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Nature Awareness as a
Part 2: Coping with Loss
Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS, FAAETS
This article on Nature Awareness
started as Part 1: The Healing Qualities of Nature.
Coping Strategies using Nature
There are many ways to utilize
nature’s resources to aid in stress management, restore balance, improve
health and help in healing from a loss.
Wilderness is a spiritual necessity,
an antidote to the high pressure
of modern life,
a means of regaining serenity
Listening to and Learning from Nature
Visit the wilderness, sit
quietly and just listen. The sounds, sights and scents of nature surround
the visitor in peace and beauty. Answers to troubling questions may be
found on the wind, in the trees, in the song of the birds, in the sound
of a rushing stream, and in the stillness of a redwood forest. If one listens
to the voices of nature he/she may learn from her infinite, immeasurable
Do not fail to learn from
The pure voice of an
Ever-flowing mountain stream
Splashing over the rocks.
Visualization of Nature
Nature imagery and visualization
can be used for reducing stress, relaxing and coping with life’s pressures.
This technique can also be practiced during those times when a person may
want to escape outside, but cannot physically get out of doors.
Visualize that your mind is
a pristine mountain lake.
At the edge of the lake is a
with its image reflected upon
the lake’s surface.
Imagine that your thoughts are
that ripple the lake’s surface,
preventing you from seeing the
but as your thoughts slow down
and the breezes cease…
you see the image of the mountains
Attraction to Special Nature Places
Those drawn to nature know
there are certain places that entice them to visit, holding a special attraction.
Whether a mountain top, a sunny field, an ocean beach, a forest stream,
an alpine lake, a coastal hike, or a fern-filled canyon these different
sanctuaries can be soothing, relaxing, and instill a sense of peace. Many
nature locations can also be conducive to meditation and inspire creativity.
To maximize the benefits of nature awareness,
it is important to discover the special places, to pay attention to the
sites that have had special or emotional pulls, to determine what it is
that has drawn us to the place—whether water, mountain, vegetation, season
of year, overall environment or just the sense of tranquillity. Whether
visiting again in person, or just visualizing the area in the mind’s eye,
these special places can be used in the future for their therapeutic benefits
to help quiet the mind, relieve stress or instill a sense of hope.
My heart is tuned to the quietness
that the stillness of nature
Hazrat Inayat Khan
Naturalist Sigurd Olson would
take quotes, poetry or philosophy copied on scraps of paper along on his
canoe trips. Once in the wilderness, he would pull out the paper, read
it, and think about what the words meant to him. One can imagine getting
lost in the moment or reflection, and completely falling into the rhythm
of the place.
Yesterday, I sat in a field of
for a long time perfectly still,
until I really sank into it-
into the rhythm of the place.
Then, when I got up to go home
I couldn't walk quickly or evenly
because I was still in time
with the field.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Practicing stillness meditation
is very simple. Arrange for some time to be alone. Find a quiet place.
Once there think of a favorite quote, or a saying. Concentrate on the meaning,
or just sit and listen to the silence.
We need to find God,
and he cannot be found in noise
God is the friend of silence.
See how nature—trees, flowers,
grows in silence;
see the stars, the moon and
how they move in silence...
We need silence to be able to
We must not forget to be grateful.
We walk for ourselves,
and we walk for those who cannot
We walk for all living beings
past, present and future.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation can be enhanced while
walking along a meaningful route, by reflecting upon or reciting a favorite
quotation or just focusing on the surroundings. Walking can be a beneficial
adjunct to the meditation process and as previously mentioned healing from
We can’t escape or walk away
we walk through it.
And walking—not running, not
is the proper pace to be traveling.
A variation on walking meditation
is grief walking, as a means of using a physical activity to counter balance
the strong emotions exhibited during grief. Walking can be used as a way
of healing the grief following a loss—step by step. It can be a way of "being" with the essence of a person lost to death by remembering him/her
while walking with them in a spiritual sense.
The grief walking process
involves four basic segments:
1. Breathing: Being consciously
aware of the air moving in and out of the chest. Focusing on breathing
helps center a person, make them more mindful, attentive and feel connected.
Grief Walk/Prayer Walk/Walking Meditation
2. Counting: Counting provides the tempo,
rhythm and beat to the walk. One counts the steps in cadence with each
3. Stepping: Stepping is the physical
part of the process, placing one foot after the other.
4. Utterance: This is the mantra, message,
meditation that is used as the focus of the process. The utterance should
be one that has meaning to the grief walker—the name of the person lost,
a traditional phrase, a brief prayer, or a favorite quotation. The utterances
may need to change with time and circumstance.
