Mountains, deserts, rivers, rocks, unobstructed skies, the music of water, wind, soil and life. I’d like to talk about how nature is medicine for me.
I’ll begin with an anecdote I came across about a couple of experiments that UC Berkeley professor Dr. Dacher Keltner, did about the effects of nature on the human consciousness. Dr. Keltner has been investigating the positive effects of nature on our mental health for a number of years. He’s particularly interested in the link between nature and the experience of awe. He defines awe as “The subjective feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world and requires changing your beliefs (Keltner, 2009).”
“Experiences in nature are one of the strongest elicitors of awe (Anderson et al, 2018).”
As I remember the description of the two experiments, in the first experiment Dr. Keltner took two groups of students to a part of the Berkeley campus where on one side was a forest, and on the other a large institutional building. He had one group of students contemplate the forest, particularly where the tops of the trees intersected the sky. The other group of students were instructed to stare at the building. He then had a girl walk out of the building laden with books and papers and pretend to stumble, spilling her armful of stuff on the ground. The students who were gazing at nature quickly went to help her and the students who were staring at the building were slow to help or didn’t help.
In the second experiment Dr. Keltner had one group of students look at nature images on computers, and a second group of students looking at, I don’t know what specifically, but I suspect something equivalent to the institutional building. At the end of the assigned time to gaze at the images on the computers, he had the students draw self-portraits. The students who were looking at the “not-nature” images drew themselves to fill the page, with very little space remaining. The students who were looking at the images of nature drew themselves small of the page with an abundance of open space on the page.
I have a friend who has a trademarked name for his business called “More Than Meets the “I.” Apparently just spending some time taking in nature, even on a computer screen, put the students in a place where for a moment their world became more than just about themselves.
The Navaho have a tradition of taking time to absorb and ingest beauty and the sensations of wonder when encountering a beautiful scene. It can be a particularly dramatic Los Angeles sunset created by sun and smog, but if there is beauty, they have the wisdom to deliberately let the beautiful part in. The idea is to build a storehouse of beauty within to have when the going gets rough.
One of the modalities I teach is Positive Neuroplasticity, which are practices that can grow brand new neurological pathways that are “trained” to go towards the good: to build internal strength, grit, resilience, perseverance, emotional regulation, self-compassion, love, etc.… the really useful stuff that helps us to pick ourselves up and keep going when we take a hit. Building these pathways really amounts to the accumulated effects of deliberately “Taking in the Good,” until we have an internal foundation, or “trait,” of accessible wellness.
The Navaho practice is a great example of “taking in the good.”
I want to share a few things I’ve been doing for nature healing. But before I do, I wish to confess something. In my work as a healer, and in my life, I am often face to face with good people dealing with suffering, physical, emotional, spiritual, and just plain shitty tragic circumstances. In myself, I sometimes have a moment of anxiety that says, “Do I have the right to be happy, to be fortunate, to be having a relatively easy life?” I’ve had plenty of rough times, but for now it’s pretty fun. I think I finally get that the blessings I am so fortunate to have, directly help me in my work as a healer and as a simple (well not so simple) human wanting to do some good in this world. Letting in that good deepens the interior resources that shows up as connection, respect, deep listening, and a presence of safety and sanctuary for others. The beauty and goodness I allow myself directly translates as a greater ability to be there for another.
So now we present Woo’s River Song Medicine Chi!
I was a professional music composer for many years, and I’m exceptionally tuned in to sound and vibration. I’m fortunate to live close to the Frying Pan River here in the Colorado Rockies, and I’ve been discovering magical spots along the river to meditate and play music by. The sounds of the river are distinctly different in every spot; every five feet the moving waters create a different sonic landscape, with its unique complex frequencies and rhythms. For example, If I stand and absorb the sounds and energies at one spot, I can sense the river song massaging my liver. At another spot just twenty feet away the river song is connecting my gastrointestinal system to some soothing element from my Crown Chakra, and my belly relaxes. Each spot along the river is a different medication from the river medicine cabinet.
I found a particularly potent spot where there is a small tumbling waterfall with a mossy bank sitting directly over the greatest turbulence. Water moving down a river is not just one stream or current, particularly in white water. There are multiple currents, tributaries, channels, velocities and volumes. While I sit and meditate or practice qigong by the falls, my body and consciousness are experiencing multiple ways for strong energies to move through my body and mind, that I would not experience meditating at home. The complex powerful song of the river teaches me more ways to flow with energy directly and viscerally.
Since I’ve been meditating at the falls, I’ve noticed that in some of my sessions when there are a lot of strong emotions and confusion that the client is experiencing, I’m found more ways to channel and flow the intensity through me and even in my client, because of the pathways of moving energy that meditating by the turbulent waters has carved out in my mind and body.
Seeking nature, seeking beauty, is a necessary escape from the pressures of our lives. But nature and beauty are far more than merely means of escape. They help build an internal foundation of the soulful self. Bringing an extra degree of attention and awareness to our moments of nature, of beauty, of inexplicable awe, taking an extra moment to absorb whatever has struck our “Wow” bone, adds up to a sense wonder and wellness that more than meets the “I.”