The sun beating down on my warm skin; the sound of scratchy shoes against the gritty sand and pebble floor; the squawk of birds overhead…mindful presence and sensory explorations like this are what bring me into the present and into my body. This process is at the heart of the work I do as an EcoArt Therapist.
For as long as I can remember, nature has been a grounding force in my life, though I was not conscious of this and not familiar with the term grounding until I entered the mental health field. Growing up in Mississippi, I spent plenty of time outdoors roaming the neighborhoods on my bike and surrounded by oak and magnolia trees. I was fortunate enough to also have a pool as a kid, but I didn’t understand its power to soothe back then.
As I grew older, I associated water with tranquility and serenity. I loved being at the beach, but I took its healing benefits for granted. As I entered behavioral health, I began spending time in quiet reflection among lush greenery, beautiful mountains, and flowing water. Soon, I recognized nature’s power to renew and I could replenish myself there when I would slow down to appreciate it.
As I began seeing clients, I incorporated elements of nature into my work from the beginning. I would take objects I’d found in nature to hospitals and other facilities and I took clients outdoors as much as possible. My love for nature has grown deeper over the years and become an incredible guide both for me and those I am fortunate enough to support.
Connection to Nature As A Portal to Self
Many of my clients come to me struggling to connect…to themselves, to others, and, though they don’t say it, the environment too.
Where does this disconnection come from? Just about everyone has been trained to sit at school desks, follow the rules, and think only about the subjects presented, or suffer the often shameful consequences. Unfortunately, most schools train us to ignore the body and its wisdom. Nature asks us to slow down and tune into its unique rhythms. Traditional education teaches the opposite.
Luckily, it’s never too late to adopt a new perspective. As you seek to connect with yourself and with the people in your life, you’re also invited to tune into those rhythms of nature and use your senses in different, deeper ways. Dropping into your body and relying on sensation to guide you sets you on the path out of fear and away from the endless pursuit of approval that you probably learned as a child. When you find yourself in nature, you begin a quest to find what really matters to you. You start to understand who you really want to be in the world.
I am passionate about sharing the healing benefits of nature and helping others discover their own natural strengths and innate wisdom through their bodies. For this reason, I was thrilled to discuss EcoArt Therapy with Laura Reagan of the Therapy Chat podcast this year and discuss a wide range of topics from mindfulness and its role in the healing work of mind-body integration to using Eco Art Therapy and other expressive modalities.
In our interview below, I share the powerful role of nature and how much I love introducing clients to the elements at Dreamy Draw Mountain and other surrounding preserves in Phoenix, AZ. We talk about the grounding forces of fresh air, sunshine, trees, plants, and animals. Our industrialized culture causes us to over-intellectualize, and nature has the power to take us out of our heads. By dropping into our bodies and paying closer attention to sensation we can deal with the here and now rather than the habitual stories (i.e. self criticisms, judgments, and limiting beliefs). We shift the programming that often keeps us stuck in the past or future.
Connecting to nature engages all of your senses so you can balance an overactive mind and access the intelligence of the body…physical form, bodies of land, and bodies of water allow us to shift out of the cognitive trap of incessant thinking. This is where we can truly align mind, body, and spirit.
Nature Deficit Disorder & Eco Art Therapy as the Healing Balm
EcoArt Therapy sees much of disease and mental illness as a case of “nature deficit disorder.” We combine creative process with attention to the natural world to understand that we’re part of nature and there is no separation between us and our environment. Swept up by the cognitive, linear, and analytical society engrossed in technology, we can miss the natural world and its healing benefits.
The truth is, we are nature and we need the natural world. Research is beginning to show how bacteria in certain lush regions even change our gut microbiota. Techniques like forest bathing (also known as Shin Rin Yoku) have emerged to help industrialized cultures slow down, reconnect, and reduce stress to prevent and heal chronic disease.
Nature, and more specifically Eco Art Therapy, is an antidote to what ails us when processed foods, long hours of sitting, and decreased human interaction with the advent of social media are wreaking havoc on our bodies, minds, and relationships. We all need a chance to connect to our inner nature by bringing the inside out and the outside in.
As Laura and I continued discussing what EcoArt Therapy can look like, I also shared an activity which I invite you to try:
- Write a letter to Mother Nature regarding a current issue or obstacle. Let yourself express your thoughts and feelings about this concern and ask how you can use your natural strengths to face it.
- Seek an outdoor location and, while this may sound strange, request permission to interact with this corner of nature. If it feels safe to stay, read your letter aloud or silently and request guidance from this area to inspire an art activity that will help you you gain some clarity. Ask what direction to take, which materials to use, and how.
- Journal about this experience and what lesson you have learned. Feel free to leave a comment below requesting journal prompts if you would like specific questions to help you connect more deeply.
How was this activity for you? What connections did you make or insights did you discover? Share what you are comfortable sharing about what you learned in the comments below. If you found it challenging to tune in and listen to your natural wisdom, don’t worry! This is a skill that can be developed.
Would you like to strengthen your ability to connect with yourself, your creativity, and the natural world to cultivate a sense of inner knowing and move into your highest self? Are you ready to let go of old stories that keep you from enjoying the present and experiencing greater satisfaction in all areas of your life?
As an Eco Art Therapist and Transformational Coach, I work with individuals and groups to experience greater connection through nature, creativity, and community with both the natural and human world. Check out what others are saying and leave me a comment or schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation now. I love hearing from you!
“The activities encourage tuning in and trusting, which are the foundation for connecting with myself and others.” –Marie, Expressive Arts Therapist in Gilbert
“You push me just enough out of my comfort zone to grow in unexpected yet needed ways.” -Elizabeth, AA & EA Sponsor in Phoenix
“Such a great way to stop, slow down, and learn more about self care and personal discovery.” -Eudora, Retired Teacher & Children’s Book Author in Scottsdale