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This is a transcript from episode #28 of the Let the Verse Flow Podcast.

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I wake up to a cooing dove outside my window. We ignore the hum of the city, the passing bus and its exhaust. And on my walks I see the squirrels and blue jays lay claim to fields of green, as dogs frolick and play among the leaves. I swirl around the people, little ants, and march myself onward, but there’s a living thread pulling me forward. I wait for a train while a black crow stakes its claim. High up in the tree he scans his land and I am only one of many on which to land. I step out into the rain and dodge the worms, they live here too. Everywhere I look and at most times of the day, I’m surrounded by the living, they call me onward, show me the way. My pumping heart, it lives for this and keeps on ticking to see another day, along the living way. And when I don’t know what to do, what to say or how to live, I look around the city’s forest and find that my small fret is solely that. A blip in the living canvas, a speck of angst and not enough to call or name. Not enough trouble to cast trouble or seek blame. I’m just one among the angels and the majesty’s still there. If only I can open my eyes to the fluttering wings, the cobalt sea, the green moss growing on the ancient trees. I have a chance to breathe among these living creatures, to be amongst them and I feel grateful for every living clumpful.

I’m about as city girl as you can get, born and raised in Manhattan, no stranger to loud sounds, jostling people, and fast walking, but I’m also deeply connected to nature. Surprising? It turns out there is a natural path to tread in this big city if we seek it. Let's explore the part of our lives and souls that is connected to nature. How does being in nature comfort, teach, and hold us? In what ways can it be an unending source of wellness and serenity?

Like most people, my connection to nature came at a young age. It was at the end of my years in elementary school, long after the class pets, the home pets, the fascinations with butterflies and worms and mud pies. I was around 15 when I went to Cape May for the first time. Back then, it was a sleepy little seashore town along the Jersey shore, where the waters meet Delaware. The ocean is rich with clams and horseshoe crabs as piping plovers pecked along the water’s edge in flocks. These were new animals for a city girl and I remember the happiness I felt as my feet dug in the sand and I explored the shoreline. It was deep happiness. I knew somewhere that this was my place; the water called me, and I was delighted to find out that after all the wave jumping, dunking, and swimming, I could spend hours along the shoreline exploring creatures.

Shark egg cases, overturned horseshoe crabs, shells, and pretty sea glass. Half-eaten crabs among seaweed strands and large clam shells to claim. It was the beginning of my love affair with the ocean (and with water in general). It was the beginning of an understanding of the beautiful ecosystems that I had been born into. I felt connected and a part of something greater than myself, and for a teenager stuck in her little years of torture, it was an escape that felt natural and right.

Dolphins swimming in the ocean with a sun setting on the horizon

On this first trip, I’d noticed dolphins would come out in the morning and again around the twilight hour. I was determined to see one closely, catching a fin or two way out past the breaking waves. I’d scan the horizon for what felt like hours, who knows how long a moody teenager can do such things. One day while walking toward the lighthouse with my mother (an object that was so far away that only city tourists would think it a good idea to walk to). Town folk would look at us strangely as we told them about our treks to the Light House. We didn’t care. We loved it, and we needed it. On this particular day, we’d stopped to give our aching calves a break from the sand walking.

Life-Changing Nature Connections

My mom was sitting down and I was standing facing the water. It was very still at first, but then I spotted the first dolphin and it was closer to shore than others I’d seen – right past the first breaking wave line. I screamed for my mother because there were more and they were on the move in a big pod. There at what felt like an arm's distance away, was a huge pod of dolphins passing by. There were large ones, medium ones, and even babies jumping through the wave tubes. We walked alongside them as they traveled south, and it felt like they would never stop. There were at least a hundred dolphins, probably several hundred, in this pod because they were everywhere. The most I had ever seen at one time was five or so, and this was an army, all passing us by in leaps, zips, and gliding fins. 

It was a spectacular sight, and I was so overjoyed that I cried on the beach. I’ve never had an experience like that since. This joyful feeling overtook me. My mother holding my arm and bearing witness to the beauty and majesty of this large group of dolphins. It was a defining moment and one that I’m happy to say I’ve never forgotten or tucked away or let go. It’s forever connected me to the ocean in a way that has never gone away and forever reminds me that we are meant to connect in this way. We are meant to see our lives in the context of the living earth we share with all these incredible creatures that we may neither fully understand, as we co-exist. There is a knowing that we have when we are with other humans that we don’t, and can’t have when we are with animals, and it is a mystery that I’m happy exists. I love learning about animals and other living things, but what I most connect to is just knowing they exist and that they live out their life sharing a common space with us.

