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This is my church; this is where I heal my hurts.

There is a threshold. When I step from indoors to outdoors with the intention of spending some time in nature, there is a moment I cross within myself.

I’m not really sure whether I’m inviting myself into the outdoors, or if I’m inviting the outdoors in. There’s a moment though, where a different way of being begins. And always, always I return having learned something, awoken something, soothed something, or released something.

Good old John Muir said: ‘I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in’.

If I spend any time in nature - it could be as simple as a long dog walk or as adventurous as climbing a mountain - I get outside of myself, of the routine thoughts and habits, and plug into something bigger. But at the same time I connect in with the background hum of my feelings. I go in, fine tuning without thinking until the chords sound just right.

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to find the words to describe the sense of union that happens being out in nature. I know I’m not alone in this and others have expressed it far better before me. When I try, I tread the line between science and spirituality. Because there is the science, and I’m as rapt by that as I am the beyond-me feeling of belonging and connectedness that nature brings.

It is the neurological dance of left-brain right-brain as we put one foot in front of the other, and how that in turn activates our parasympathetic nervous system.

By simple physical movement we can reduce our experience of stress and enter a brain state that primes us for healing and meaning-making. Move this way in nature and you begin to awaken all the senses, an experience that you have the power to amplify further through mindfulness - just noticing, describing.  

black mount bridge of orchy scotland 1600

Mindful movement, or indeed stillness, in nature is a wordless invitation to join body and mind.

We begin to connect in the places we feel disconnected. Even in the very primal sense of needing more physical movement than modern life affords us, and needing that movement to take place at best among the natural elements - not just reserved for the hurried commute, or the airless gym.

Aren’t we so attached to our distractions? If we allow ourselves the infinite space and wonder of the natural world, what might we unearth in ourselves? How many thresholds within will we encounter? And can we bear it? And can we bear the beauty of it?

Because what we see outside we may see within, in our individual and collective experience: growth, beauty, destruction, loss, change, growth once more. The metaphors are scattered everywhere, on every branch, on every pebbled beach, on every path to every summit and down again. You have your own unique experience of life and of being in nature, so you’ll have your own metaphors to share and explore. 

Being outdoors in nature is therapeutic in and of itself. Counselling in nature, or walking therapy, brings an added dimension.

With support we can experience a very visceral sense of moving forward in understanding one’s own story and experiences, in working through problems and towards clarity and wholeness. The waterside, the open field, the path through the woods, become a mirror of internal experience and a conduit for meaning.

This is the natural embodiment of ‘walking alongside’, as we counsellors so often describe the therapeutic process. One foot in front of the other and side by side. Noticing, witnessing, finding and weaving meaning. Sitting together perhaps to absorb a new vista, an emerging new perspective.

The poet Mary Oliver put it best: ‘Oh, mother earth, your comfort is great, your arms never withhold, it has saved my life to know this’.

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Being outdoors in nature is therapeutic in and of itself. Counselling in nature, or walking therapy, brings an added dimension.

med sky
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