Spiritual Nature Healing on a personal level explores the role nature plays in fostering values, ethics, and transcendent experiences in life. Three areas of study converge to create the field: science, religion/spirituality, and environmental sustainability.
Empirical research suggests that closeness to nature is positively related to people’s sense of meaning in life and that meaning in turn boosts people’s wellbeing (Howell, Passmore, & Buro, 2012).
Natural or wild environments are also associated with higher levels of eudaimonia—serenity, awe, contemplation, empathy, aliveness and connectedness (Hinds & Sparks, 2011). These qualities are often reported in religious or spiritual experiences.
Human beings have been turning to nature to strengthen their character and uplift their spirits for eons. Indigenous cultures all over the world send their children into the wilderness alone to discover personal meaning within the larger context of nature. Many leaders of religious and spiritual traditions sought solitude in nature to experience the transcendent and bring new messages to humanity.
Organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Outward Bound, and Wilderness Expeditions employ outdoor experience to build character and team-building skills. Religious organizations sometimes offer outdoor education camps for children. In these settings, nature acts as educator, healer, philosophy instructor, counselor, and spiritual director all at once.
In the last twenty years, religions all over the world have become more engaged in environmental issues. Anthropomorphic views that focus on the transcendent experience between humans and God are being augmented by the recognition that all life is animated by spirit and plays a valuable role in the web of life.
Examples: Transcendent Experience with Nature; Interconnectedness/Oneness; Happiness and Meaning/Purpose in Life; Retreat Centers in Nature
The happiest person is one who learns from nature the lesson of worship.
Adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson
To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, An eternity in an hour.
Wilderness Experience. After months fruitlessly searching for a job after graduation, Sherry was losing confidence in herself. Seeing she was depressed, her parents gifted her with two weeks of wilderness training. Sherry returned a new person.
Of her experience, she said, “I learned the depth of my strength and how much I could accomplish. My courage surprised me…Being surrounded by nature reminded me to keep the Big Picture in mind not only during my wilderness experience, but also when I returned home. Life is in front of me and I have lots of options.”
Nature Healing and Awesome Stars. It was a lovely evening and our group decided to lay down on the grass at the top of a Charlson Meadows hill. Watching the awesome stars and planets was amazing. As we sat around the campfire afterwards, we spontaneously sang healing songs for each other. It continues to be a very profound moment, especially as I listen again to the recording for me.
Center for Spirituality in Nature
A center focused on how nature awakens and reconnects us to our spirituality is located in the Washington, DC area. They remind us, By reconnecting us with the wisdom of nature infused in our faith story, we reconnect with our deepest selves; we reconnect with the Creator and with the creation. Not near Washington, DC? Visit their website for suggested activities you can do wherever you are. Center for Spirituality in Nature
Mini Solo Quest. Prepare yourself for a mini solo quest by choosing a local park or wilderness area that attracts you. You will be gone for some hours or more, therefore, tell someone where you are going and roughly what you are doing. Lightly pack enough to drink and eat.
When you reach your chosen area, walk intentionally searching until someplace welcomes you to sit down. Using stones or sticks, create a circle and then sit anywhere within it knowing you’ll be there for a few hours at a minimum. While you’re inside the circle, watch everything that happens, allowing worries and daily preoccupations to dissolve away. Extend your presence into all that surrounds you and invite all that surrounds you into yourself.
At the end of your time, express gratitude to all that has shared this experience with you. Return anything you have moved to its original spot.
Afterwards, or at home later, record in a journal what you remember about your experience. Over the following years, visit your place in your imagination and strive to remember and apply what you have learned.
History of Religion and Nature. The Industrial Age sparked environmental concern in the United States fueled by the work of writers like Henry David Thoreau. Christian and other spiritual groups were frequently divided between those who felt humans were the divinely appointed masters of nature and those who believed that humans were one of many in a planetary community of life. Through the first 70 years of the 20th century, the basic struggle between these two camps ranged from variations on Christian concepts of ‘divine destiny’ and the exploration of ‘primitive Indigenous’ views of nature.
A 1967 article by historian Lynn White became the rallying point around the nature and religion debate. White wrote, “Since the roots of our [environmental troubles] are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.” Rachel Carson’s famous Silent Spring, which highlighted environmental concerns with religious undertones, was published five years earlier. This work and the interest of religious organizations lay a foundation for a local and eventually a worldwide environmental movement.
Nature’s Fosters Happiness. Zelenski and Nisbet addressed how connection with nature or nature relatedness predicts happiness in comparison to more general connections (e.g. with family, friends, community). They discovered that general connections do predict happiness well, yet nature relatedness is a unique predictor of happiness even after controlling for other connections. Other research suggests that these effects remain stable into old age.
Health, Nature, and Purpose. In a review of current research, the Health Council of the Netherlands (2004) found a relationship (1) between health and a sense of purpose and (2) between a sense of purpose and an experience of nature. This cascade suggests nature’s indirect role in fostering and supporting a sense of purpose in human beings.
Adams, C., ed. (2002). The Soul Unearthed: Celebrating Wilderness and Spiritual Renewal through Nature. Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications.
Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Center for Spirituality in Nature, Washington, DC
De Boer, L. (2011). An ethical way of being in the world. National Catholic Reporter; December 9 – 22, 3a – 5a.
Health Council of the Netherlands. (2004). Chapter 8: research into impact on personal development and sense of purpose. Nature and Health: The Influence of Nature on Social, Psychological, and Physical Well-Being.
Hinds & Sparks. (2011). The affective quality of human-natural environment relationships. Evolutionary Psychology; 9 (3)
Howell, Passmore, & Buro. (2012) Meaning in nature: meaning in life as a mediator of the relationship between nature and well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies; 13 (6)
Zelenski, John M., Nisget, Elizabeth K. (2014) Happiness and felling connected: the distinct role of nature relatedness; 46 (1) 3-23
White, Lynn, Jr. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science;155(3767), 1203-1207.