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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Finding Peace by Connecting with Nature

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

When you feel yourself part of nature,

You will live in harmony.

                                 (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 13)

 

 

Over 25 centuries ago, during the warring states period in ancient China, Lao Tzu found peace and renewed hope by connecting with nature. Walking in the woods and breathing the fresh mountain air, he gained greater peace of mind. Nature brought him lessons of resilience, perseverance, and hope. He learned about the strength of bamboo that bends with the wind so it doesn't break. In the sparkling waters of a mountain stream, he saw how water is gentle and nurturing yet with perseverance can cut through solid rock. In the changing seasons, he discovered the cycles of yin and yang, seeing how the darkness of winter leads to the light of another spring.

 

Research has confirmed what Lao-Tzu discovered so long ago: that connecting with nature can restore our peace of mind. Studies have shown that walking in a natural setting can relieve stress, anxiety and depression,  help us gain a more positive mood, worry less often, and think more clearly.[1]

 

Connecting with nature makes a major difference in my life. After dealing with a day of stressful demands and deadlines, I find relief just stepping outside. Walking through my neighborhood with my little dog Ginny or hiking in a local park, I feel part of the greater harmony of life. I find consolation in the garden, planting seeds, watching the new plants grow, and enjoying home grown tomatoes, green beans, roses, and gardenias. And at night, gazing up at the stars, I feel a sense of awe at the beauty and grandeur of the cosmos.

 

Take a moment now to strengthen your own connection with nature.

 

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep breath and slowly release it.
  • Now recall a time in your life when you felt a deep sense of peace and renewal in nature.
  • Were you looking out at the ocean, walking in the park, gardening, noticing a tree along the street, looking up at the clouds in the sky, or gazing at the stars at night? Something else?
  • What is one small step you can take this week to renew your connection with the natural world?
  • Keep that step in mind as you expand your awareness and open your heart to greater peace in the days ahead.  

 

 I wish you joy on the path.

 



[1] Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2016). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (7), 1436-1445; Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlip, I. H., Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 300-305; Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R.F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E, Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230; Bratman, G. N. , Hamilton, J. P., & Daily, G.C. (2012). The impacts of  nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1249, 118-136.

 

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Making Friends with Time

The Tao Te Ching tells us,

 

"The Tao person

Lives fully in every moment.

 

Hold to this timeless pattern

Throughout the time of your life,

Aware of the eternal cycles,

The essence of Tao."

                            (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 14)

 

Lately, instead of living "fully in every moment," I've been rushing from one thing to the next, feeling an underlying anxiety, a compulsive need to get things done, to clear the incessant chores from my life so I can relax and regain a sense of peace.

 

Does this sound familiar? Have you been caught up in incessant activity, an endless list of obligations that clutters your days and leaves you feeling exhausted?

 

This approach doesn't work. It's like a dog chasing its tail. We'll never find peace that way.

 

Years ago, when he came to America from India, meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran saw people frantically rushing about with what he called "the hurry sickness."[1] And he was right. Hurry puts our bodies in a stress reaction, which shuts down our immune system and our higher brain centers so we make foolish choices and can come down with a vast range of diseases and disorders.[2]

 

The hurry sickness has become a daily habit in industrialized countries. With the advent of computers, cell phones, and social media, many of us have been treating our bodies like machines.

 

We can break this destructive habit, regaining our peace of mind by making friends with time. When we find ourselves rushing, we can heal the hurry sickness by taking a slow deep breath and saying a mantram, a spiritual word or phrase that expands our perspective, reminding us that we are more than any current stressful situation.[3] Research at the San Diego, California Veterans' Center has even found mantram repetition significantly reduces painful flashbacks, bringing greater peace of mind to military veterans with PTSD.[4]

 

Do you have a spiritual word or phrase you can repeat to yourself to restore your peace of mind?

Here's one way to begin.

 

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a long deep breath and slowly release it.
  • As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, think of a comforting word or phrase from your own spiritual tradition.
  • Christians could repeat the name of "Jesus"
  • Catholics could say "Hail Mary" or "Ave Maria"
  • Jews could say "Barukh attah Adonai"
  • Muslims could say "Allah, Allah"
  • Buddhists could say "Om mani padme hum"
  • Many people who can't relate to a specific spiritual tradition have chosen Gandhi's mantram, "Rama," which means joy[5]

Whatever mantram you choose, begin to make it yours by repeating it when you're going about your daily tasks, washing dishes, taking a walk, waiting in line, or driving to work. Then it will be there for you when you need it.

 

My friend Carolyn used to commute on the busy Nimitz freeway from Oakland to teach at Santa Clara University. Whenever she felt anxious, stuck in traffic, she would tell herself, "I am on God's time."

 

In a larger sense, we are all on God's time, in this journey of our lives.

 

I wish you peace on the journey.

 

References



[1] Easwaran, E. (2008). Passage Meditation. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.

 
[2] Sapolsky, R. (2017). Behave. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

 
[3] Easwaran, E. (2008). Passage Meditation. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.

 
[4] Bormann, J. E., Hurst, S., & Kelly, A. (2013). Responses to mantram repetition program from veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: A qualitative analysis. JRRD, 50, 769-784.

 
[5] Easwaran, E. (2008). Passage Meditation. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press

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Restoring Our Hope by Reconnecting with Nature

In the past two years, research at the National Institutes of Health has reported a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety.[1] During the Covid pandemic, millions of us have lost our sense of stability and personal security. Struggling with confusion and hopelessness, we've been searching for greater peace of mind.

 

In  my book, The Tao of Inner Peace, I write about another time of stress and upheaval, 25 centuries ago during the warring states period in ancient China, when Lao Tzu found peace of mind by connecting with nature. Now, research has shown how connecting with nature can heal us in so many ways.

 

Researchers in a Philadelphia hospital found that abdominal surgery patients with a view of trees outside their windows suffered from fewer complications, needed less pain medication, and were discharged sooner than patients with the same surgery whose rooms looked out at only bare brick walls.[2] Research has shown that connecting with nature can help relieve anxiety and depression, renewing our hope by expanding our vision beyond ourselves.[3]

 

As we become more aware of the natural world, we develop a more expansive vision of life. We see that we are a vital part of nature's growth process. We can gain greater hope by realizing that our choices can positively shape our future, creating greater peace within and around us.

 

How can you renew your hope by connecting with nature today?

 

  • This can be as simple as standing up and looking out your window at the green world outside.
  • Or step outside, look up at the sky, take a long, deep breath and release it. Breathe out stress. Breathe in peace.
  • Spend some time in your garden or take a walk in a nearby park.
  • Play with your dog or cat
  • Or look up at the stars at night. As they sparkle overhead, become more aware that you're part of this magnificent cosmos we call home.

 

I invite you to take one step to reconnect with the natural world today. That step naturally leads to another for as the Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

"A tree that grows beyond your reach

Springs from a tiny seed.

A building over nine stories high

Begins with a handful of earth.

A journey of a thousand miles

Begins with a single step."

                           (Tao, chapter 64)

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

 

[1] Recent anxiety disorders statistics from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA): http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety and the National Institute of Mental Health,  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml. Information on depression and suicide rates in the United States from the National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml

 
[2] Ulrich, R. S. et al. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421.

 
[3] Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlip, I. H., Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 300-305; Howell, A. J., Dopko, R. L., Passmore, H.A., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 166-171; Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2016). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (7), 1436-1445; Ulrich, R. S.,Simons,R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M.A., 7 Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 2-10-230; Zhang, J. W., Howell, R. T., & Iyer, R. (2014). Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 55-63.

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