In a stressful world filled with horror and bad news, how do you take care of yourself? Learn about my self-care practice in nature in this post.
I am a Highly-Sensitive Person.
Highly-Sensitive People (or HSP), make up about 15 to 20% of the population (of any species), and process sensory input differently than the rest of the population. We aren’t broken. We are simply more aware than others of subtleties. And everything is more. Lights are brighter. Sounds are louder. Crowds are more crowded. As a result, HSPs are also more easily overwhelmed. When you notice everything, the nervous system is easy to get overstimulated.
Finding out I was an HSP several years ago was life-changing. I finally understood why I was so different than most people. I wasn’t ‘broken’, I wasn’t a ‘crybaby”, I didn’t have “thin-skin and needed to just suck it up”. I brain actually worked differently than most peoples.
I’m also an empath, sensing the energy of those around me. The joy, the beauty, the magic and the amazement of moments. But also, the despair.
I feel it all, all the time.
It’s the news reports of children seeking safety being teargassed, of war, of destruction, of consumption. The knowledge that our society has raped and pillaged the very Earth that gives us life. It’s seeing the homeless man with the dog on the corner, tractors in a meadow being plowing over for more track homes, the piles of trash alongside river banks. It’s the social media post of a Christmas Tree Farm where people think the spray painted trees in “fun colors” for Christmas is trendy and cool. It’s the climate report letting us know that basically we are all fucked. It’s the collective grief of the land, of people, of loss.
No wonder I struggle with anxiety and depression, right?!
Every day, I encounter something that makes me want to shut off, to put up a wall, to harden myself from the evils of the world.
But I can’t. At least, I try not to. I could hide in a room and never have human interaction and simply be safe and still, but that’s not serving the world. I remove myself from the news, distance from social media as much as I can, but I still see it. I still feel it. Walls aren’t good for anything other than holding up roofs for shelter (looking at you, mr. “president”).
There is a quote I think of often.
Be soft. Do not let this world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place. ~ Vonnegut
But how does one do that? When you feel everything so deep, when there are constant tears at the back of your eyes, your heart aches each and every day, how do you stay soft?
You go outside. You go to nature. You cultivate a deeper connection than just seeing the world around you. You feel the pulse of the Earth. You seek refuge in the embrace of our Ancient Mother.
You probably know that I spend a lot of time out in nature, exploring and appreciating wild spaces. Not for exercise, not for foraging (although I do that, too), but for the sake of simply being outside and close to our Mother Earth. Sometimes I walk, sometimes I sit, sometimes I walk with my mutt, Stella.
But mostly, it’s to try and heal. To stay soft. To calm my mind and to know that not all is lost. To see that there is still good in the world.
I visit wild spaces almost every day. Sometimes it’s a planned trip. Sometimes I legit run out of my house in the middle of a panic attack and flee to my nearby open space. Sometimes it’s for an hour, sometimes less, sometimes much more.
Time in Nature is Self-Care
For a long time, I felt guilty about taking this time for this experience. Like my time would be better spent working on my computer, pitching articles or booking clients. Or, I should dedicate my time to things that need to get done around the house, like sweeping the floor, scrubbing the shower, or washing up the perpetual pile of dirty dishes (WHY ARE THERE ALWAYS SO MANY DISHES???). I felt like spending time in nature was a luxury and one that I wasn’t worthy of.
But then I realized, my time spent in nature is my form of self-care. It’s necessary to keep my spirit alive.
Amber, from Mythic Medicine, eloquently sums up the importance of self-care:
Most deep life shifts happen not when new information triggers a novel epiphany, but when we remember a basic fundamental truth. And one of the most fundamental truths of being embodied as a human being is this:
We can not live a truly fulfilling life, or love those around us to our full abilities if we are not practicing self-care on a regular basis.
You can not pour from an empty cup.
If life gets in the way and I don’t make it to the river for a few days, or when I’m traveling in cities and can’t find a wild spot, I notice. My body feels tense. I’m more irritable. My nerves are on edge and I’m set into panic attacks more easily. My own garden or a walk around the neighborhood can help in a pinch, but nothing compares to time spent distanced from humans in a wild space.
We are part of the natural world, and when we walk slowly through wild spaces, we are able to bring our rhythms back into step with nature. And when we are in harmony with the natural world, we begin to heal.
As I’ve spent more and more time in this practice, I’ve noticed a shift. In my 20’s, when I paid less attention to the current state of events, I enjoyed being outside for the change of scenery, for the fresh air, for the “being outside” factor. But now as I grow older, and weighted down by the world, the practice of walking along the river, through a field, under trees- it’s turned into something else.
Spending Time in Nature has become my Spiritual Practice
It reminds me that I am not alone. That I am small. That I do not hold the entire world on my back. That I am insignificant. Nature humbles me. It fills me with awe.
It’s a way back home to our true selves. In a society where I feel I don’t belong and am not fit for, the Earth reminds me that I am apart of Her. I’m surrounded by the subtle shifts of cycles and rhythms, the happenings of ebb and flow without any human involvement. I’m reminded that like the leaves on the Sycamore that bud out just to fall, like the waves on water that lap the shore, like the Kite that flutters wings on the wind, my own moods and pulls and pushes are guided by a larger force.
The Earth allows my feet to sink into the grains of sand and also firm ground to stand tall on. She sends whispers on the wind and I feel the touch of the breeze on my cheek. The soil absorbs the tears that fall down my face. The trees stand steady as I lean against them and pour out my sorrows. This Ancient Mother allows me to be myself, to feel what I need to feel, to receive what I have to offer, to clear out what is needed.
And She sends me home, refreshed and once again softened, and ready to receive me again.
So What does a Spiritual Self-Care Practice in Nature Look Like?
I choose areas to spend time in that I know won’t be busy with other people. Places with water and trees are my favorite. I seek out dirt paths instead of paved roads or multi-use trails.
I enter the space with gratitude. I say hello to the surroundings, and thank the paths, the trees, the grasses for having me.
And I walk.
I look around.
I breathe deeply.
I touch seedheads of grasses that bend over the path. I pick up feathers and run my hands over the silk threads. I notice stones and pebbles, and hold them in my hand, feeling their weight. I lean on trees, my hands touching the bark, and let out sobs of sorry. I walk with tears streaming down my face and allow them to percolate into the soil. I stop and watch birds aloft on the air currents and allow my heart to soar with them. I sit on stumps. I balance on fallen logs. I wade into waters. I hop on stones to cross creeks. I lay down on the sand. Under trees. In the middle of the pathway. I feel the solid surface under me as I walk, as I sit, as I lay.
If it’s a new area, I take the pathway that looks less traveled.
I hum songs without words and try to mimic the wind. I sing songs with words, the same rhythm over and over, as I walk.
I pick up trash as I see it, stuffing it into my pockets.
I talk to the birds or creatures that I see. I send out words, softly, to the deer in the meadow or the hawk on the branch that I mean no harm and I’m just passing through.
I thank them as I walk by, for sharing their space with me.
I take deep breaths and with each step visualize the unseen weight and layers of my front sliding away on the breeze. My rib cage folding open and my heart and soul exposed to the natural world around me.
I soften my heart, I open my soul.