After that experience in Cape May, this city girl was never the same. There would be many years of dolphin watching, swimming, shell collecting, and investigating dead critters along the shore’s edge, and it all started with that pod of dolphins. They opened my eyes to the power of the natural world, the freedom that exists, and the way our parallel lives play out. 

Now, whenever I feel down or even moody, I try to remember that this passing, transitory phase is just one small event in an incredibly vast and beautiful world. When I remember that, things don’t hurt so much. Problems become smaller and perspective widens.

How did I, a city girl find this natural connection and what would it mean in my life? It wasn’t that I was searching for nature either. It sort of came upon me;– it snuck into my life at this unexpected moment and then I realized how much I needed it.

A green plant growing inside a hole within a tree's trunk.
Author's photo: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

What’s our connection to nature? What purpose does it serve? How do we bring it into our lives to help us put troubles into perspective and broaden our view?

Our Evolutionary Ties to Nature

We could start at the beginning, our evolutionary journey has primed us to be connected to nature. Early man understood and used the tools of nature for survival, understanding how to hunt, building natural tools, to understanding plants, animals, and weather patterns. We have an ancient legacy that connects us to this earth and while it may be buried under our convenient lifestyles, it’s there like a visceral, living pulse if we want to tap into it. I think we should.

I think our connection to nature speaks to and satisfies our innermost consciousness. Our nature connection is of us, we evolved through it and were made of it and we can’t just untangle ourselves because we developed into cities. If we want to return to nature, to enjoy its therapeutic powers, we can think of it as returning to ourselves, not venturing into some foreign land.

Forest Bathing for Stress Reduction

The Japanese have a practice called Shinrin-Yoku, forest bathing, which is a practice of walking slowly through woods or forests in an immersive way to reduce stress. Using your senses to mindfully engage with nature: inhaling the forest air, listening to its sounds, and fostering an emotional connection to the environment. It turns out that the Japanese developed this practice in the early 1980s when they were faced with a growing public health crisis among workers who were breaking down with anxiety and stress-related illnesses that they attributed to urbanization and overwork. 

There are Buddhist origins to forest bathing and this mindful connection to nature is thought to have healing powers. I don’t think we need much evidence to imagine that awakening our senses to the lush canopy of a forest is intrinsically good for our minds, bodies, and spirits. It seems completely intuitive and natural to me that we need these connections. 

We are not so disconnected from our origins with early man. Around the world, there are traditions of interacting with nature that harken us back to our need for this connection. Spending time in nature has many health benefits, mental, emotional, physical and pro-environmental.

Back in the United States, we have only to look at our native peoples to understand a fused identity between humans and nature. For Native American peoples, there is no separation between people and Mother Earth, which they call Unci Maka. Here's a detailed and immersive explanation of this connection as told by Chief Seattle in his Treaty Oration of 1854. He was translated to have said:

Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event of days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.

There is a comfort and sense of belonging that he is speaking of here that is beautiful to me. It’s an understanding that we may be at risk of losing while living in urban areas. The seemingly dumb and dead rocks that hold memories of stirring events, the blood of our ancestors, and the sympathetic touch of bare feet. Speaking like this from a deep connection to the earth reminds us that we are all connected, and I think when we forget that, we deprive ourselves of home and our emotional connection to nature which can strengthen us against all of the coming storms of life.

seashells strung together with cord in a checkboard pattern

Here's a poem about this connection to nature. It’s about how a rock in my shoe, a dumb and dull rock, reminds me that even with a mildly annoying disturbance, I can let nature in to revive me. This poem is called The Living Thread.

The Living Thread

By Jill Hodge

A rock wandered in my shoe, along the corner’s edge
I twisted my ankle, poked and shook my foot, with a purpose of dislodging
It would not leave, but stayed, a hanger-on
I changed my walk around the rock, to lightly tread
and as I walked I thought
How free I am to roam the edges
And mud and leaves, twigs and rocks are free to come along
And so are birds of prey that span the sky
They search as I, in search of living food and light and air, deep breath
Welcome travelers, we take up space and
Tug the ends of the same living thread

As we live in this modern era, we may ask, what purpose does nature serve for us now? How do we bring it into our lives, and can it help put our troubles in perspective as I’ve suggested?

You know I'm going to answer YES! Our connection to nature is part of our ancient ancestry and the continuing human story. It reaches into the past and it moves through to the present. Once that connection is made it opens the door for us to take a more holistic view of our life’s story, the good times and bad ones, and put it into perspective. I do this by being mindful when connecting with nature. I stop and notice and try to take in that particular moment with that natural element.

