Living in an urban metropolis it can seem almost impossible to connect to nature. For many people going to a natural area may be inconvenient or inaccessible due to distance or financial limitations. Sometimes it’s difficult to truly find a bit of peace and quiet among trees, grass, and wildlife when you are in the middle of the city. It’s challenging to tune out society and stress when you are constantly reminded of it. In my backyard I hear constant traffic from a busy road a short distance away, the air conditioning unit running, planes flying over, dogs barking, muffled voices of the neighbors, and other human caused racket making it difficult to try and connect with nature. But then I take a deep breath and really start to listen...
1. Connecting by Using the Breath
Do a quick two-minute breathing exercise to tune into the space around you and quiet your thoughts.
Begin by taking three deep breaths using your diaphragm and belly. So instead of breathing with your chest breath with your midsection.
After three breaths, close your eyes and take twenty more large breaths. As you do this, notice the feeling of air rushing through your nostrils, past the back of your tongue, and into your throat; making your throat feel a little dry. Notice the muscles that are contracting to move air in and out of your body. Although you are breathing with your belly, your chest is still contracting a little and maybe your lower neck feels like it’s assisting as well. Notice your back muscles contract and release and realize that your entire body is moving ever so slightly each time you inhale and exhale.
Return your breathing to normal for ten more breaths then gently open your eyes.
Remember as you are doing this that you are nature! We are creatures molded from the earth and we share nothing but similarities with all living and non-living things on this planet. The calcium and iron in the rocks run through our veins, the keratin of our hair and nails creates many things such as pronghorn antlers, bird feathers, and reptile scales, and the water we consume once passed through dinosaurs. We are nature in past, present, and future.
2. Connecting to Nature by Ear
Start with number one and when you get to the point where you are breathing normally, keep your eyes closed and begin to count everything you hear, including all of the man-made sounds.
Occasionally when I am in my backyard I am treated to the squawking of a Cooper’s Hawk or a Raven, the swishing of air passing over birds wings that are flying around, squirrels chasing each other in the cottonwood trees, wind rustling through leaves or grasses, or the buzzing of bees in the flower shrubs. Once you refine your focus to what is in your immediate space using your senses, you really notice that within the chaos of human activity, nature still thrives.
After a couple minutes of noticing and counting, open your eyes and see if you can investigate any of the sounds you heard. Locate the bird squawking or the squirrels playing. Then simply observe for as long as you’d like.
3. Connecting to Nature by Scent and Feeling
Start with number one and when you get to the point where you are breathing normally, keep your eyes closed and begin to count everything you feel against your skin.
Most times I notice the points on my skin where I can feel sunlight. More warmth may be present on my left cheek than the right, or on my left forearm more than my right, etc. Pay attention to the breeze, if there is one, which direction it’s blowing and where on your body you can feel it most. Notice the ambient temperature, try to guess it in degrees. Take note of where on your body you can feel your clothes against your skin.
Next, can you smell anything? Maybe the plants around you, exhaust from the nearby streets, or someone barbequing. With the manmade scents try to think about their original existence. Exhaust is produced by oil which is millions of years of decomposed wildlife. Try to bring things back to their original natural state to make the connection that literally everything is nature.
After a few minutes of noticing, open your eyes and contemplate the things that you noticed for as long as you’d like. 4. Connecting to Nature with Writing
Find a comfortable place to write in your yard, park, or nearby greenspace. Write down everything you notice using all your senses. What do you see, smell, feel, hear, and taste (if you’re feeling bold). Write down all the colors you see and the events taking place in front of you. Maybe there are insects foraging or a mother walking her baby in a stroller. Write down everything you perceive in that place at that time. Ask questions and contemplate about those things. Let’s say there is a squirrel in a tree close-by making calls. Why would it be making such a ruckus? Have fun with your contemplations. Maybe that squirrel just had his stash of nuts stolen and it’s out for revenge. From here you can start to write a story if you feel like doing so.
If you would like to go further here are a few writing prompts you can use:
An elderly woman with no remaining living family sits on her porch and watches a mother fox raise her young over the summer.
A couple that live in a large urban area badly affected by COVID-19 who have both lost their jobs decide to escape by going camping in the Rocky Mountains for a week.
In the spot you chose to sit and write, observe your feelings and describe the emotions that come to mind. Contemplate why this spot may have brought on those emotions.
The biggest take away from this is that you don’t need to be in a vast mountainous valley or on a ship in the ocean to feel a connection with the natural world. Nature is all around us even in the most urban places.