In one of my travels in the provinces I saw a young boy walking home along a rural pathway lined with trees and greenery. I remembered my ‘much’ younger days when after school I would explore the fields and woodlands on our country farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont, USA. I spent many memorable hours walking in the woods, delighting in birdsongs and the tiny spring flowers, searching for the hidden wild strawberries, and just going for a walk during the sultry summer afternoons through the meadows and wooded hillsides accompanied by our dog, Smokey. When something bothered me, I would run outside to the old rope swing hanging from a branch in the wild apple tree, and let the motion of the swing invite the silken breeze to ruffle my hair and soothe my troubled spirit. Perhaps that young boy was also enjoying his walk along the pathway of nature.
I came across these two words – biophilia and ecopsychology – in my readings the other day in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book Simple Abundance. Sarah explains that “biophilia” is a relatively new psychological theory championed by Pulitizer Prize-winning conservation biologist Edward O. Wilson, who coined this term to explain that our love for living things (plants, wildlife, woodlands…) is a deep, biological feeling, not merely a cultural thing. He traced our attraction to the natural environment way back to early mankind, to the time when only those who became one with their environment survived. Our ancient ancestors literally lived on and off the land, becoming one with their natural surroundings, depending on it for food, shelter, clothing, their very survival.
In other words, I would say that in its deepest sense ‘biophilia’ seeks to return us to our Creator and the world He created for us to love and live in, to cultivate and care for. Through the God-created environment along a Vermont woodland path, I remember its naturalness, its freshness, its ability to refocus my mind and thought away from the manmade world and toward God. Isn’t this what Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato si” is reminding us of?
Today this often subconscious urge to return to nature has been called “ecopsychology” by therapists. According to Sarah Breathnach, these therapists believe that deepening our emotional ties to nature is as vital to our well-being as the close bonding and personal ties we seek with family and friends. In truth, it is when we are aware of the manifestations of God in nature that we are more able to develop closer and stronger bonds with our Maker.
Going for a leisurely drive along a rural country road, walking barefoot along the beach, or having picnic brunch under a tree near home, are some of the common ways by which we can respond to the inborn urge to return to nature and, by doing so, de-stress our minds and re-energize our body and soul batteries. Sitting on a patch of grass just made for relaxing in a pocket park, sipping coffee at an outdoor café or marveling at the birds balancing in the swaying breezes on the telephone wires overhead … we need to open ourselves to these precious moments and take time to thank God for them.
Nowadays because of pressures at work, family responsibilities, and the many other livelihood concerns and stresses, it becomes more difficult to run outside to nature for comfort and de-stressing. But there are always ways. Sometimes I remember my younger days uplifting my cares to the sky while swinging and singing under our apple tree. Back to the present, I take off my slippers and feel the warm earth in my garden caress my toes. I breathe in deeply the fragrance of summer flowers. I savor the saltiness of the incoming tides on the beach. I glory in the late afternoon sunset and look for my personal star in the dark of night. As my personal star dances for me, I know that God is manifesting his love for me. And, yes, we each have a personal star that will dance a love dance for us personally.
Regardless of what new terms are invented to describe this natural feeling and innate love of and for nature, I know that it is by opening my soul to its ancient love for living things, for nature and all of God’s creation, that I am able to welcome each new day refreshed and renewed, ready for whatever challenges are waiting for me. This opening of my soul also enables me to joyfully anticipate the everyday epiphanies that God has in store for me.