It is Earth Day, a day set aside to celebrate our beautiful, sacred planetary home, our life-sustaining, beloved habitat. It is a day to consider how we can protect what we stand to lose. I’ve been reflecting on my relationship to the earth. Am I aligning myself to her restorative rhythms, her energies of abundance and balance? Am I avoiding, as much as humanly possible, water contained in plastic, food wrapped in plastic, and food coated in or made of chemicals? What is humanly possible when it comes to healing ourselves, our relationship with nature, and the earth itself?
Nature, in her great wisdom, heals. There is burgeoning literature elucidating how harmonizing our energies with the natural world is good for us. Taking a walk in the forest, mindfully absorbing the beauty and deeply inhaling the aromatic fragrance yields remarkable physiological results: our stress hormones decrease, our restful parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, our immune system is supported, cancer genes are turned off. Study upon study show exposure to nature decreases depression and anxiety; improves memory, attention and focus; lowers blood pressure; improves the likelihood of sustained recovery in addiction; decreases headaches and respiratory illness; fends off cardiovascular disease; improves immune function; and improves healing rates for wounds. It also heals societal wounds: urban environments with greater tree density experience decreased crime, decreased violence and increased social cohesion.
This is stunning but also intuitive to those who spend time in nature. If a pharmaceutical yielded these results, it would be touted in esteemed medical journals; however, the healing benefits of nature are so layered and complex that they defy commodification. We humans have evolved—body, mind, and spirit—to benefit from our natural environment. Healing occurs as we return to our unfettered, natural state: eating whole foods, moving our bodies, minimizing stress, sleeping and spending time in nature. Cultivating a receptive relationship with nature can transform lives.
It is this compelling intersection of nature and healing, reflection and transformation, that I will be exploring with friend and collaborator James Stark in a series of workshops at the Regenerative Design Institute, beginning in June. We invite you to join us in this exploration. If you are interested in learning more about our program, The Art of Vitality, visit regenerativedesign.org.
This Earth Day, may we cultivate a reciprocally healing relationship with our beloved Mother Earth, she who has given so much. May we regard her with reverent affection, awe-struck appreciation and grateful humility. May we be moved by a desire to collectively heal ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Anna O’Malley lives in Bolinas and practices integrative family medicine with the Coastal Health Alliance.