Continuing her series of articles about spirituality and hearing voices, Jane Fisher discusses the spiritual benefits of spending time in nature:
There is a reason why so many healing and spiritual retreats take place by the sea or in the mountains. Nature has been found to almost instantly reduce stress levels, leading the mind gently to ‘the present moment’ owing to its often majestic, pristine beauty. A recent study by researchers found that living close to nature and spending time outside reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and premature death, but can it help us feel closer to the universal life force and remove us from the stigma associated with hearing voices?
Nature As A Way to Avoid Stigma
Hearing voices can be an important aspect of people’s religious and spiritual life. As noted by Dr. Angela Woods of Durham University, “Many people immediately link voice-hearing with particular forms of distress or psychiatric diagnoses, but 5-15% of the general population will have occasional or fleeting occurrences of hearing voices.” These can serve one’s mental health positively by encouraging self-reflection on the messages they convey, yet their meaning can be lost in the ‘noise’ of everyday life. Spending time in nature can create the relaxed, quiet space the mind needs to listen to these voices and interpret what they are trying to say in a visionary way.
Carl Jung on the Importance of Nature
Psychologists like Carl Jung and nature experts like Richard Louv share one common view: the idea that time spent reconnecting with nature is a profound investment in one’s spiritual health. For Jung, life in urban surroundings caused human beings to feel small, insignificant, and alone. It was only in the presence of nature that one could feel expansive, like part of a greater and magnificent energy that unites all human beings.
Restoring the Sense of Wonder
For Louv, children have a spiritual necessity we deprive them of when we remove them from the Great Outdoors. The root of all spiritual life, he says, is that early sense of wonder. He notes: “There is another world. When a child listens to the leaves in the trees, they sense something bigger than their parents’ problems. That’s more important than keeping grade averages up.” Louv talks about turning over a rock and finding an entire universe: that of bugs living underneath. It is the same when one tends to bumblebees and discovers their rich and complicated social systems or observes the complex patterns of flight of a flock of birds. Nature instills a sense of marvel and as such whizzes us into a deeply mindful state – one in which, for one moment of the day, we give ourselves fully to the present moment.
Nature as a Stress Reliever
In order to feel at one with God or a universal energy, it is important for the mind and heart to reach a calm, still state. Nature can help us reach this place in a matter of minutes. One study found that forest bathing – a popular practice in Japan which involves walking through a forest or green area while opening our senses to its wondrous sights, sounds, and textures, brings about a significant drop in levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Another found that simply listening to the sounds of nature (a burbling brook, the wind through the trees, waves crashing to the shore) affects bodily systems that control the fight or flight response.
Nature Helps Kids Too
A fascinating study published by scientists at Michigan State University found that children who spend time outdoors can have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose than those who do not. Those who spend five to 10 hours per week outside said they felt a spiritual connection to the earth and a responsibility to protect it. These kid also had heightened aesthetic values. They had a deeper appreciation of characteristics like balance and symmetry, order and wonder, and a fascination with natural structures such as bees’ nests!
Nature leads us into the right frame of mind to feel more connected to humanity and the Earth but also puts the mind in the right state to listen to voices that can be healing, visionary, or soothing. This phenomenon affects both adults and children in many ways. If you wish to deepen your spirituality, do as Jung suggested; break free of the stress of everyday life for a few magical moments a day and receive the profound messages that nature is ready to give.