Her perfect brown curls were shining in the sun and her eyes were full of joy as her long narrow toes massaged the supple green grass. I remember looking up at her and thinking this has to be the wisest, most beautiful, and loving woman on the planet. We had a special connection to one another and to nature. I looked up to her like no other, and I still do today.
Most of the stories I tell are about how I didn’t fall in love with the great outdoors until much later in life. And while all of these stories are true, there’s a prequel I’ve never mentioned. I didn’t make this connection until recently though. So let’s get caught up on the rest of the story.
I spent most of the early years of my life with my grandparents. And much of that time was spent attached at the hip with my grandmother Berdie. She was an angel. Not only did she love and take care of me, but she also shared her true authentic self and passion for life with me.
She comforted me when I was sick and played the piano and sang to me when I was sad. She let me help in the kitchen and didn’t seem to mind that I followed her around like a tail. But the memories that stand out most to me today are of her remarkable connection to nature.
She was a wizard with plants and knew everything about nature and the world outdoors. “Listen, do you hear that buzzing?” she asked. “Those are cicadas.” She then proceeded to find one and tell me everything she knew about this strange-looking bug. She was my hero and I wanted nothing more than to be just like her.
I eventually moved away with my biological family and I saw less and less of my grandmother. When I was in high school, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and that’s when our earthly connection began to dissolve. I wish I could have known her as an adult—to be able to ask her questions, and thank her for everything that she gave me to become the person I am today.
Like many people, my young adult life was primarily focused on trying to fit in. I would have done just about anything to get people to like me and feel like I belonged. During those years, I had no time to make friends with cardinals and run barefoot in the grass as I did with Grandma Berdie when I was a young girl.
This desire to feel like I belonged continued well into adulthood. And if I’m being entirely honest, I still struggle with this occasionally. Thankfully, though, I was able to move past most of that and got reacquainted with the great outdoors around the age of 30. This is where many of the stories I tell begin.
So much has happened since I rediscovered my love for the great outdoors. Nature has changed my life in countless wonderful and unexpected ways. I wrote about the courage and confidence I gained in my previous post. So today I want to tell you about fostering connection in nature.
Finding connection in nature
Let’s start by defining what I mean by connection. Connection is the state of being joined to something else. As it pertains to this article, nature has helped me build connections in four specific areas: connection to myself, others, the natural world, and spirituality.
Connection to yourself
I wrote a brief paragraph about finding connection with myself on my About Holly page. I’ll write more about that someday soon, but for now, here’s a recap.
A couple of years ago, I was reflecting on how I didn’t want a camping trip to end. That got me wondering, what’s so different when I’m alone in the outdoors versus back in my everyday life. I mean, my home life was the best it’s ever been, and still, I was dreading going back to it.
I realized that I felt different when I was alone in the outdoors. And what I was specifically feeling was freedom. I was free to be myself because there was no one else around to try and prove myself to. That was a wake-up call that changed the direction of many aspects of my life.
When we disconnect from the matrix (the system, the rules, and technology) and step out into the real natural world something amazing happens. Whether we’re alone, or with friends and loved ones, we feel lighter and free. There’s no need to perform, and with the monotony of daily life stripped away, we’re able to connect to who we truly are and what we most value.
Connection with others
Years ago, I listened to a podcast with a female entrepreneur who insists that all of her meetings happen outdoors while walking. I was intrigued by this idea, and when I had the opportunity, I invited friends for a hike instead of a beer, coffee, or lunch.
I noticed differences in these conversations almost immediately. Walking side by side seemed to encourage people to open up more freely. Having to pay attention to the trail allowed for silence, pauses, and the opportunity for more introverted people to share their ideas. And of course, the exercise, fresh air, and human connection are always invigorating.
These conversations changed me as well. I slowly allowed myself to be more authentic and vulnerable. And that vulnerability allowed others to feel more comfortable opening up as well. This one small step has had a remarkable ripple effect on the people and the world around me.
Connection with nature
Everyone I’ve ever met feels better when they go outside. It seems pretty straightforward then, that if it makes us feel better, we should do more of it. But that goes against everything society tells us about being “productive” and “successful,” so we’ve funded countless studies to prove it.
Here are some of the ways connecting to nature could help you. Time in nature has been shown to have a positive effect on psychological well-being. In Japan, it is widely believed that phytoncides inhaled during nature walks improve immune function, and have other benefits. Spending time in green spaces promotes cognitive development; improving memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility. In addition, a 2012 study showed that after a four-day backpacking trip, hikers had more creativity and problem-solving skills. And I don’t need to quote a study to convince you of the obvious—that getting outside and moving your body is great for your physical health.
Connection to something bigger
I’m sure we’ve all heard the advice to not discuss religion, politics, and money. I’ve heard this throughout my life and I tend to disagree. To prove it, I wrote an entire section of articles about money that you can find here.
