Growing up, I spent as many of my waking hours outdoors as possible. We didn’t have a TV until I was ten, and as much as this made for a tonne of resentment and frustration because ALL my friends had one, I now hold so much gratitude for it. I had the chance to develop the skill of never getting bored, ever. I would get ‘lost’ in the magical world of the woods or the vastness of the beach for hours on end. I developed the ability to create adventure with whatever landscape was at my fingertips, and this is still with me now. I grew a thick-skinned resilience that has enabled me to dive into the chilly British ocean and rivers and stay there as long as I can, at any opportunity I can find.
During my childhood, nature was the only place I felt safe. I was free to be me. At home I felt unseen, misheard and misunderstood. In nature I listened and was listened to. I watched and was seen. And, I always felt understood. It is only looking back now that I am beginning to understand what my love for the outdoors did for me during all those years, apart from just providing me with endless, wholesome, fun. I naturally gravitated towards the most vital resource in my coping with the trauma I was experiencing behind home’s doors.
This connection with the outdoors intertwined itself with my love for sports, which was also growing at the same time. An obsession with outdoor pursuits was born. Surfing, windsurfing, coasteering, sailing, snowboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, and slack-lining, have followed me around wherever there’s been the environment for it. But in 2008 I developed Chronic Fatigue and my intense levels of physical activity quickly dwindled to a tired slump. A deep fear set in about whether I would still experience this fun and adventure I so loved. I really miss paddling through the rapids of a river, or hurtling down a hillside on my bike, but this confusing and often crippling fatigue has never stopped me enjoying moments in nature. They have just changed a bit; and I have perfected the art of gentle adventure.
Not only does nature provide this wonderland and wealth of external resources, it is also an internal resource for me. When I walk through the woods, I don’t just walk. I focus my attention on my feet for a few minutes first. I let myself get grounded and as out of my head as is possible. And then I breathe. I breathe in the freshness of the wild air, the strength and wisdom of the trees, the delicateness and utter beauty of the flowers, the harmony that lies within the ecosystem around me, and the energy and freedom of the animals that I meet along the way. I breathe this Life into my body and let whatever emotional or physical symptoms I’m experiencing be replaced by this vitality instead.
Sometimes the break in my ‘stuff’ is only for a minute or two, or is seemingly broken and sporadic throughout the walk, but the calm and connectedness I experience afterwards always stays with me as the rest of my day unfolds. My anxiety levels and the feeling of disconnection in myself shoot upwards and my sense of belonging dwindles if I don’t get a chance to do this every day.
I am about to spend my first full summer in a city and despite how ‘green’ my city is, the thought still fills me with dread. But during the winter that has just passed, I made it my project to find every way possible to connect with nature despite living inside the city walls. Sure, it’s not the rolling hills or the wild beaches where I used to live, but it is just a different kind of beauty and a different kind of wild. It takes daily effort to connect but it definitely pays off.
And in some ways it is even cooler, because despite the hustle and bustle going on around me, there are always plenty of places the natural world is on display. I notice the bits of wild around me as I walk down the street or overlook the city from my bedroom window, and I let myself feel connected to the Earth. An offshoot of this is that I feel part of this place, as a whole – more so than if I wasn’t so consciously connecting.
This past year and a half I have begun to unravel my past, in order for it to heal. The grief and other emotional states that have hit have rocked my boat big time. The pain, the terror, the loneliness, the let down, the shame, and the overwhelm, is often so strong and runs so deep that I do not know how to turn to people when I feel this way. So instead, I turn to Mother Nature. I allow myself to share these states with her in the place I feel most safe. I sit for hours outside and let myself feel held and nurtured. By gently and carefully taking this fragility and vulnerability outside, I am gradually learning that it is safe to share this in other places, with other people.
My love for nature shows up in many other ways as well. The woods become my office. I take any phone calls or paperwork that feels overwhelming outside and it immediately feels do-able. When everything feels too much, I put on a surf film, snuggle up with my duvet and let myself get lost in the virtual screen of white water. When I feel like I’m losing my memory of my wild spark, I gaze over photographs of past adventures with friends and daydream of all the ones to come. I fill my room with plants. I have a study room full of seedlings for the allotment I share with friends. I go paddling in the nearby streams. I lie in bed at night and visualise myself being held by the Earth. I collect fallen leaves and stick them in my journal. When I desperately need a mom, I hug a tree. I sit on my favourite hill and write. I submerge myself in books about herbal medicine and the wisdom of the plants around us. I read articles about Ecopsychology, to understand the why and how a connection with nature helps us humans.
One day I know I will find myself living by the sea, the rivers, or the rolling hills again, but until then I hope this summer brings lots of gentle adventures with my wild friend.
By Amelia Rays