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Nature, Spirituality and Healing

Dr. Jean M. Larson - University of Minnesota Assistant Professor, Center for Spirituality and Healing, Manager, Nature-Based Therapeutic Services

There is a depth of mystery in the natural world. Nature-Based Therapeutics (including but not limited to: therapeutic horticulture, horticultural therapy, restorative environments, therapeutic landscapes and healing gardens) invites us into natures mystery. Cultivating our innate connection to nature, the biophilia partnership (Wilson, 1984), offers a glimpse of something extraordinary, a journey into the realm of the sacred. I often hear from clients, students, staff and others about the experience of something deeply spiritual when immersed in nature and all of its beauty. Some experience an awareness of how limited our grasp of nature is when taken in all its vast complexity. Others have said how being in nature becomes too big to comprehend and the enormity of this feeling over time inspires a kind of trust-fall (faith) that something other created such a world. It is these seeming immeasurable phenomenon that are at the heart of the Nature-Based Therapeutic experience - what Ive come to know over the years as the inexplicable transformational power of spirituality and healing when partnering with nature. So what is spirituality? There are many denitions representing a range of worldviews. Across most denitions interconnectedness with others and an attempt to understand the meaning and purpose of life are common themes. Puchalski et. al, (2009) dene spirituality as, the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature and to the signicant or sacred. As a therapist, one of my primary goals is to bring people into the signicant or sacred on a daily basis. It is astonishing to witness the healing and transformative power of nature. Experiences in nature become the fuel for insight, help people to embrace their journey of self discovery, marvel at the mystery of creation and seek a place therein. Nature can open the door to our innate intelligence, awaken the sacred within, and help us to see that everything is connected with a shared purpose, rhythm and balance. Derezotes (2006) writes that the most basic expression of spirituality is loving kindness toward ones self, other people,

other living things, and the ecosystems that support all life (p.3). For those of us given the privilege to encourage spiritual connections with nature, there is a beautiful intimacy in the exchange. The following quotes are a small sample collected over many years from clients, students, staff and others:
n n n Being in nature is transformative for the students I see such differences in the students. They are more relaxed, have more positive feelings, are more kind to one another, are learning teamwork and have gained self-condence One of the students was in crisis and could not calm herself. She was sobbing and could not catch her breath. We brought her into the greenhouse to try to talk to her. The student started to relax immediately even told her teacher she was calming down being with the plants. She said the plants were smiling because she was feeling better. I started out feeling scared and thinking everything was my fault. I didnt want to talk about anything or let anyone in. I dont know what it is about being in nature, but something inside of me just let go, and I started to share some difcult things in my life. I not only trusted others but I also started to trust myself. Now, I am ready to move forward and see what is going to happen next.

n Nature is my teacher. Being in nature has reopened the doors to my heart and soul; nature has reawakened my sense of kindred connection to life I felt as a child n I never thought I could love as much as I can right now. I use to withdraw emotionally from friends, family. But what I found from being in nature is how I cant really reject anyone else without rejecting myself we are all interconnected. I see now it is just as important to love others as I love myself. Nature has taught me that turning away from love accomplishes nothing because we are all connected, whatever we do to others ultimately affects our own well-being.

n My love of living things was reignited and now I have been able to recreate a sense of wonder and awe that has led to my personal spiritual awareness

The healing power of nature can change lives and inspire spiritual awakening. Our endeavors to create the conditions for this transformational power are what Nature-Based Therapeutics is designed to do. The benets to clients, students and all who are touched by the mystery serve our mission of improving the wellbeing of the planet and all living things. References Derezotes, D. S. (2006). Spiritually oriented social work practice. Boston: Pearson Education. Puchalski, C., Ferrell, B., Virani, R., Otis-Green, S., Baird, P. Bull, J., Chochinov, H., Handzo, G., Nelson-Becker, H., Prince-Paul, M., Pugliese, K., & Sulmasy, D. (2009). Improving the quality of spiritual care as a dimension of palliative care: The report of the consensus conference. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 12 (10), 885-904 Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.