In the labyrinth the set path
takes you to the center;
that you know you will get to
the center helps focus and quiet the mind.
Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress
Labyrinths have seen a resurgence
of interest of late. These archetypes are being used as a spiritual tool,
or a healing modality in a variety of settings from churches and schools
to hospitals and prisons. By blending visual symbolism with the process
of walking, labyrinths create a walking meditation that can be used to
enhance awareness, reduce stress, quiet the mind and open the heart. While
following the ancient pattern, the walker’s attention is focused on the
process of stepping, placing one foot in front of the other and breathing
in controlled, regulated manner.
Four different paths for
using the labyrinth have been described. Each path revolves around a different
focus of meditation:
The Path of Image: The walker follows whatever
memories, dreams or images that the mind or imagination brings forth.
The Path of Silence: The walker opens his/her
mind and heart by emptying the agitation of the outer world. This allows
the walker to move into the present moment and become more centered.
The Path of Prayer: The walker recites a traditional
prayer, scripture or verse, line of poetry, or original prayer. The pattern
can be repeated over and over, be rhythmic or not.
The Path of Questioning: The walker poses
a question and seeks an answer upon entering the labyrinth. Walking allows
him/her to more deeply explore or become aware of possible solutions.
In the forest the seasons came
and went and with them,
death came to the flowers, trees
It was all part of the life
Death is an inevitable part
By hiking in nature and taking
the time to notice and reflect on the surroundings—trees, plants, animals,
wildflowers—one can find many therapeutic benefits. In therapeutic
hiking the hiker is encouraged to focus on nature and how nature survives,
to look at the little things surrounding them or even under foot—things
that are often missed when walking lost in thoughts.
While therapeutically hiking,
one becomes more aware of the life cycle. By being in a forest, the beach,
a lake—one can see the decay and death, and also restoration and renewal.
Birth and death are a part of the life cycle. Looking at how nature copes
with adversity, one can find countless examples of inner strength and the
ability not only to survive disasters, destruction, hardship, and loss,
but to continue to grow and thrive:
The hike itself becomes a metaphor
for coping with loss and the grief response. A person must pace him/herself
to make it to the top of a mountain taking it one step at a time. These
recommendations can be applied to the grieving process—taking it one day
at a time, sometimes even one hour at a time.
Roads may be hidden under the snow, yet we know that
the path is still there.
Trees and plants grow out of rocks where the roots
have pierced through small bits of soil finding water for their survival.
Wildflowers grow protected under a canopy of tree
and plant leaves.
Trees change their growth patterns, over time, becoming
molded by the wind.
Wounded, damaged or burnt trees continue growing
despite large pieces missing or falling over, healing over the wounded
New tree growth—plants, ferns, foliage, trees—arise
from old-growth trees, cut down decades before.
Hikers refer to them as "middle-miles."
These are the most exhausting, challenging miles on the path, when the
exhilaration of beginning the journey has evaporated into drudgery and
the promise of the path’s end has not yet given new energy for the stepping.
Henry E. Woodruff
Therapeutic Hiking can be particularly
beneficial when the examples of survival and healing noticed along the
trail. Wounded trees are powerful examples of life continuing despite disaster
or tragedy and the recuperative abilities of nature. In nature death is
a natural occurrence and accepted. Plants and animals die, decay and new
life grows from their dying. Becoming more attuned to and appreciating
the survival cycle of nature, may provided the bereaved with profound insights
into coping with life’s problems, challenges and struggles.
Ways of Getting in Touch with
Those new to nature awareness
or the thought of using the out-of-doors as a way of enhancing health and
healing may need some suggestions for getting started. It is easy to become
more aware of nature, through smell, hearing, touch, and sensing the outdoors.
Noticing nature wherever one may be is another way of experiencing the
healing benefits—whether on a city street or in the wild forest. When it
is not possible to be out in nature, one can focus on the nature is around—a
plant, a tree, the sky overhead, or a painting or photograph of a nature
…a leaf fluttered in through
the window this morning,
as if supported by the
rays of the sun,
a bird settled on the
joy in the task of coffee,
joy accompanied me as
Many of the following suggestions
can be utilized as effective coping strategies for dealing with stress
or grief. These experiences are the essence of nature awareness.
Smells to Savor
Feelings to experience
The damp, musty smell after the rain
Fresh cut citrus fruits - oranges, lemons
Freshly cut hayfield
Lavender - sprigs
Walking in Pine Forests
Newly mowed grass or lawn
Walking in a Eucalyptus grove
These are divided
up by seasons, but many of these sensations can be experienced at any time.
Hearing the running water in nearby creeks after
a spring rain shower.
Rolling down a grassy hill.
