My son and I often sit in the same room where I do my work, and he reads and plays on his Kindle. Seemingly really happy, he laughs and giggles at the people on his screen for as long as I’ll let him. While I believe there’s a correlation between the rise of ADHD and increased prevalence of screens in our daily lives, I’m more concerned about how far these little gadgets draw us from each other and our active participation in life. Screens offer us convenience, entertainment, information, and also continued distraction. Maybe you’ve seen it too in your relationships with friends, your partner or your kids. But what do we do about all this space between us when we are right next to each other on the couch?
Can we bridge this growing gap between our spaces of intimacy both with others or even ourselves? How do we bridge the gap between our bodies and our minds, or our divergent worlds made of paved roads, versus pine-laden paths?
In a study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, George W. Burns focuses on the efficacy of Nature-Guided Therapy practices in sessions for couples and families. While we don’t hear about it much in the media, using nature as therapy is not really a new concept, and though we also don’t hear it circulate around water bubblers and playgrounds, it offers individuals simple tools that can be learned and used to connect individuals and heal relationships.
By entering into nature, we remove ourselves from the environments involving our daily problems. We step into the healing backdrop of nature as individuals, and consciously re-connect in this peaceful and restorative environment. From there we can enjoy activities that help us set our differences aside, find common ground again, and build a deeper level of intimacy than we thought possible.
Gregory Bateson in his book Mind and Nature believes that humanity is experiencing a degradation in the “pattern(s) which connect” by existing in industrialized environments far removed from nature. This separation impacts our behaviors and our relationships. In nature, for Bateson, there is a glue holding everything together. That glue, in daily life as we know it now, is progressively weakening.
We need to reintegrate; we need to restore that connection to nature, to others, and to ourselves by involving our most loved sensory experiences in nature, according to Burns. It’s really that easy. If we connect to what speaks to our feelings of enjoyment, be it the smell of wood burning, seeing a butterfly or wild animal run by, or by looking at the stars, our pleasure centers in our brains are activated, and if we can find a common enjoyment with say, our kids or our spouse, we can reconnect there in that happy space of shared ground, and in so doing, strengthen our intimacy.
We may happily occupy the same physical space as our loved ones, but many of us are dodging that great big elephant in the room called emotional disconnection that occupies the space too. It is leaching the depth of our relationships with others, with ourselves and it’s leaching the life out of our planet. But there’s hope yet. When you go out into nature with others, get out of the noise, the distraction, the crazy schedules and the have-to’s, you can take a breath, regard a flower, climb a mountain together, share an invigorating splash in a river, see each other’s smiling faces in the warmth of the sun or the glow of a fire, and feel that deeper, truly alive and energizing connection that unites us all to each other and to our natural home.
What is your favorite activity you’ve enjoyed outdoors with your family or your friends? How do you feel afterwards, and how does time spent in nature impact your connection to others? Is it time to go back and do it all again? Leave a comment about your thoughts on your connections to others and nature. I would love to hear them!