COLUMN: Nature can help us all to learn a great deal about our relationships

Cathal O'Reilly's Mental Health Matters column

Cathal O'Reilly

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Cathal O'Reilly

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The way we experience the world and the problems in our lives is a reflection on what is going on internally. This is particularly the case with our relationships however nature can often expose or uncover much of what we are feeling within.

For example, if you look at a beautiful landscape and do not feel anything it may be because there is an emptiness that exists within. Regardless of your awareness, the beauty of the tree will always exist.

Equally, if you look at the tree and its texture and colours and you are overcome with joy and happiness it is because joy and happiness is what you feel within.

It may also evoke the potential you have to feel joy and happiness and feel those emotions more often.

If you look at nature and you see it as a disgusting or a horrible thing, it may be that it there is a part of yourself that you are rejecting – possibly a negative association with your experience with nature or some part of yourself you are rejecting.

Nature is part of us whether we like it or not.

We all come from the same life source and some of us live longer than others but ultimately, we are all connected in terms of energy source.

One of the miracles of nature is that even in the most tumultuous times of our lives, it can bring a great sense of peace within, which is another example the connection we feel to the wilderness, a mountain or lake.

People express this in different ways. One person might say “There is a really powerful energy in this place” or some may not have words to even describe what they feel in their favourite place of nature but know there is something outside our vocabulary and there is a magic about it.

This place may bring emotion to the surface that may have been otherwise suppressed. When our minds are too busy, nature also has the power to make our thought process to go into overdrive due to its overwhelming beauty and vastness.

For example, a forest, one person may feel enclosed whereas another person may feel a sense of freedom. Hence why we are selective with what type of nature we spend time in depending on our mindset or how we feel.

For example if you are feeling trapped, than an open space like a walk on the beach will be beneficial whereas if you want to connect with textures and smells, the forest may help you more in terms of grounding yourself and getting present.

Nature can also help us learn a great deal about our relationships. This can be our relationships with people or even the attachments we afford to certain things in our lives – even addictions.

The feelings that are brought to the surface in some relationships, for example, a relationship that makes you uncomfortable – nature can bring about the same feelings.

Stop and notice the next time the same feeling comes up for you that is uncomfortable. What is really causing the unpleasantness?

It is your home environment? Is it something that is conflicting with your value systems? Or is it that you have some unresolved issues that may be worth looking at? Nature does not offend us like people do yet it manages to bring up the same uncomfortable feelings.

However, if you are blessed and feel the warmth and beauty of the belongingness of nature that you also feel with your loved ones than this is also worth noticing.

It is worth practicing gratitude around this bliss of this really as it is the beauty and miracle of life.

The feeling of belonging, the feeling of warmth, of love, of being protected and supported. The same way we try to look after our children.

Nature can even help you unravel difficulty you may be facing as you observe its life cycle. Trees lose their leaves and then get ready to grow again.

The same should be for our problems in life. While we it would be untrue to say we can completely get rid of our problems, we should afford them a life cycle and put them in their place. Deal with them as they present themselves.

Eventually, no matter how bad a problem is, it will die away, like the leaves and new problems arise, using the leaf as a metaphor.

Equally, opportunities in our lives, although they may pass, they will grow and present themselves again. So, do not linger over a missed opportunity. Another one may be around the corner.

We should also nurture our relationships the same way water and tend to our garden.

Using weeds as a metaphor for communication and problems that arise, we can to pick out the weeds the same way we need to address the elephant in the room that can sometimes make its way into our relationships and problems.

Another words, make sure you are constantly communicating about problems that arise, otherwise the garden will become overgrown.

Overgrown gardens also have beauty. There is a beauty in their imperfection. The same can be found in relationships.

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with weeds. The discipline a gardener takes in looking after his garden can also be applied to the necessity for communication in a relationship.

For all of this to work, awareness is needed. Only 10% of the population are aware. You can become more aware by listening to your breathing and becoming more aware of the rising and falling of the breath.

To fully appreciate the value of nature and relationships, we need to be aware. Without awareness, everything just gets lost in the abyss.

None of us are aware ALL of the time. It takes practice. Observe a child playing with their toys. Observe how unaware they are of everything else.

There is awareness in their unawareness in that they are fully engaged and present in the act of playing. As adults, we can practice awareness around our feelings as they come up, by noticing and labelling what is happening for us. The adult mind, from experience, has a better ability at practicing awareness. We can maintain a level of the child innocence whilst also practicing awareness.

For example, if you feel rage or anger. Instead of acting out which is what the feeling tells you to do, you sit with it, label it and become more aware.

The act of eating food is another time we are fully present. As an exercise, I would suggest thinking of the act of munching down your favourite food. You are unaware in your awareness but are still fully present. You are enjoying your food the same way the child is enjoying playing with their toys.

Again, nature can provide an almost precursor for how we may react in certain situations as it has the capacity to bring up feelings of anger and sadness.

These feelings are sometimes called negative feelings. There is no such thing as a negative feeling and to say that would be to completely to dismiss your experience in the world. They are very human reactions to very real situations.

However, if we can notice how we react to our environment on a given day and how it may trigger us it may act as a precursor to other problems. It allows us to resolve the internal issue, notice what is happening and then take the necessary steps through our learnt coping mechanisms to deal with the problem as it arises.

There is also the mystical that exists in nature or the unknown. The invisible that can sometimes bring us into a world of nostalgia through touch and smell.

Nature really a mystery. We can only speculate as to the meaning of life, the life cycle of what we call ‘trees’ and why we are so blessed to experience them in their fullness.

Nature is there for us to fully immerse ourselves in and experience. For some people it might be the nature of a beautiful island on a postcard on the fridge and for others it may be a three hour walk in the woods. There are no rules for how we experience nature.

This world is here for everyone to enjoy and experience in their own unique way and we all experience it differently.

A handy way of experiencing nature in a more aware and present way and hence more enjoyment, particularly if you are suffering from the busy mind is to practice walking in nature more slowly.

Step by step notice the ground beneath your feet and the feeling in your body as you take each step. This will allow for a mind body connection and allow you take in our surroundings more fully.

It is also sometimes referred to as ‘mindful waking’.

For some people, nature is something they can enjoy easily and for others it requires more of an effort. Whatever nature does for you, I hope it is a pleasant experience.