There isn’t anything we can do as human beings that doesn’t depend on the resources and health of the Earth. It is becoming obvious that as long as the health of the Earth is on the line, not only our health but also our entire existence is on the line.
In what ways is our health related to the Earth? A quick Google search will reveal many studies that show that simply spending time in Nature helps people to heal more quickly, maintain and enhance health and bring a sense of inner peace and balance. But before you even check out the studies, try this. Walk around the parking lot of some big box store like Walmart for maybe 20–30 minutes. Notice how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally at the end. Then go to a park with lots of trees and walk around for about the same amount of time. At the end of that time, check in again on how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. What did you notice?
There have been many studies that point to the direct connection between human health & our connection to the natural world. The well-respected Atlantic Monthly published a short article, “How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies,” in 2013. One of the studies had to do with people who had just gotten gall bladder surgery. Some of the patients were in rooms that faced a brick wall; others were in rooms that faced a small stand of deciduous trees. All other factors in their recovery were the same. The patients in the rooms facing the trees fared much better in all respects than the ones facing the brick wall. “By some measures, patients who gazed out at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall.”
Another finding is how the social, mental and physical health of individuals increases in community settings in nature. In looking at the effects of community in Nature, a study on community gardens by the National Institutes of Health stated that, “Major benefits of community gardens that emerged from the 10 qualitative interviews included increasing community cohesion and improving nutrition and physical activity factors.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22820225).
The simple act of working together in a positive, nature-based setting has immense health and relational benefits. Community cohesion in a world of friction, stress and war, is a very desirable factor. Additionally, “Research has shown that community gardens enhance the quality of life of gardeners by improving psychological, physical, and social well-being, improving diets, providing exercise opportunities, and saving food costs among others.” (Paten, 1991; Waliczek et al., 1996; Armstrong, 2000; Holland, 2004; Wakefield et al., 2007; Alaimo et al., 2008) (http://environment.yale.edu/hixon/files/Cultivating%20Community_Coplen.pdf)
With this sense of interconnection between the Earth and human health in mind, you might take some time now to begin to better understand and appreciate this planet Earth and to start to give back to her. Where can you begin? Educate yourself. Spend time in Nature getting to know your corner of the Earth. What are the characteristics and qualities of your area? Visit nearby local and state parks. Penny Kelly, author of, Getting Well Again Naturally, comments:
“Every piece of land is part of a bio-region with a unique weather, water, geology, fauna, flora, animal and landscape profile that ranges from dry to wet, hilly to flat, hot to cold, sandy to loamy, and dozens of other features that make it truly individual in its ability to produce food, beauty and everything we and all living creatures need to stay alive. Each bio-region has it particular communities of plants and animals that, in their natural state, live together in a respectful, sustainable and highly conscious and balanced manner.”
How do we begin to develop this deeper connection and understanding? We begin to listen deeply to the language of Nature around us. Here is an account of how the Sioux Indians understood the language of Nature, of how they had a relationship with and appreciation of Nature, and a commentary on some characteristics of that particular area.
“The Sioux Indians called both the aspen and the cottonwood the “wagichuns,” or “talking trees,” because of the voice of the wind playing through their easily shaken leaves. In a good wind the aspens laugh and titter, and they hiss and whisper when their small leaves dance and flash like mirrors in the sun, while the cottonwoods seem to have a little deeper liquid sound of gurgling and rattling. Since these trees are nearly always a sign of water being near, and water is very precious in the dry West, the Indians also said they were sacred trees, especially sacred to the Great Spirit, and that, if you listened long enough, you might hear His voice.” (p.137–38, Reading the Woods. Vinson Brown. 1969)
As we begin to understand not only the language of Nature but also the intelligence of her interrelated systems, we can begin to work cooperatively with her to restore our Earth Heritage/Human Heritage of health, harmony, abundance and wellbeing. What are the opportunities in your area for positive action? “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” You might want to start with a small herb, vegetable or flower garden if you have space. Spend time with your plants so that you begin to recognize their needs and the conditions of light, moisture and soil that work for them. Learn about regional plant and tree groups that grow together and mimic those systems. Look for opportunities where community groups are working with Nature, maybe in your local park or maybe in nearby community gardens. If you find no group activities, use your imagination and ingenuity to start an Earth Care group (Meet-up?) or create opportunities for yourself individually like spending time at an Arboretum or Nature Preserve. Most importantly, educate yourself by spending time in Nature. Begin your own journey of understanding and working cooperatively by respecting, observing and listening to the intelligence of Nature. Remember, you will be improving your own health and the health of the planet by your efforts. A number of resources are listed below. There are no limits to what you can learn and Nature is in dire need of our healing assistance just as much as we are in urgent need of her health!
A potpourri of suggested resources:
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Ed. Toby Hemenway.
- Reading the Woods. Vinson Brown. 1969.
- Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth. Stephen Harrod Buhner.
- The Secret Life of Plants. Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.
- Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Peter Kropotkin. 2008, Forgotten Books.
- Three Among the Wolves. Helen Thayer. 2004.