Seeing and smelling multi-hued wildflowers.
Cooling breezes on a hot summer’s day.
Discovering a rainbow emerging from the clouds in
the stormy summer sky.
Standing under a waterfall and feeling cold water
run over you.
Watching the waterfalls create patterns as they crash
into white foam.
Watching your breath cloud up in front of you.
Feeling the chill of a crisp fall day.
Raking fall leaves in a pile to tumble into.
Seeing a fiery display of fall colors explode with
color on the hillside.
Walking on freshly fallen snow.
Crunching ice on puddles.
Tumbling down a snowy hillside.
Feeling the crisp winter chill on your cheeks.
Making snow angels.
Remembering to Communicate with
Nature: A Prescription for Health & Healing
Finding a place, hiking to the top of a hill, and
seeing a breath-taking view.
Watching the sun sparkle on a clear blue alpine lake.
Noticing wildlife scurry about you, unaware of your
Walking through a redwood forest and having your
footsteps and problems disappear into the stillness.
Watching the fog roll in over the hills, like fingers,
extending their way in the valleys.
Sitting on the beach and listening to the steady,
soothing rhythm of the waves.
Feeling the sand in your toes, the waves on your
feet while walking on the beach.
Seeing the fog over the ocean, like a carpet that
you can almost walk out on.
Climbing up to the top of a hill and feeling the
wind on your face.
Dangling your toes in the water, sitting by a stream,
and listening to the steady water flow.
Breathing fresh clean air.
Never a day passes but that I
do myself the honor
to commune with some of nature’s
George Washington Carver
The healing experiences of the
outdoors and the wilderness should be included in the therapeutic armament
of physicians as a powerful natural ally in treating a variety of disease.
In particular, utilizing nature awareness has been beneficial in treating
those who are depressed or dealing with the grief response following a
loss. With the increasing acceptance of and desire for complementary and
integrative medicine, it is likely that in the not so distant future doctors
will prescribe a therapeutic hike, a grief walk, stillness meditation or
other variations of nature awareness as an adjunctive therapy for patients
suffering from a variety of ailments.
Nature can serve as a very
valuable therapist to help the grieving and the ailing in discovering their
inner forces by using visual examples of nature overcoming adversity ever-present
in the wilderness. She can also be a constant source of solace, a trusted
companion and a close friend who is always ready listen to help the bereaved
in finding their inner forces, refocus, deal with the grief process and
discover a sense of peace following a loss.
Wilderness can be appreciated
only by contrast,
And solitude understood only
when we have been without it.
We cannot separate ourselves
society, comradeship, sharing and love.
Unless we can contribute something
from wilderness experience,
derive some solace or peace
to share with others,
Then the real purpose is defeated.
Whatever the method used, be
it walking, running, strolling, sitting or wheeling, there are many therapeutic
benefits to be gained by get in touch with nature and experiencing the
wisdom what she has to offer. There are many insights and adventures waiting
to be discovered.
The charm of a woodland road
lies not only it its beauty but in anticipation.
Around each bend may be a discovery,
Dale Rex Coman
Resources - alphabetically
Anglund, Joan Walsh. Crocus In
the Wind: A Book of Poems. Random House, 1990.
Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred
Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Riverhead Books,
Backes, David. The Wilderness Companion:
Reflections for the Back-Country Traveler. Northwood Press, 1992.
Browning, Peter. John Muir, In
His Own Words: A Book of Quotations. Great West Books, 1988.
Burns, George. Nature Guided Therapy:
Brief Integrative Strategies for Health and Well Being. Brunner/Mazel Publication,
Cohen, Michael. Reconnecting with
Nature: Finding Wellness through Restoring Your Bond with the Earth. Ecopress,
Cornell, Joseph. Listening to Nature:
How to Deepen Your Awareness of Nature. Dawn Publications, 1987.
Cumes, David. Inner Passages Outer
Journeys. Llewellyn Publishers, 1998.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. The Long Road
Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation. Parallax Press, 1996.
Hickman, Martha Whitmore. Healing
After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief. Avon, 1994.
Lindberg, Anne Morrow. Gift from
the Sea. Pantheon Books, 1975.
Mundy, Linus. Grief Walking: Four
Prayerful Steps to Healing After Loss. Abbey Press, 1998.
Stern, Ellen Sue. Living with Loss:
Meditations for Grieving Widows. Dell Publishing, 1995.
Tinsley, Sonya. First Aid for the
Soul. Peter Pauper Press, Inc. 1998.
Zadra, Dan. Forever Remembered.
Compendium Inc. 1997.
In the depths
I finally realized that
deep within me
there lay an Invincible
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