Not so very long ago, humans -- like the rest of the animals and plants on earth -- moved through our natural cycles at nature's pace. Time was marked by the passing of the seasons, the life cycles of human, animal and plant life and the yet grander cycles of the moon and the other celestial bodies.
Homo sapiens, a late-appearing species in the long history of our unimaginably ancient planet and universe, evolved during the recent (as the universe views these things!) Pleistocene era, adapted for a life intimately connected with and expressive of our natural surroundings on the African savannah and beyond.
And this is how we lived for millennia.
In the last 150 years, however, the human relationship with time has radically changed. Some say the problems started earlier, with the development of agriculture or writing, but it was really the Industrial Revolution -- the rise of the Machine -- that put humans in thrall to mechanical processes and machine time. And the recent exponential speeding up into Cybertime has accelerated the process still further. Industrial time was bad enough (Charlie Chaplin did a wonderful job of visualizing that "cog in the wheel" feeling in his film "Modern Times") but Cybertime can be dizzyingly discombobulating for a Pleistocene primate.
And that's how many modern people feel -- completely frazzled and out of sync with our deepest selves.
The results of this disconnection from nature and nature's pace show up in therapists' and doctors' offices every day. Living under unnatural time pressures causes a myriad of psychological, social and physical ailments. De-linked from the natural rhythms of our bodies and the rest of the planet, we struggle with diminishing success to adapt to the strange mechanical and disembodied world we have created.
- Reconnect with place. We can learn to resist the constant rushing around and settle into and tend a beloved location, taking time to learn its secrets and hear its whisperings.
- Reconnect with companion and wild animals. Animals slow us down to our natural animal rhythms, which is why animal-assisted therapy works so well at lowering blood pressure and healing psychological ills of many kinds. The simple act of petting a cat or watching the birds flit through the trees is profoundly healing.
- Reconnect with plants. A simple pot on a windowsill slows us down to the pace of a seed, a seedling, a leaf and a flower. A tree on the street, if contemplated and touched, offers its blessings during a busy day.
- Reconnect with the cycles of human life. Instead of demanding that we remain in perpetual-teenager mode (the preferred state in our society, it seems), allowing ourselves to become true initiated adults and then elders honors the natural pace of human life rather than fighting it. Nature teaches us that seeds emerge, plants flourish, bloom, fruit and then wither and slip away -- valuable wisdom for our own lives when we encounter the inevitable transitions in our own and others' lives.
- Reconnect with our wild bodies. Untamed nature is to be found not only in far-away wilderness but in the wilds of our bloodstream, our digestive processes, our breath. Any practice that brings our attention back to our bodies is wilderness ecotherapy. Yoga and ecstatic dance offer release from the controlling modern ego and access to what ecopsychologists call "the ecological self." And once we reach peace with our animal bodies, our souls naturally open up to the larger Spirit in which we are embedded.
- Spend more time outdoors in wild nature. Most of us are indoors most of the time. Our bodies and souls cry out for long walks on a beach, contemplation in a forest or a few minutes in a nearby vacant lot near a stream. These times slow life down to a healing, natural pace.
Making just a few of these simple changes can radically shift how we feel. Ecopsychological research is now proving that reconnecting with nature and more natural living performs a host of psychological miracles, including lowering depression, improving our sense of well being, calming our anxieties, raising self-esteem and giving us a sense of belonging to the great whole of which we are a part.
Linda Buzzell, M.A., MFT is the co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the new anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, just released by Sierra Club Books (May 2009). She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle