“Mom, what story do you think this rock has to tell?” asks my then six-year-old son.
I was proud and relived. He tapped into mystery and wonder when we connect with Mother Nature (often easier for kids than adults!)
If you asked me, a root cause of our current climate chaos and ecological collapse is our profound disconnection with the living world. It’s also leading to climate anxiety and eco-grief.
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” ~ Rumi
We can take steps to reconcile our relationship to our non-human kin. Then we’ll do less harm to ourselves, others and the planet. Each day find mystery, magic, seek beauty and awe. Being in nature takes you out of yourself and it’s in nature you realize, there’s more in the world than me.
As a family, try a playful game to sense perception exercises to help experience Mother Nature as kin, a teacher and even a healer:
In this game children are sleeping fawns. Fawns must stay still but keep their faces shown while they pretend their deer mom is away. An adult plays the coyote, who sniffs around the field or forest looking for its prey. Remember fawns don’t have a scent! Stillness is the secret and allows kids to sink into nature—a nice change from popular pursuit games. The coyote tries to get the fawns to move without touching them or speaking words. Coyote behaviour like yelping, jumping and playing or being foolish is okay. When the fawn moves, it’s “caught” and out of the game. Forest schoolers know this game from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown.
Talk to plants and animals.
Did you plant a pandemic garden or start a butterfly garden with native plants? Chat with carrots, tomatoes, huckleberries, or house plants as if they are a conscious being. Speak out loud because your words show respect and connection. It may seem silly at first (for adults), but this practice develops relationships with the more-than-human world. It helps widen our boundaries for compassion.
Act as if everything you meet is alive, that it matters and has its own story—the rock, the moss, a tree. Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects shares this exercise and more to encourage us to be open to communication. Whisper and touch the trees. Practice witnessing and being seen. Show reciprocity. Ask your child: Is the water or tree looking back at you? Is it sensing or watching you as you are sensing and watching it? Do you think rocks speak to water? Let your senses be awake and speak aloud a gratitude. Send that tree love and thanks, wish it well with how the world is.
Forest floor cuddle.
Lay on your belly on the forest floor. Tune into the sounds, smells and sights. Notice the tiny fungi, mosses and look up to the canopy. It’s grounding to sense your smallness, feel humble and notice the power of your insignificance at this scale. Comfortable here? Try cupping your face with your hands, resting on your elbows. Close your eyes for a few minutes and imagine a landscape, a cherished pet or person as you cup your face. This practice can wake up the vagus nerve, aka the physical manifestation of the soul. Tune into your mind-body connection, calm the nervous system and chill out. Soak it all up! You can also try this at the beach, on a mountain top, or in the backyard.
Practice an annual gratitude ritual on your birthday! Gratitude is a social emotion; it points to what’s already there. It also solidifies our relationship with living mystery, enhances our resilience and will help us face hard information. What do you notice happening in nature on our birthday? What’s in bloom or what is going to rest? What are the smells and sounds in nature? What textures do you notice in the sky, on a leaf or in the snow? It can be grounding to reflect on what was happing on Earth when you took your first breath of air.
Powerful acts to reconnect also include walking barefoot, skipping rocks, stargazing, making a mud pie or smelling the rain!
Kids and adults alike need to access their feelings about our living world, it’s wonder, loss and mystery. Nurture wonder and nourish that relationship with the living world through storybooks, too.
1. You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey
2. A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel
3. Frog Girl by Paul Owen Lewis
4. Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc
We’re all a participant in this wondrous universe.