Lean Into a Tree, and Five Other Ways to Let Nature Support You Through Hard Times
These are intensely trying times. We all need support to know we’re not alone, to have a safe space to feel and heal our grief and fear, and to remember what is still good. We need it to thrive, and even to survive. And we need to let ourselves be held by something larger, whether that is a loving partner or family, a community, a spiritual practice, or the natural world.
Nature offers one of the most powerful and unconditional sources of solace and support we could ever hope to find. It speaks to us deeply about what is still healthy and thriving, and gives us strength to carry on. It reminds that we are part of a vast and beautiful web of life. It allows us feel and express difficult feelings that are too big to hold on our own. And it helps us think clearly and creatively and activates our intuitive wisdom.
Many of us instinctively go into nature for support, and know that it leaves us feeling calmer, happier, and more grounded. Yet precious few of us know how to access the vast depths of support and healing that are freely available to us there, because our modern culture trains us to think and act as though we are separate from the natural world. Even when we’re not very present or open, being in nature restores and heals us. Yet when we open ourselves to a deeper connection, we can receive so much more. Small shifts in our awareness and actions can make a big difference.
Below are a few ways you can let nature support you through hard times. They build on some common elements, including slowing down, being quiet, being present, and giving thanks.
1. Lean into a tree. Trees are inherently grounded and peaceful, and leaning into them can help you feel that way too. Visit a tree that you feel some affinity with. Ask permission to approach, and sit quietly with them for a while. Lean into the tree, releasing into their support and allowing yourself be held by that wise and powerful being. You may want to speak out loud or write, or let the tears flow if they need to. Remember to say thank you when you’re complete.
2. Take in the good. When times are hard, intentionally taking in the good gives us hope and strength. Healthy natural settings overflow with goodness that is especially nourishing and healing. When you are in nature, notice what draws your attention in a positive way and rest your awareness on it, opening yourself to it and drinking it in with all your senses like the healing elixir that it is.
You can also do this in a modified way in built environments by focusing on what is natural or beautiful when you’re outside. And when you’re indoors, you can take in the goodness of houseplants, nature images, views out a window, or natural treasures like flowers or stones, and and it will have some of the same benefits as being in a natural setting. (Thanks to Dr. Rick Hanson for promoting the approach of taking in the good.)
3. Pour your heart out. Find a quiet place in nature where you feel safe, and speak or write about whatever you need to express. Pour your heart out, without holding back or editing yourself. Speak your deepest, unvarnished truths, as though you are with one of your most trusted friends (because, guess what, you are!)
You can write or speak directly to the Earth, a tree, another more-than-human being, or an ancestor or spirit guide—or just let the words flow through and land wherever they need to. While this may feel awkward at first, it quickly becomes more comfortable if you give it a chance. (This is a good practice to combine with #1 or 5.)
4. Simply be. Most of us are trained to keep moving or stay busy when we’re in nature. Yet when we slow down and focus on simply being, wonderful new possibilities open up to us. We can discover more beauty and magic, experience more profound communion and communication with more-than-human beings, and receive deeper healing and support.
When you enter a natural setting, take a few moments to notice where you are and give yourself a chance to arrive. As you move through a landscape, practice bringing mindful awareness to your surroundings and your experience in the moment. Notice what draws your attention and lean in. See how fully present you can be with a single leaf or a flowing creek. Being quiet, going solo, slowing down, opening your senses, and using mindful touch are a few simple yet potent ways to help yourself be more fully present.
5. Let the Earth hold you. When you’re going through a challenging time, it helps to be held by something greater than yourself. Being held directly by the Earth can be especially healing. Find a peaceful place in nature where you can lie down—under trees or near a stream are two great options. Choose a comfortable spot and settle in. (You may want to have a small cloth to lie down on, or use a jacket as a cushion). Look around with a soft focus, or allow your eyes to close. Breathe deeply and naturally, and allow your mind and body to soften and release. Notice that the Earth is supporting and holding you, and let yourself rest into that support as fully as possible.
6. Make friends. Making friends with “other” beings and natural places is easier than you may think, and can offer a powerful source of support. Friendships with more-than-human beings (including animal companions) often have a pure, simple, and unconditional quality that is rare in human friendships. Notice which beings or places you are instinctively drawn to, and find opportunities to connect with them, preferably one on one. Sit quietly with them, touch them, and listen to them—not only with your ears, but with your body and your heart.
Try speaking or writing to your friends in the natural world—even a simple “hello” or “thank you” can establish a stronger bond. (Although most communication is non-verbal, using our words is a powerful way for humans to affirm that we are engaging with another sentient being.) Tend the connection as you might with human friends or romantic interests. You may be surprised to discover the depth of love and friendship that can blossom, and how much of a difference it can make in your life.
Allowing the natural world support us is powerfully beneficial, and not just for our own health and happiness. When we listen to nature, when we open our hearts to its wisdom, we are inspired to walk more gently on the Earth, to treat “other” beings with love and respect, and to protect what we love. Through both small and large acts, each of us can help weave a web of respectful relations with all beings. Together, we can create a more Earth-honoring culture that benefits all life.
To learn more, see our book Poems of Earth and Spirit: 70 Poems and 40 Practices to Deepen Your Connection with Nature