Back to Nature

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We live in a world full of stressors, attention grabbers, busyness and distractions. Between work and family, many of us are pulled in so many directions that we aren’t able to think straight. And science is proving that when we are in stress mode we don’t think, we react. We do what we’ve done before. Not because that’s the best way of doing it, or even if it didn’t work the last time. We do it, we react, because that is what we know. We are in a state of self preservation.

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When we are living in a state of constant stress, our brain goes into that automatic mode. The amygdala, one part of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic side of it, the often called ‘reptilian’ brain takes over. This is the ‘fight or flight’ part of brain where numerous chemicals flood the system and cause us to jump into action. The other half of the system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ brings our bodies into a balanced state of calm and increases our use of the prefrontal cortex of our brain. Both of these sections of our brain have been with us and have preserved us since slithered out of the primordial ooze onto land, telling us when to run and when to relax. If we are stressed for long periods of time, as many of us are today, it’s our reactive reptilian brain that we are using.

There aren’t lions chasing us anymore. But the brain doesn’t recognize the different stress levels between a chasing lion and a deadline. Our nervous system tells our heart has to pump faster, that adrenalin and other hormones need to be secreted, that we breathe faster and all of this makes us more reactive. We say there’s so much going on that we can’t think straight, and that’s true because, according to our brain, that lion is going to get us and we have to keep going. The constant stress taxes our energy, our spirit and our body.

Did you know that studies have proven that people in hospitals who have a window in their room looking out into nature heal quicker than those without a window or one facing a wall? Did you know that a plant in their room or even a photograph of nature will speed recovery? Did you know that science has proven that walking in nature reduces the levels of adrenalin and cortisol, the hormones of the amygdala in the bloodstream? Did you know that the scent of cypress and sandalwood also help to calm us and bring us into a rational state? Nature heals.

Nature heals us in so many ways. This is not just your mother telling you to go outside for a walk to calm down. It’s nature at work. This is stopping to smell the flowers because it really does help with stress and other emotional responses. I confess that I thought that ‘aroma therapy’ was a little too new age for me, but the science is proving it to be valid. There is good reason to walk the dog in a park or practice yoga in the forest or meditation by the sea. Nature heals our minds, bodies and spirits. Nature pulls us into the calmness of the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps us live and respond to life in ways that are new and fresh to us.

The first civilizations developed about 5,000 years ago. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a few moments in our evolutionary history. We are only a few generations from when 80% of us lived in rural settings. We came from nature and we were surrounded by nature all the time. And if we are to thrive, we need to return to nature. There’s a reason why we gravitate to the mountains or the beach when we’re on vacation. There’s a reason why gardening is the number one hobby in America. We need to get outside in nature and soak it in.

I am grateful that I live on a small plot of land that is surrounded by tall trees and is bordered by a creek and where birds and butterflies pass all year round. But even if you live surrounded by city, there is always a tree nearby. Walk to a park, soak in the sunlight or moonlight. You can always have a few plants in your room. Even the soap scent you choose can help to keep a sense of calm. And we all need that, in our hearts, minds and bodies. We need nature to thrive.

Read about your connections to nature and other ways to thrive in: Brain Wash, by David Perlmutter MD and Austin Perlmutter MD. Getting back to nature is but one of its many suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.

A Forever Change

I receive daily emails from several sources that focus on self development, further education and spiritual growth. Some I read religiously. Others I only check out if the excerpt sounds interesting. Many titles begin with promises of renewal and change. Others list a certain number of steps or items for success in whatever they are promising, should you follow them. I know that there are many ways of changing one’s self to achieve greater success and achievement in as many aspects of our lives. But I feel that many of these articles fail in mentioning one important point: in order to take on a “better version of yourself”, you must also be willing to let go of the old version.

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Most of us lead very busy and full lives. We’re working, looking after our children and families, doing household chores, all of which keep us alive, though not always living a life we would like to live. It’s easy to fall under the spell of ‘Three Ways to Simplify Your Day’, or ‘Finding Peace and Contentment in the Fury’. We pick and choose what is offered and try some of these suggestions in our lives. However, a month or so later we’re back doing things the old way because these suggestions just wouldn’t work in our lives. Or so we think.

