By Leah Rampy, Ph.D
March 6, 2016
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be with you today. Thank you, Joni, and to all of you for inviting me.
How was your week? Did you find yourself calm, centered, and peaceful; breathing deeply; living joyfully and fully in the present?
If you’re like many people, there were a number of times when you were distracted, worried, fearful, or anxious, times when your mind wouldn’t stop racing. Perhaps sleep was illusive and you found yourself tired and out of sorts.
There are indeed a multitude of seemingly valid reasons why we are stressed and anxious. The political scene, climate change, money, the weather, our families, our jobs, relationships – all are fodder for our busy minds. We know that stress isn’t good for our health – and we feel stressed about that!
Our conversation today invites us to imagine finding healing in nature. I’d like to explore with you what we know and what we surmise about nature as a source of healing and wholeness.
Fortunately this isn’t a new topic and we have some research to guide us. For example, a study in the 80’s showed that patients recovering from surgery healed faster, needed less medication, and had fewer post-surgery complications if they were able to look out the window at leafy trees instead of a brick wall. [i]
Last year, researchers from the U of Chicago surveyed over 30,000 people in Toronto and found that residents reported feeling better and having fewer health problems when there were more trees on their street. [ii]
The gardeners among us were no doubt happy to hear that a strain of bacterium in the soil has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety in lung cancer patients – and in mice. Isn’t it great to have another excuse to spend time in our gardens?[iii]
In March of 2011 a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that children who grow up on traditional farms are 30-50% less likely than other children to develop asthma.[iv]
The very soil beneath our feet makes wonderful contributions to our health! In a teaspoon of that soil, there are more microbes than there are people on earth. This amazing underground community cycles nutrients and water to plants, connects plants allowing them to strengthen their natural defenses against pests and ultimately contribute to our health through the food we eat.[v] And I might add, soils are the largest terrestrial carbon sink on the planet.[vi]
So we’ve noted ways that nature may help us to heal from surgery, to elevate our mood, help to prevent certain illnesses, and contribute to our overall health. I find this fascinating and wonderful. And yet I wonder: Is there more?
I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times —
to just be close to creatures who are so full of knowing,
so full of love that they don’t — chat,
they just gaze with their marvelous understanding.[vii]
–St. John of the Cross – Spanish mystic lived in 1500’s
I’ve worked for and led programs and pilgrimages with Shalem Institute for many years. Shalem is an ecumenical organization started over 40 years to reclaim the Christian contemplative tradition, enriched by insights from Eastern religions. Living contemplatively: more fully present and alive to each sacred moment. Being fully awake requires that both the mind and the heart are open and available to what is in this moment. The ancient mystics sometimes referred to this as “mind in heart.”