I wonder how we’re supposed to learn and grow into our best selves if certain topics are forbidden. Perhaps this advice is part of the reason there’s such a heartbreaking lack of respect today for those with whom we disagree.
Since I’ve already said all the uncomfortable things about money, let’s move along to religion. Or perhaps I’ll save that for another day and touch on something bigger—spirituality.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality is difficult to put into words, but let me try. I see it as a belief in something bigger than our own individuality. It’s the idea—whether from science, religion, or philosophy—that we are all inextricably connected to one another and to all of the universe. We’re made from the same matter and when we leave this life, that matter will become something else. Or to put it another way, we came from the earth, and to the earth, we will return.
We are nature.
There is no better way to connect to something bigger than getting out in nature. Stand in awe of the earth’s unfathomable power at the top of a mountain. Watch a volcano simultaneously destroy and create before your eyes. Marvel as the sun slowly rises over the ocean, casting out more colors than have been identified by man. Then stare up into the infinite universe and express thanks that you get the honor of experiencing this miracle called life.
Why we need connection in nature
Over the last decade, I’ve made a concerted effort to set boundaries with news and social media. I realized that the news and social media interactions I was having were causing me to see the world around me more negatively. As I did some digging, I found confirmation of my experience from happiness expert, Shawn Achor. In his research, he found that just “three minutes of negative news in the morning increased the likelihood of feeling unhappy six to eight hours later.”
Then came the 2020s. The coronavirus, police brutality, social divisiveness, corporate greed, censorship, and political corruption triggered fears that forced me to start paying attention again. That was until I began to realize what this increased consumption of media was doing to me. It didn’t take long before I was cleaning up my inbox and social media feeds.
I started paying attention to what I gave my attention to and I was reminded of what I learned the first time I did a news and social media fast. There are so many more important things in life than what’s going on in our culture and politics. It’s often necessary to stay awake to these things. But no matter how disconnected I am, I always hear about anything I need to know. It’s possible to stay tuned in without the constant triggers used by the media and tech companies to steal our attention and trigger emotional unease.
When I made my most recent media break, I made a list of the things I really care about and want to do more of. I detailed how I wanted to step out of the matrix and into real life by focusing on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I wrote about how I longed to get outside daily and spend more time connecting with friends and my spouse. I detailed how I care about learning, growing, and serving others. And I want to do things that fill my life with meaning and purpose, so I can enjoy life today and in the future—hopefully, leaving things better than I found them.
In a few short months, I felt like a different person and was able to focus my energy on making things better in any small way I can. I’m still aware of what goes on in the world around me, but it doesn’t fill me with constant anxiety. And all it took was the courage to step out of the matrix and into real-life—connecting with other people, myself, nature, and spirituality.
How to find connection in nature
Change is a funny thing. We love stories about how the underdog realized something wasn’t working and then turned everything around, seemingly overnight. But that’s never how it really goes. Every major change or realization is a process built upon our lifetime of experiences and unique wiring.
When I think about my own journey to finding connection in nature, I might say that it all came together during my first solo backpacking trip. But that was certainly built off of my first solo camping trip. That of course wouldn’t have been possible without our first tent camping trip. Which was connected to our goal to create financial freedom. And before that, we knew that we wanted to build a life where we could spend more time outdoors when we got married in Hawaii almost 20 years ago. Which likely triggered memories from my earliest years of catching butterflies while barefoot in the grass with my grandma Berdie.
I’m sure your story of finding connection to nature has its own wonderful memories and details. We are all at different points on our unique journeys. So to say that there’s a step-by-step path to get there sounds absurd to me.
Looking back at my journey, no matter what I was trying to accomplish, I’ve always had success taking baby steps. Whether it was my health, finances, relationships, or my connection to nature, it all came together one small step at a time. And it’s continuously changing, growing, and developing. That’s the beautiful and amazing reality of this thing called life.
I recommend you begin by picking one small thing—maybe one of the areas of connection I covered in this article. Where would you like to feel more connection? To yourself, others, the earth, or something bigger?
Next, decide on one small habit that you can do daily, in as little as five minutes. Maybe you want to nurture your connection to others so you set a goal to touch base with someone daily and schedule a weekly walk or happy hour in the park.
Once you set your small goal, hold yourself accountable and actually do it. As your goal becomes a habit, start thinking about what you’d like to incorporate next. Before you know it, you’ll feel more connection to your true nature and everything else that matters to you.
The last couple of years have been challenging for all of us. The beauty of our lives though, is that we get to choose how we respond. We can continue to participate in the system, the media, and big tech—or we can put down our devices, and step out of the matrix and into real life. No matter what anyone tells us, we get to decide how we spend our free time. And I am choosing to let go of expectations and “supposed to’s” and start building connection, friendships, and community in nature.
What will you choose?
If you’re local to Minnesota and would like to connect with the community I am building, sign up to be notified about upcoming guided hikes and events here. I’d love to meet you in real life and learn about your connection to nature and the outdoors. And if you’re not local, why not start your own community?