What Does Nature Do For Us?

What Does Nature Do For Us? April 29, 2016

      Let the fields and streams be pure,
      Earth and sky be clean once more,
      Love and laughter long endure,
      Let the Sleeper waken!
    -Doreen Valiente

     Beltane Blessings to those of you on the northern face of Mother Gaia
          and Samhain Blessings to those in the Great Below.

The Winding Path in Brittany.
The Winding Path in Brittany.

Each sabbat we honor the seasonal cycle and each sabbat is an opportunity to reconnect with nature. As Pagans, our love for nature can unite us, whether we think of ourselves as Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Pantheists, or some other category. The answer to, ‘What does nature do for us?’ seems obvious. She feeds, shelters, and clothes us, but nature does so much more. Being in and with nature feeds psyche and spirit. We have a deep need to immerse ourselves in the natural world of trees, plants, water, sun, rock.

For many of us, our journey to Paganism began with experiences that we had in nature as children. nature awakened something within us, a memory hidden within the very cells of our being, a call that we responded to when we played by stream and in field, when we climbed trees, when we swam in sea or lake, when we camped out and looked up in wonder at the starry night sky.

Wiltshire England, View From Stonehenge
Wiltshire England, View From Stonehenge

Trees Are Good For Us
Human beings know that nature affects our spiritual and psychological well-being, but science can now measure the impact on the body. Walking is beneficial for mind and body, but where we walk is important. People whose heart rates, stress levels, and emotions are measured after walking in a forest are much less stressed and happier than people who walk for the same amount of time in a city. Researchers in Finland have found that just 20 minutes a day spent walking outside in nature makes a difference. And it’s not just about emotions, being in nature helps our brains work better too.

Gregory Bratman and colleagues at Stanford University found that short-term memory works better after people have gone walking in woodland and, at the University of Kansas, David Strayer and colleagues have found that creative problem-solving is significantly higher after people have spent a few days outdoors hiking. And if we can’t get out, there is another way. Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University found that after people were asked to view a stress-inducing movie, those who afterwards viewed films of natural scenes recovered much more quickly than those who were shown films of urban settings. Somehow just looking at images of nature soothes us and relieves stress. And perhaps most of all, nature gives us a sense of perspective on our lives. Things that preoccupy us can dissolve away when we contemplate the beauty of a leaf, the ceaseless rhythm of the sea, the vastness of sky.

Brittany At Home With the Bluebells
Brittany At Home With the Bluebells

Let the Sleeper Waken

As Pagans, our rituals help us to connect with nature, but ritual alone is not enough. We may not be able to celebrate our rites outdoors, but to understand the message of the sabbat we need to go out into nature to discover and experience for ourselves what is there.

Before the sabbat, take 15 minutes to be outside, even if this is in a city park, and just sit. Allow the sleeper within to wake, to take notice of what we often take for granted, to be totally present in the unfolding moment of the seasonal tide.

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths. Listen – what do you hear? You may be somewhere where all you can hear is the natural world – wind, birds, running water. If you are in the city you may need to listen harder to find nature. Let the sounds of traffic and human voices become the background to the symphony of noise around you. Don’t try to shut out the sounds, just let them be. Even if you don’t like them, just accept them as part of the reality of city life. And once you have got used to their presence, see if you can notice anything else. In most city soundscapes, you will hear birds. If you are in park, you may notice the sounds of insects, the sound of wind in the tree leaves. Just listen to what is there.

Now notice, what you can feel. Is the sun warming your skin, or wind cooling it, or both? Notice where your feet touch the ground, your buttocks touch the ground or a seat. Just notice each part of your body in turn and all the physical sensations it is experiencing that are associated with your interaction with the natural world.

Beltane Apple Blossoms in Brittany.
Beltane Apple Blossoms in Brittany.

Now focus on the earth beneath your feet, even if it is masked by a layer of concrete. Sense your connection with the earth and how it supports you and all human life, animal life, plant life. Take a few breaths and as you breathe, be aware of the extraordinary complexity and beauty of what the Earth has given us to appreciate.

Remind yourself of the life-giving power of all the elements – air, fire, water – interacting to create an atmosphere that enable Earth’s life-forms to live.

Finally, focus on your breath, just breathing in and out for a few minutes, noticing each in-breath and out-breath. Be aware of the air flowing in and out of your lungs and how trees and plants breathe too, animal and plant life in an interaction, giving and receiving from one another, you and the biosphere in unity – One.

And finally, thank nature, as Goddess if that is how she seems to you, or the spirits of place, whatever form seems right to you at the time. Thank nature for giving us life, for showing us her beauty and complexity, for our consciousness that enables us to be aware of the biosphere around us. It is this simple reconnection that is at the heart of the sabbat mystery and it is this sense of interconnectedness with all things that we can take with us into our rites as we seek to connect with others that share our vision of the mystery.

Photos by the Author

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