I have learned over the past years that if I wish to move forward in my life, I have to let go of the old: there just isn’t room for the newer version of ‘Tim’ if the old one is still around. It’s easy to say but not easy to do. You see, I kind of like the old version. I am used to it. I know how I react to things. I know that it takes time to get used to new stuff but I am too entrenched in the old self to really give the 2.0 version of me a chance. As a result I tell myself that this ‘didn’t work’, or it’s ‘not for me.’ But that’s not really true. It like I am trying to implement a new operation system in my computer while still running the old software: it won’t work.

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What does work for me is letting go of the old, trusting in the process of change. I stop trying to put great expectations on the results and just enjoy the journey. When I first got into recovery everything was new, enticing and also overwhelming. I learned that I had to look at myself differently, as a person in recovery. I had to let go of my former version for the newer one in, get used to it, live with it and get comfortable with it. Hanging around in a bar with my old drinking buddies would not have kept me on the straight and narrow. I had to let go of the me I knew to make room for a new me that was emerging. Putting your dirty clothes back on after taking a shower, you’re still going to smell. Recovery wouldn’t work if I was holding onto my old self while trying get comfortable in my new skin. And I had to trust that the process I was going through would work for me as it had for literally millions of other folks, but only if I gave it an honest chance. And to do that, I had to say good-bye to the ‘me’ I was, and welcome the new whoever that might be.

Change is only possible when we make room for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small thing such as changing your bedtime, or a life shifting change in profession. We have to let go. We must let go. Otherwise we are bound to fail. Ensure a successful transition to the newest version of ‘You’! Move forward and leave the old behind. Say good-bye to who you were to make a ‘forever’ change.

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Slip, Slide or Thrive

I came to a realization this past week: I’ve let go of many of the things that keep my life stable, balanced and smooth. I’d let go of the things that keep me physically, mentally and spiritually sound.

It’s sort of like when you stop looking after your car. You don’t bother with an oil change. You put water into the radiator instead of coolant. Those filters really don’t need to be changed, they’re fine for now. The brakes squeak a bit, but they still work. The effects of not maintaining the car usually aren’t sudden. Maybe it takes a few more cranks to start the car than before, or braking time is lengthened. Perhaps the exhaust contains more hydrocarbons than before, but I wouldn’t know about that because, well, it a slow process and I’m not aware of it. One day, the car fails to start, or stop, because maintenance, regular maintenance, is necessary to it’s function.

For me, it started about seven or eight months ago. I came back from a short vacation and the friend I always went to the gym with decided he was too busy to go and so I stopped going too. There was always next week. Then, somewhere along the line, I stopped getting up earlier and meditating because I thought I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I stopped reading enlightening and educational material and focused more on Netflix and YouTube for my entertainment. I stopped blogging and I let go of journaling.

I visited my family for the month of December, knowing that I would have plenty of time to get back to, at least, meditation and reading, but somehow I let myself be distracted by social media, the news and spider solitaire. I did buy a new book for journaling, but no words were written into it. I also let my eating habits include loads of sugar because, well, I’m spending Christmas with the family for the first time in 20 years.

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When I returned home in January my clothes weren’t fitting as well as they used to. I made the effort to go to the gym and committed myself to a minimum of three workouts a week. In fits and stops I have started a morning meditation, I’ve done some journaling and I am working on getting back to a comfortable sleep pattern. I am nowhere near being back to what was my ‘normal’ way of life, but I am working on it, and it’s getting better.

A human has three very important facets in its being: physical, mental and spiritual. All of these function together whether we realize it or not. Letting one facet get out of balance affects the others and though these effects are subtle, like the car that isn’t maintained, they happen none the less, resulting in a slow spiral downward. For me, my moods became darker, my emotions more volatile and my motivation pretty much got up and walked out the door.

Photo by cottonbro

I am grateful that I didn’t go further down the dark path I was starting to get used to. I know that it is the work that I have done on those three important facets of my life in the past that reminded me that my life didn’t have to be this way. Personal maintenance my not always be easy, it takes a lot of self discipline to do the work in the gym and diet, to commit to a daily writing, meditation and educational practice, but I know that it is the difference between just existing and really thriving in life.

Physical, mental and spiritual health are not separate. They work together. It’s my choice whether or not to commit to the practices that are best for me. I know which I prefer. I know how I wish to feel about my body, my mind and my soul. I’m working my way back onto the pathway I wish to trudge in this life.