By Monika Wengler
When we think of relationships this time of year, we usually think of romance and falling in love with a special person. While there are plenty of advice columns out there that want to help you improve your love life, rarely do any consider how you can benefit from a better relationship with your environment. Meanwhile, studies have shown that deeply connecting with nature and interacting with your community, can improve your mood and overall wellbeing. I am here to help close that gap. Have you ever asked yourself any of the following questions: How would my emotional life change if I expanded my idea of relationship to include the environment? What would it take to fall in love with nature, to have a healthy relationship with my community? How would it change the way I care about my surroundings?
I was inspired to take a new look at the relationship I have with the place I call home during a workshop with Craig Chalquist, where he asked: “Have you ever noticed how different you feel in the desert, in a forest, and on the open sea? How some cities and towns seem to welcome and call to you–and others to grate on you to the point of impelling you to move elsewhere? Not because of noise or smog or some other definable irritant, but because of something harder to pin down: the feel of the place, or its style, or its ‘mood’ or ‘personality.’ And the same with places that seem to enliven and strengthen us.”
Invitation to explore your relationship with your environment
I invite you to embark on an exploratory journey of your own surroundings. The following questions can help you look at your surroundings in anew light. To get the best result, don’t just read the questions, but take a moment to answer each one and notice any changes in your body in order to get a feel for the reaction and emotional responses your observation creates.
Where do you live?
Do you live on the top of a mountain or in a valley?
Is there any water nearby? Does it have a name? What does the name mean?
When you look out of your window, what do you see?
What do see when you look out of a different window?
What do you hear?
Do you live in the country, a town, or the city?
Where did the place get its name?
What is its history?
Is there a center of attention or is it sprawled out?
Is it a unit or is it divided by a freeway or river?
What animals share your space?
Do you have pets?
Which wild animals share your surroundings?
Do you mostly notice mammals, birds, insects, or reptiles?
Are they big or small, friendly or intimidating?
What type of plants share your space?
Do you have houseplants?
Are there trees outside your dwelling? Are they deciduous or evergreen?
What kind of flowers grow outside your door? What kind of herbs?
Which ones do you consider weeds?
Is there anything green or even blooming right now?
How do these plants make you feel? Is there anything they are trying to tell you? Have you met them before in stories or pictures?
For further exploration, Craig Chalquist suggests the following:
• Learn the history of where you live, making a list of recurring images and motifs. Where do these show up in your life? Do the same with where you were born.
• How does the story of your life (including that of your names) parallel the places where you have lived? How have these places participated in your story? What might they have wanted?
• Learn the flora, fauna, and geology of where you live. Any parallels there with your life?
If Earth were trying to speak to us, how might we tune in?
The place where we live and the elements that are predominant there influence who we become, how we interact with others, and how we understand world events. We humans have great capacities to be influenced by the environment within which we live.
It’s difficult to argue against the fact that, as a culture, we live in a state of psychological disconnect from nature. How else can one explain the attitudes and conventions that allow us to pollute, subjugate and drain our living systems?
A path of true wellness is one that awakens our inherent sense of affiliation with more-than-human nature and brings us into direct experiences of deep relationship with it. This approach goes far beyond simply using nature as a tool for increasing personal well-being – it is a worldview that actively honors the intelligence of the living world around us and its desire toward self-expression and relationship, through us.
If you enjoyed the earlier exercise, you might like to explore your environment even more deeply.
One way of doing this is by using Goethean observation. J. W. von Goethe was best known as a poet and playwright. His contributions to science, however, were far- reaching. Most influential of all is his particular ‘way of doing science’, which provides the tools for us to transcend the reductionist forms of traditional science. His approach was similar to what we would call holistic today. He advocated studying plants in their own environment, rather than as dead samples in a herbarium, and appreciating the whole plant as well as the parts. Rudolf Steiner, the pioneer of bio-dynamic agriculture and Waldorf education, admired Goethe’s perspective and incorporated it into his teaching. Goethe worked towards opening up new ‘organs of perception’ which would expand our understandings of the world into an integrated whole. He was interested in relationship, of quality and of wholeness. And we can use this kind of observation to ask questions about all forms and functions of life.
Some key features of Goethean observation are:
• observing with patience and rigor;
• deepening a sense of wonder to the world;
• using sensual and emotional awareness to experience phenomena as fully as possible;
• attending to connections between phenomena;
• acknowledging an ethical dimension to the practice of science.
As nature around us comes back to life, this is a good time of year to choose a natural feature (or let one choose you) to observe throughout the year. If you decided to study a plant, notice the first tender shoots appear, the leaves unfold, flowers form and blossom, fruits ripen, leaves turn color and eventually return to the ground. What is the first thing you notice? As you explore further, what else do you notice? Do you see parallels to your own life? Is there a story here to tell? Are there any symbol like growth, movement, or groundedness? Do any of these symbols show up in your dreams?
If you feel so inspired, get yourself a notebook and write down your observations through the year. Maybe you would like to add drawings. By the end of the year you should hold an amazing story in your hands.
Emma Kidd suggests that “to begin to more fully understand Nature, and life, we must develop the capacity to encounter what is active and living.”
• Even when walking she encourages you to see everything as if it is new to you, even the feeling of walking on the ground.
• Maintain the space within you for adventure and experiment.
• Cultivate a child-like wonder, see everything with fresh new eyes, as if for the first time.
• Be curious, open and gently expectant.
• Be aware and focused on all that you perceive.
• Be open – mind and heart. With a deep way of ‘getting to know’, like befriending.
“When we engage with the world in a dynamic way of seeing, getting to know the world in terms of itself, we can begin to understand the uniqueness, creativity and dynamism inherent to life.” (Emma Kidd, Seeing With New Eyes)
You can expand these forms of observation to any relationship you encounter, be it with people, nature, or your community.
I hope you feel inspired to go on a journey of discovery. If you encounter any special relationships on the way, I would love to hear about them. You can contact me at the address below. Enjoy your voyage.
For more information:
Benefits Of Ecotherapy: Being In Nature Fights Depression, Improves Mental Health And Well-Being
Seeing with New Eyes – An Adventure in Perception
Exploring Goethean Science
Getting to Know a Rhododendron
Monika Wengler is a licensed counselor in Asheville specializing in Eco-Therapy (odonatatherapy.com). She has extensive training in Somatic Experiencing and Internal Family Systems Therapy. Lately she studied Terrapsychology with Craig Chalquist at Schumacher College, UK. She can be reached at email@example.com.