotherapy which it’s used intentionally for people who are suffering from problems like depression – it’s also been used successfully for people who suffer from schizophrenia. It’s been shown to be as or more effective than medication or other types of psychotherapy. But I guess it has a therapeutic quality for everyone.

  6. I live in a city. I used to see the trees among the houses, but one day I realized that the houses had been built among the trees, that the forest had been here for millennia, each individual tree having a finite lifespan, but new ones growing all the time. The forest continues forever. The picture flipped, and I saw the houses among the trees and I realized, if we don’t learn to live among the trees, we won’t be here, but the forest will continue regardless. I wrote a song about this, here are the lyrics:

    Saturn says that it’s so hard it’s almost over
    I say that what we hold within us grows
    The earth will surely heal what we’ve created
    But whether or not we will no one knows

    It’s up to us to tell our future story
    To see the song of Gaia continue to unfold
    I see grass growing green between the pavement
    The shape of future life is yet untold

    Trees grow in the heart of every city
    Among the houses built from virgin wood
    If we don’t learn to make our lives among them
    There soon will be a forest where once our houses stood

  7. The Earth and all of nature offer us vital energies that the human body needs for survival. When we spend much of our time indoors, surrounded by concrete and living in the asphalt jungles of modern society, we separate ourselves from these necessary energies – which contributes to disharmonies in our overall well-being. And separation is the very foundation of the ego or self. Society as a whole has separated itself from the wonders of nature and further feels authorized to exploit it by any means.

    With science looking to build space stations and to possibly colonize the moon or even Mars, I feel this would be certain demise of the human race because of the perceptual distance from the very necessary energies of the Earth.

  8. I know exactly of which you write and loved reading it. Thankyou for sharing it! I have a broken heart. Recently due to funds (& health), I had to move from a high mountain forest home of many years where I had a lot of Very Deep spiritual opening experiences as One Love with this sacred area. The ‘Spirit of Nature’ interacted with me on many levels in many ways. The last time I drove away it flooded me with powerful love. I know in reality the ‘mountain is in me’ but its’ not the same and I am in grief, a duck/fish out of water in a city rental. I have been on the ‘path of awakening’ for a long time which continues. I know there is divine Source purpose in this move as in all things. I try to be open.
    Blessings, In This Divine Love

  9. I discovered for myself that linking up your self help work or meditation work, with time in nature, adds an energic component to the enlightenment process.

    As you deepen more and more into each moment, natural settings enliven the process.

    As the natural world offers opportunities to be yourself, i.e. which is a more quiet reserve type person (than you would imagine).

    Trees and landscapes to do not require you to ‘do’ anything. They simply ‘are’ and thus give the self-help investigator/meditator an excellent mirror for their highest self (that which is) to utilize.

    You can see yourself more clearly in nature. We have a lot less ideas about nature, than anywhere else. We are therefore less activated or less mentally active, in such surroundings.

    Every pedal and leaf therefore, offer opportunities for self exploration and more peaceful inquiry.

  10. A very inspiring/helpful article.Thank you.[There is also a poem that is titled “Trees” by Herman Hesse that speaks very specifically (imho) to how being still in Nature can comfort a person in times of distress].

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