The weather is getting cooler here in Israel and the rainy season is about to begin. Most Israelis react to rain like Germans react to snow but I get excited. I can’t wait for it to rain! Rain brings growth, including green pastures and fields of flowers.
Each year Israel undergoes an incredible transformation as its green side begins to appear. There are many places that are simply breathtaking and worth visiting over and over. One of my favorite places is in the Lower Galilee. Nahal Tavor is a stream that originates in the hills of Nazareth and runs east and south of Mount Tavor. The stream then turns east and empties into the Jordan River between Gesher and the Belvoir Fortress. I had an opportunity to hike there earlier this year and I plan to return when the lupines and red poppies are in full bloom.
Nature has enchanted people for thousands of years, serving as the inspiration for countless poems, songs, and paintings. I too am captivated by it, and so nature is where I go to reconnect with and renew myself.
Exactly what happens to us when we connect with nature? Let’s take a closer look at what science tells us, and see why we may want to pay more attention to being outside.
Much research has been done over the last twenty years and all of it points in the same direction. Being in nature supports our social interactions, creativity, health and well-being, and probably much more. There are studies examining the impact of green spaces in urban environments on kids with ADHD, and one that found how looking at nature – even in the form of pictures – will calm our central nervous system and engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
Richard Boyatzis, a well-known authority in the field of social and emotional intelligence, explains that real change can only happen when the parasympathetic part of the brain is engaged. He says that this is “the one psycho-physiological state that enables us to rebuild and renew ourselves.”
When we combine studies on the brain with studies about nature, we can quickly understand why nature has such a big impact: it’s where we relax and unburden ourselves from the stressors of the day, and take in the beauty that is available to us. Nature doesn’t ask for anything, it is just there to be admired and interacted with on the inside. And it’s free to anyone who wants it.
Years ago, I had a chance to camp at the edge of the Grand Canyon at the Walhalla Overlook. As a child, I was obsessed with the Nibelungen Saga and of course very familiar with Walhalla. I remember sitting at the edge of the rim. I was filled with anger and upset. While I can’t remember what was going on, I do remember being stressed, looking for a way to release my negativity. Suddenly, as I pondered what to do with myself, it was as though the earth began speaking to me: “Let go, Barbara! Give us your negativity – we can deal with it! Unburden yourself. Be free.” I wasn’t sure whether or not I was hallucinating, but the voice – and that sense – was so strong, and eventually, I took the hint and let go.
I gathered a few stones and wrote one feeling on each. Then, with all my might, I threw one stone away as I told myself, “I am letting go, I am freeing myself.”
It didn’t take long to get totally into it. After about five minutes I began to feel lighter, which I took as encouragement to continue and get it all out. Indeed it took about 15-20 minutes, but it was an amazing exercise. Even though this happened nearly 25 years ago, I still remember how light I felt. I have since suggested this letting go exercise to my coaching clients.
When I introduce this exercise, I remind my clients that I understand how hard it is to change, but instead of focusing on the challenge, imagine how you’ll feel during and after the exercise. Focus on that which is easy and fun.
So what’s easy – and fun? Go out. Spend time in nature this week. Get away from the screen, leave your phone at home (or on silent), and rediscover the amazing gifts nature has to offer. And if you don’t want to do it alone, ask a friend, look for a group, or take your family along.
I recently began leading a series of thoughtful hikes in Israel, called Hiking with Intention. Several times a year I take different groups on an organized trip to explore their inner world as they enjoy the beauty around them. I guide the group in a series of exercises, including meditation. The impact is amazing. Not only are we engaging the parasympathetic nervous system for a long period of time – allowing for maximum renewal – we are also sharpening our emotional and social intelligence, which introduces creativity and a sense of belonging.