Now that summer has arrived, like many I have been spending more time outdoors. Research shows that simply spending more time outdoors is associated with extensive benefits, from improved mood, empathy, and attention, to lower stress (Nurtured by nature (apa.org)). In contemplating the importance of being in nature, as a therapist I have been reflecting on how nature itself—from canyons, rivers, and mountains to insects, animals, flowers, and the four seasons—is filled with endless metaphors that we can apply to our lives and the way we view problems, challenges, and what it means to be human.
Here are 5 quotes about ways that nature mirrors life in inspiring and surprising ways:
“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson
I find this quote is by Neil deGrasse Tyson is best met with a pause to really let his words sink in. We are literally stardust. To me, this quote speaks of belonging and how each of us may feel very separate, but we are connected even at the most fundamental level. You, just like anyone else, are connected to every living being and inanimate thing on Earth and in the universe. This quote also reminds me that it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae and forget how improbable our existence is, and what a miracle it is to be alive.
“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” –Alice Walker
The bends, contortions, and weirdness in nature mirror how we can never be perfect ourselves. And yet that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. It is often these very imperfections that make nature so beautiful because they signal strength, adaptation, and perseverance to unique circumstances. For example, some trees grow sideways to best reach sunlight, and others grow crooked branches for stability against the wind (Why do tree branches grow like that? | Earth | HYPERLINK “https://earthsky.org/earth/tree-branch-growth-direction”EarthSky). Each tree has adapted to its particular challenges in exactly the way it needed to in order to survive, which gives us the amazing diversity we see in nature. Just like the tree, your unique quirks and “contortions” make you who you are: another diverse and valuable member of humanity.
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” —Rachel Carson
This quote is a reminder that even in the darkest and coldest of times, there is hope. Our lives have ups and downs, just like the days and the seasons. Even when it seems like the dark will never end, the sun rises again in the morning. The rebirth of plants in the spring also reminds us that we are resilient and have the power to keep going. The tree that loses its leaves in the winter is still living, but just dormant. Its leaves will grow again, and flowers will bloom. This is a powerful cue that you can get through hard times, and that many problems you are facing today are impermanent and always changing.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” —Robert Louis Stevenson
Many people measure their self-worth based on the “harvest reaped,” or the outcomes they are currently seeing in their lives. The problem with this is that it places your self-worth outside of yourself rather than it being an unchangeable and innate part of you. Harvest time also doesn’t come around every day, but is based on repeated seeds being planted, watered, and bathed in sunlight. In other words, every small step taken toward your goals counts because together they add up to huge outcomes. If you find yourself overwhelmed by how far you need to go, remember that small steps taken consistently will get you to the harvest.
“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” —Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Awhile ago I traveled to Utah and Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and other national parks. The canyons there are almost unfathomable to the human mind, created after millions of years from a combination of the impact of moving rivers, weathering, erosion, and tectonic activity (canyon | National Geographic Society.). The beauty of these canyons was incredible, but as this quote suggests, would never have been possible if it was shielded from these influences. One thing I’ve learned from my clients as a therapist is that often some of the greatest beauty within a person is created through struggle. As humans, being metaphorically “carved” into canyons is inevitable. Not only can we not shield ourselves from it, but in some ways the struggle is what unites us as humans. It can at times push us to be more empathetic toward others, more self-aware, more grateful, better able to handle future difficulties, and to be better versions of ourselves. This does not mean that we would ever wish to revisit those hard times, but that in some way they can bring useful life lessons or positive benefits. It is important to love the gorges and canyons within yourself, for they are a part of your story.
Next time you hear the chirps of birds on a walk in the forest, feel the soft and blazing sand beneath your feet, or see the vibrant oranges and purples of a sunset on a drive home, I challenge you to meditate on what nature means to you. What feelings does it bring up for you? Can you identify any other metaphors that nature can teach you? While the above quotes may not apply to every situation in life, which ones resonated with you most and why? Nature has so much to offer; keep exploring, be mindful of any sensations that come up for you, and remember to savor those moments!