ver the years, I've informally polled thousands of people about the things they do to take care of themselves. Going out into nature is at the top of the list. Returning to the natural world is my favorite self-care activity as well, and has been since childhood. At 16, when I finally had the driver's license that most teens covet, my first big excursion was a day's mini-wilderness trip.
Two friends and I, eager to leave suburbia for something wilder and more primal, packed our knapsacks and set out for western Massachusetts. We hiked by a stream, entranced by the pink roots of willow trees that floated like fairy hair in the shallow water. Lying on our backs in a grassy field, faces warmed by the late autumn sun, we watched the patterns of the clouds. The sweet fragrance of hay rose from the earth to touch the sky.
The Rhythm of the Natural World
Toward evening, we collected deadfall and kindled a fire over which we roasted hamburger shaped into long rolls around green sticks. We sang favorite songs and shared the stories of our lives around the flickering magic of the fire. As we gathered our things by the light of the moon, three very different girls from the ones who had left suburban Boston that morning piled back into the car. We smelled of wood smoke and grass ... of contentment. Peace, I learned, has a scent all its own. In some indefinable way, we had come home to ourselves, entrained by the rhythm of the natural world.
As an adult who lives on the edge of the wilderness, surrounded by the majesty of purple mountain peaks and riots of wildflowers in their short season, I still have to make a concerted effort to enjoy nature. And I'm not alone. During a trip to Hawaii, I invited the woman who had brought me there to take a walk on the beach. She was a bit shocked. It had been years since she had left the harried routine of home and office to enjoy a walk along the ocean that lay like a shimmering jewel at her feet. The invitation to find peace was all around, but she was too busy to accept it.
We are part of the natural world, interdependent with it, even though our culture tends to isolate us from it. But we cannot exist in a healthy balance outside nature because our bodies evolved in concert with it. For example, we need the cues of daybreak and nightfall to regulate brain function, emotions, and physical maturation. Modern girls reach puberty significantly earlier than young women did a hundred years ago. This is due in part to electric lights that make days unnaturally long and nights too short. The great biologist René Dubos believed that as we are retreating further and further from nature, we're becoming mutants. The earth is not only our home; it's also a biological regulator. And it's available to every person, rich or poor, unless we're unfortunate enough to be in jail.
Nature Brings You Back to Life
The best vacation in our family's memory was a camping trip we took when the children were small. We had very little money, so we rented a campsite on magnificent Martha's Vineyard and brought all our food, even the cans of lemonade that saved us from having to buy higher-priced sodas. We rode our bikes, went to the beach, and cooked simple dinners over an open fire. It was the happiest week we can remember.
No hotel has nearly the amenities that nature does. It's worth a few bug bites, and even a mild case of poison ivy, to forage for wild berries or fish in a stream. Nature awakens deadened senses. It has the power to bring you back to life again.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
This week, think about your relationship to the natural world. Make a plan with family or friends to spend a day hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, sitting by a lake or a stream, camping out in a tent under the stars, cooking over an open fire, or whatever you can all agree on.
Nature Sustains You & Brings You Peace
Even on days when you have to be inside, take a few breaks to walk around the block or even to look out the window. One research study found that people whose hospital rooms overlooked nature healed faster than those whose view was of a parking lot.
So, if your window does overlook a parking lot, get a plant and put it on the sill. Tend it with care. Enjoy each new leaf as it unfolds. Nature can sustain you and bring you peace, even when it's working its magic from a pot.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House. ©2001. www.hayhouse.com
Inner Peace For Busy People
by Joan Borysenko.
52 weekly entries that are both inspirational and practical. Through story and science, spirituality and humour, readers are given simple skills to help them change their lives and attitudes to recover inner peace, one week at a time. Joan Borysenko demonstrates that you don't have to be a monk to walk your life's journey with graciousness and joy. All that is required is to pay attention, choose wisely, and live with purpose and passion.
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About the Author
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection. She has a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard Medical School, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is the cofounder and former director of the mind/body clinical programs at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. Currently the president of Mind/Body Health Sciences, Inc., she is an internationally known speaker and consultant in women's health and spirituality, integrative medicine, and the mind/body connection. She is the author of ten books, including the New York Times bestseller Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. Joan's Website is: www.JoanBorysenko.com.