Mindful Moment is a new mindfulness column from Psych Central that invites you to look within. Each month, we’ll feature a conversation with a mindfulness expert and offer tools, tips, and inspiration to help you tap into your inner resources to create meaningful change in your life.
Nature is healing — and beneficial for mental well-being.
Meanwhile, in Canada, doctors have begun prescribing access to national parks to help improve mental and physical health.
Nature is also grounding, inviting a steadiness and presence to the mind and body to cultivate inner peace and contentment.
But what if I told you that your connection to nature could also help heal the Earth — would you believe me?
According to Buddhist teachings, there is an impermanence to all things. Our thoughts come and go, our bodies shift and change, and nature is always in flux.
Roxanne Dault, a French-Canadian mindfulness teacher based in Montreal, told me that nature can be our greatest teacher.
“When I touch the Earth, it’s really a sense of deep connection,” Dault said. “There’s a sense of a shared connection, of receiving support from the Earth.”
Buddhist teachings describe the elements in the body as a reflection of the elements in nature; our connection to nature begins by noticing the Earth within us.
According to Buddhism, the four primary elements in the body may include:
- earth: body, flesh, bones
- air: breath, movement
- water: saliva, blood, sweat, tears
- fire: temperature, digestion
– Suzuki Roshi
“Nature reminds us of impermanence — we’re not surprised when flowers are blooming or dying; we know that’s what’s going to happen,” Dault said.
“As nature changes with the seasons, it’s a reminder this is also happening in us — we’re changing constantly.”
Nature teaches us how to let go of what we can’t control.
The Japanese Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki Roshi had said, “everything changes.” When we realize that the nature of reality is impermanence, the mind can stabilize even as things around us fluctuate.
As such, we may develop a broader understanding of the infinite causes and conditions that create each and every moment, learning how to receive versus react.
“If we try to hold on to things too tightly, it’s going to cause stress,” Dault said. “Nature shows us how are we in relation to our world, which means recognizing that we’re all in this together.”
Buddhists aren’t the only believers in an inherent connection between humans and the Earth.
In fact, a 2022 study by astrophysicist Adam Frank, PhD, suggests that since the Earth is “alive,” it may also have a mind of its own.
This “planetary consciousness,” according to Frank, could change the way that humans address climate change, since intelligence is a property of collectives.
“If we ever hope to survive as a species, we must use our intelligence for the greater good of the planet,” Frank said in a press release.
Eco-anxiety is real and showing up in therapy sessions around the United States. In February 2022, the United Nations issued a warning on the consequences of inaction on climate change.
If it’s true that we’re intertwined with all living things, including our planet, it may be worth considering our actions on a day-to-day basis.
This self-evaluation, according to Dault, is a mindfulness practice in itself.
Becoming aware of what you’re creating and consuming and how you’re traveling, may help you reconsider your behaviors and how you live.
It’s possible that one person really can make a difference. With intention, you can make choices that impact the collective, and possibly, the planetary consciousness.
As we consider how we’re taking care of ourselves, each other, and the environment, this interconnectedness could help us not only to receive all that the Earth has to offer but also to give back what’s not needed.
“The more we connect with nature the more there’s a sense of care,” Dault said. “It’s less of a struggle to make those choices — we belong to each other, we are part of the same family. There can be wisdom in renunciation.”
What’s my role in this? And how can I bring a sense of deeper wisdom to this moment?
True, there are many things about the world that are beyond our control. Just knowing the science of climate change can be a serious cause for alarm.
Try acknowledging what can you do at your level. There are little choices you can make each day that can help make a big impact, such as:
- using less plastic
- reducing your meat consumption
- sourcing local foods when possible
- driving less
- using less water
While Earth Day can be an opportunity to raise awareness around climate change, every day can be Earth Day when we pledge to take action.
“As yourself, what’s my role in this — and how can I bring a sense of deeper wisdom to this moment?” Dault said.
“If we look at the Buddhist teachings, there’s wisdom in letting go of what’s not essential for me to be happy. There’s also compassion that can be cultivated and kindness toward all living beings.”
Grounding can have a stabilizing effect on the body and mind. Dault says that grounding practices provide a space where we can see more clearly what it means to be human.
And grounding can be especially beneficial when practiced in nature.
In fact, a 2020 research review shows that “earthing,” a practice of walking barefoot outdoors, may come with a host of health and healing benefits, including:
- reduced inflammation
- less pain
- lower stress
- improved circulation
- better sleep
- improved vitality
Grounding helps us reconnect to nature while also facilitating a meditative experience.
“When there’s a lot of agitation in the mind, I’ve always found that just connecting with the body, with your feet touching the Earth, can create a space where there’s less thoughts,” Dault said.
