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Connecting with (our) nature

I’m writing this at the sea’s edge in Darwin, Australia. I am taking a few days off from the hustle and bustle of urban Singapore to stretch my legs in a less apparently ‘driven’ town. The wind is cool, the air holds a whiff of eucalypts, the water laps the shore with schools of fish at high tide (that you can even touch due to their pattern for being human fed over 50 years), and I am taking some well-deserved but sometimes sidelined deep breaths. This has made me consider nature, the nature of people and the nature of mind.

At One with Nature

The first question – do we actually need nature. All the global warming issues aside (I am not in any way making light of it) do we as individuals need to go ‘into the wild’ for health or wellbeing? Because the mind works by association, I know that certain people are more predisposed to roughing it, possibly due to earlier and positive exposure. I know that the family cottage by the lake holds very dear memories for me and ‘getting away from it all’ is a good thing. Others may have, instead, had negative experiences with natural pursuits. Even lack of exposure can be daunting later in life – trying something that is not part of the internal programming can cause some discomfort for people.

I believe that ‘the Zen you find at the top of the mountain is the Zen you bring there’, and so I congratulate my clients on dealing with issues while they are continuing along with their everyday life, shifting the internal environment while the external environment might stay similar.

All this aside, there is more and more mind/brain/body research that give high marks for connecting with the natural world. Or more obviously, noting its withdrawal affecting people negatively. There have been some examples, and I believe (spoken during a talk but have not found confirmation yet) even in Singapore mass relocation from earth-bound kampongs to high-rises in the 60’s caused emotional distress and, from what I have heard, even a rise in suicides. While nature sounds in shops and spas may grate on some people’s nerves, there has been a positive link to health, growth and healing using sounds that link the mind to those natural occurrences.

Sometimes we forget that we are a part of nature (even though we often don’t act as though we are). We are natural creatures – genetics showing even closer bonds to other species – and so it’s not so much a matter of ‘us and them’, as ‘us and us’. When we take that leap, the mind shifts from looking for differences to looking for similarities; bonding rather than dividing, solutions rather than problems.

Defying Nature?

I know that there are shelves of make-up products and creams that shout ‘defy nature, look younger’, but is that really a natural or desirable claim. In the book “Younger Next Year”, they speak of a natural occurrence of growth and decay (which happens in all aspects of the natural world including us) and draw a distinction between older and decay – we might be racking up the years but we don’t have to ‘rust’. Is it any wonder that we grow stronger physically, mentally and emotionally, when we exercise our bodies, something that they were naturally built for, or feed ourselves with the natural colours of nature? That when we connect and find meaning with others and our world – a characteristic that is actually a requirement for our species sustainability – we tend to feel better and stronger. More and more, people are looking to become functionally younger – a necessity as medical support has extended our years of life. You might have seen two people of the same age who are years apart – one might have been old and staid, the other young and vibrant. The quality of our life is certainly within our control. Invariably, being ‘young at heart’ also requires you to be young in mind. While hypnosis can help, just spend a bit of time thinking about ways of thinking that may be aging you and then as you start thinking younger, notice the effects on your emotional and physical state.

Is nature set?

Another book I recommend is “What Shamu taught me about life, love and marriage”, written by a journalist, Amu Sutherland, who tracked the training regime of exotic animal trainers and found, in their methods for ‘making’ creatures perform tasks that might not naturally be in their repertoire. She speaks of some very simple steps that help alter or guide behaviour which makes a lot of sense to the mind.

One is that trainers support or reward behaviours that they are aiming for, and ignore or give no weight to undesired behaviours. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” often seems to be the case when we give attention (negative attention is still attention) to the behaviours of others who do what we don’t want them to do. The mind doesn’t hear don’t and many of us focus and ‘improve’ on undesired behaviours simply because they get the focus. So with words and actions, concentrate attention on what you DO want. For those who think that this approach may be manipulative, think about a whining child who finally gets the candy she wants – lessons learned? Whining means candy, no doesn’t mean no, and tenacity is worth it (this is a trait that can be shifted to more worthwhile pursuits later).

She also spoke about a way to change behaviour is to give the animals something to do that means they can’t do the behaviour the trainer doesn’t want (example – birds landing on a mat can’t be landing on their trainer’s head at the same time). The mind works the same way – it can only focus on one thing at a time. From focusing on the arm that isn’t getting the needle, to focusing on the positive aspects rather than negative of a situation… one precludes the other. The “Shamu” book was a great read for me and I’d suggest it to people dealing with people as another approach to supporting positive interaction in mammals (including us).

Environmental Influence

I went to Litchfield National Park and swam in waterfalls in pristine condition. The tour guide warned us about affecting our environment by littering, breaking, removing… and it reminded me that our interaction with all places and people has an influence. Simply by our changing for good, there tends to be a positive knock-on effect for others. At the same time, I noticed that all of the wildlife had adapted to the environment in which it was placed. The plants hoarded needed water during hot season, and the termite mounds were built to defend against both flood and fire. Which reminded me that sometimes we can be affected by our environment when we enter it. My example – I spoke and walked slower than normal in Darwin, but sped back up when I was heading for the airport and Singapore. It seems that especially with children, but sometimes with the rest of us, change can be made for personal good, but then adapts to the environmental ‘good’ (which may not be good for the child). That’s why it’s always nice to have supporters on the outside during a change process. Surround yourself with others who truly have your best interest and are cheering for your change – it will make the shift in ‘seasons’ much easier.

Natural Woman/Man

So what is ‘natural’ – can it be possible to say without imposing social, cultural or moral values? I’d say that natural is very personal, but that it tends to be integrated – the whole is in alignment (which makes it easier when interacting with others who may have a different ‘natural’ definition). I don’t believe that life needs to be difficult or hard, and that naturally there is flow and abundance available to and for us. When we feel good, no matter what the environment or challange, I’d call that both desirable and natural. You, however, may have other ideas about this topic. It would be great to hear from you, so drop us a line at newsletter@greymatternetwork.com with your thoughts and own personal, natural wisdom.

Take care and have a wonderful month. Talk soon,

Jennifer

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