GIF of a wave tube shaped like a heart with a setting sun in the background.

The two daily rituals that most connect me to nature are time in water and walking in nature. I must be related to early fishes because I love water. I love showers, baths, swimming in pools and oceans, walking in streams, soaking my feet. The first thing I do when I get home is take off my shoes and what do my tired feet say to me? They say, “Can we have some water please?” If water is nearby, I want to get in it. 

When I visit Hawaii, one of my favorite places, I try to go snorkeling at least twice a day. Hour-long or more stints in the water are incredibly reviving to me and I carry those times in the water with me throughout the year. So I’m very mindful during my snorkeling time in Hawaii. And I try to create a memory, a sensory snapshot from my times in the water.

Bamboo forest in Manoa Valley, Oahu
Author's photo: Bamboo forest in Manoa Valley, Oahu

Since my major dolphin sighting, I’ve swum among all kinds of fish. My favorites are octopuses, but I’ve seen moray eels, sea turtles, seals, and stingrays up close and personal, and every time, it has left me with such a rush of connection and wonder. I have never felt more alive than when a huge sea turtle swam past me in Maui (yes, he/she was going faster than me). Or when a seal zipped past me in Oahu. These were thrilling close encounters, they were also life-defining, meaning that I put other events in the context of those two and how I felt during those moments. It helps me be more aware of how trivial some of my fretting can be. I try to remember the big moments in life and let the trivial stuff float away. (work in progress...)

Also, essential for me are long showers and walking in nature. I walk to and from work through the park so I can get to enjoy small interactions with nature each day. If I have a problem, I’m likely to write about it in my journal, and my favorite writing place is either a quiet church or a beach or park bench. 

Often when we think about our childhood, our playful times, we remember our connection to nature. Think about this. What calls to you? Oceans, forests, mountains, farms, lakes, caves, valleys, streams, backyard treehouses? Return to them, and make time for them. Put down the phone, detach from the screen, the chores, and the to-list to spend some time in a green space. Even the ritual of a good shower or bath can reconnect you to nature.

You deserve that time and you may find like me that something deep inside you starts to stir. There’s a knowing that this connection was meant to be, that you are where you belong, and that all your thoughts and troubles are smaller in the context of the grand ebb and flow of the natural world. Let it restore your connection to this internal knowing place, and feel the comfort of living among all the creatures of Mother Earth.

Journal Prompts to Find Your Natural Way

Try to find a natural setting for your journal writing this week, and open up to your connection to the natural world with these prompts.

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Which of your senses do you get most pleasure from and how is your sensory system engaged in your favorite natural setting?
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Pick up a few items from your next nature walk and write about what you chose to keep and why. How are you connected to these items?
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Write about a childhood memory you had in nature. How did this nature connection affect and change you?

We know how to bring ourselves back to nature; it's ingrained in our DNA, in our connections to our planet. It feeds and nurtures us and connects us to every other living thing. Bring yourself back to nature during times of stress or struggle and widen your perspective through the interconnectedness that you feel. I hope you find a natural path that comforts and revives you, as you make your way back to the bright side of the beat.🌞


Podcast Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.

Songs in this podcast episode: The Forest Floor by Shimme; Slide by GEMM; Early Morning Birds & Wind Tumbling Leaves by Soundstripe; Pyaar Kee Seemaen by Cast of Characters

Resources:
Forest Bathing and Shinrin-Yoku

Evolutionary Connection to Nature

Nature-Connection Benefits

Native connection to Unci Maka–Mother Earth

LTVF Season Two Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.

Listen to Let the Verse Flow on Your Podcast Player of Choice

You can listen to LTVF on all major podcast apps like Apple, Spotify, and Podlink. Please rate & review to help spread the word about the podcast!! 💛💜

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Journaling Resources

30-Day Journal Challenge (Writing Prompts to Get Started)
Here’s a fun & simple 30-day journal challenge for beginners (or those who need inspiration). Use the daily prompts to rediscover yourself.

Sign up for the Let the Verse Flow Newsletter and get access to all my articles, including this free 30-Day Journal challenge (with starter writing prompts).

Journaling 101: An Inspirational Guide to Start (or Revive) a Practice
Whether you write, doodle, draw, or keep memorable quotes, journaling uncovers YOU. Let your unconscious mind speak, download my free guide.

Sign up for the Let the Verse Flow Newsletter and get access to all my articles, including this free journaling guide.


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