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My earliest memories are lying on my belly watching ants march through a sun drenched cornfield, of watching a daddy long legs bravely ascend between the spider’s webs, hidden in the shadows of our garden shed. From those simple small interactions I fostered a fascination and love of nature, which led me to grander experiences of wild nature in the Galapagos islands, Malaysia, Africa and Belize.
As I grew up, despite studying natural sciences at university, my connection to nature became weakened as the business of day to day as an entrepreneur and looking after children took over. Perhaps being married to an ecologist is the thing that has made me even more aware of what I personally don’t know about the natural world.
I long for a deeper connection to nature, and to play my part in protecting the life with which we share this earth. While there is no doubt that governments and big corporations have their roles to play in averting the climate crisis, I do believe that we as individuals have the power to make change.
How to connect yourself to nature
It is true that we feel happier when we forge a closer relationship to nature.
But how do we form a greater connection to Nature? How do we take our first steps on the journey to changing our lifestyles and ways of thinking, to foster a real bond to the wild?
As Richard Louv so beautifully said: We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.
Regardless of how connected you currently feel, or how much free time you have, you can improve your relationship with nature because research shows what you do in nature matters more than how long you spend in it.
The key is learning to notice and engage with nature, as if it was a friend. And the beauty is, if nature is our friend we want to protect and care for it. It’s increasingly important for each one of us to have a deeper connection to nature, both for our own well-being and for that of the planet.
Five pathways to connect to nature at home
I recently read the Nature Connection Handbook by Miles Richardson and Carly W. Butler, which I have linked in the show notes. It very beautifully describes five pathways to nature connection, as they say ‘ ways of being in, engaging with, and relating to nature that help us grow closer to nature.
These five pathways are: senses, beauty, emotion, meaning, compassion
I want to delve deeper into these pathways to share with you a little more about how you can use these as a framework to your voyage to a greater connection to nature.
The Sensory pathway is all about exploring and experiencing nature through all the senses. It’s about being present with nature, to look, listen, smell, and feel the natural world around you. This is a simple and incredibly effective way to connect with the wild around you.
And these simple acts have an important consequence too. Studies have shown that just positively noticing nature everyday, you can improve your mental health.
So, to start to feel closer to nature all you need to do is to start to pay attention to it. You don’t need to know all about it, but as your relationship strengthens you may well want to.
The second of the five pathways is Beauty, noticing and appreciating the beauty of the natural world and engaging with it by taking photographs or drawing and painting or translating into music or w ords of poetry or prose your experience of that beauty. I am of course embedded in this pathway, but whether or not art, music or poetry are your thing, creating something in response to the natural world is very therapeutic on many levels.
Third, we have the Emotion pathway, which describes noticing how nature makes you feel. To do this, you need to actively seek out experiences in nature that evoke feelings of wonder and joy, and taking time to bathe in those feelings. Finding the natural environment which calms you can be very powerful here. For me it is an oak woodland, bursting with new leaves, drenched in sunlight and birdsong. Maybe for you its the wild heathland, or the rugged coast.
Next we have the pathway of Meaning. Celebrating and sharing nature’s events and stories. Here we need to explore cultural and personal stories around nature. I am very interested in the symbolic meaning we as humans have attached to different plants and animals across cultures. I think this is such a fascinating pathway to get lost in. Celebrating our personal connections to individual species like my obsession with hummingbirds and oak trees, or celebrating the longest day of the year or the new moon, these are things that foster that deeper feeling of connection to nature.
Finally there is the Compassion pathway. This involves caring for the natural world and actively seeking opportunities to help and protect it. Here we are doing things like creating wildlife friendly gardens and supporting conservation organisations, and buying eco-friendly products. I am excited to be sharing lots of things that you can do in this vein in upcoming episodes of Changing Nature.
Simple acts like listening to birdsong, noticing a shiny beetle or unknown flower, becoming more in tune with nature in your garden, paying attention to the changing of the seasons and the plants and animals that come and go with them, and taking time to be present in nature without distraction for a few moments so your senses can fill with the magic that is there. These things will take you a long way.
A guide to help you connect
To accompany this episode, I have put together a guide to five apps I use, available on iOS and android, that you can use to help you notice and learn more about nature as you go about your day to day. To look, listen, taste, wonder at, and feel the presence of nature.
Reflecting on these five pathways of senses, beauty, emotion, meaning, compassion I see how simple it can be to connect or reconnect with nature in a personal way. To own the relationship and nurture my friendship with the wild. It is about the small moments, the individual choices and the journey. Let’s take a small step today to be a better listener, a better friend to nature.
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