“I don’t know the word for it, that space between seconds, but I’ve come to understand for myself that it’s the punctuation of my life. Between each word, each thought, each moment is where the truth of things lies.”
– Richard Wagamese
The power of stillness
Remember, it’s OK to have thoughts — even when you’re meditating.
The key to finding stillness is to become aware that you’re thinking and consider whether there’s any truth to your thoughts. Are you controlled by your thoughts… or can you witness them as an observer?
Dault, who’s spent more than two cumulative years on silent nature retreats around Asia and the West, told me that silence helps us become more aware of the body and how the mind is reacting to everything around it.
Her teachings, influenced by the Indigenous spiritual practices of her multicultural heritage, often include a favorite quote by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) novelist, Richard Wagamese, which describes the power of stillness.
“He talks about noticing the space between seconds and diving into the bits of silence,” Dault said. “So for me, when I sit down, I touch the Earth, and then I experience the space between seconds. There’s this kind of grounding that can happen there.”
When the mind is agitated, Dault said it might create heaviness in the body. Tuning in to the wisdom of your body can teach you how to separate yourself from your thoughts.
To put that into practice, sometimes, just becoming aware of the body can be an entry point to meditation. Knowing that you’re sitting, feeling the pressure of your buttocks on the chair, and the anchor of your feet on the ground may help put your mind at ease.
A simple practice for grounding
The following embodiment practice from Dault uses different touchpoints on the body to help you get grounded into stillness.
- Sit comfortably cross-legged or in a chair. (You may still practice indoors and still receive the benefits if you don’t have access to an outdoor green space.)
- Notice your posture. Start by noticing your posture and how you’re holding yourself to help invite relaxation into your body.
- Notice your surroundings — the colors and textures and objects of the room you’re in or the splendor of the outside world around you. Is there a smell? A taste? Exploring the senses can help you open up to the environment and create a sense of safety.
- Feel the anchor of your feet on the ground below you.
- With your eyes open or closed, bring your attention to other anchor points around your body (feet, sitting bones, hands, back, sternum, etc.).
- If it’s comfortable for you, bring your attention to your breath. Breathe into your lower abdomen to create a sense of grounding and stability. Begin to expand your breath and notice your whole body breathing.
- In conjunction with the breath or as an alternative if the breath feels stressful, bring your attention to the different sounds around you.
- Begin to notice the space between the sounds and dive into silence as it arises.
- As you sit in this practice for several minutes or more, try to stay in your body. If your attention starts to drift away from your body, bring yourself back by feeling the anchor of your feet on the Earth.
You can try this practice any time your mind starts to wander or spiral out to help bring yourself back to the present moment.
“For some of us, connecting with the body is really difficult because not everybody has the ability to just drop into their body, but it can be a skill that we learn,” Dault said.
“I’m big on the feet. Grounding into the feet helps bring you back into the moment.”
“It’s like this right now.”
– Ajahn Sumedho
Our connection to nature can be a reflection of how we connect to ourselves and each other. “When I connect with nature, I’m also connecting with my fellow human beings,” Dault said.
I don’t know about you, but thinking about healing on a collective and even global scale gives me hope for the future.
While grounding practices can be helpful for the mind and body, they may also work to increase our level of self-awareness as we consider our impact on the planet — our only home (for now).
“We don’t have a lot of control over the world, so having these kinds of stabilizing practices are so essential,” Dault said.
Understanding impermanence may allow some of us to accept the way things are. Connecting to nature through the body can also help us to navigate whatever we may be dealing with at any given moment.
“The dharma teacher Carol Wilson often says, ‘It’s like this right now, which came from the monk Ajahn Sumedho.’” Dault said. “So for me, it’s just like, OK, whatever is happening, if the mind is going crazy, if I’m sad or happy, it’s like this right now — and it’s going to be OK.”
Roxanne Dault teaches meditation in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She has been dedicated to this practice for almost 2 decades, sitting retreats both in Asia and in the West. A Guiding Teacher at True North Insight, Roxanne teaches in a variety of settings, including in nonprofit organizations, also with incarcerated and other marginalized populations. She is trained in Somatic Experiencing®, a body-mind approach aimed at relieving the symptoms of trauma and stress.
Andrea Rice (she/her) is an award-winning journalist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a staff writer for PsychCentral, she covers mental health news and trending topics. Her work has appeared in news outlets such as The New York Times and INDY Week, and wellness publications such as Yoga Journal, Verywell, and mindbodygreen. As a yoga and meditation teacher since 2010, Andrea’s book, The Yoga Almanac, offers seasonal practices to nourish the body and mind. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter, and read more of her work on her website.