Why Connecting with Nature Matters

Casper ter Kuile
Why How Nature Outside


As a child, I loved to hear my parents re-tell their love story. My wily grandmother had taken her extended family and friends on an epic trip to the Swiss mountains. After a strenuous and beautiful day hike, soon enough, my parents were whispering sweet nothings to one another.

I’ve heard that story so often that – to my ears – the mountains are nearly synonymous with love. So, when we hit the seven-year marriage mark this year, my husband and I decided it was our turn to head to the European mountains, though we chose the Italian Dolomites.


Why How Nature Outside


We’re enthusiastic but inexperienced mountain hikers, and this would be our first multi-day hut-to-hut trip. The Alta Via is extremely popular, so huts were fully booked months in advance. We needed to hike two stages in a single day to make it to a bookable dorm bed – but nothing would deter us!

Despite rain and mist and the steepest climbs of my life, it was stunning. Extraordinary vistas from every peak, delicious piles of homemade polenta at every hut, and a growing sense of inner peace with every step. Even though I was physically exhausted, mentally and spiritually I felt alive.


Why How Nature Outside


And that is why I’m writing this article. It is when we’re outdoors that we feel truly ourselves — connected to our inner selves, connected to the people we love, and connected to something greater than ourselves. That is the gift of being in nature.

You may already be familiar with some of the science here. Researchers have concluded that spending time in nature is connected to all sorts of health benefits. The gentle burbling of a brook or the sound of the wind in the trees shifts our nervous systems into a relaxed state, according to a 2017 Scientific Reports paper.


Why How Nature Outside


Data also reveals that people who have regular access to nature are less likely to be on antidepressants. Expectant mothers who spend time in nature have healthier babies, and even when we’re indoors, being around plants can strengthen our immune system and prevent illness.

But as more than half of the world’s population now lives in an urban area, we can’t rely on a big annual trip to the mountains to sustain our connection to nature. Already, the average American spends only 7 percent of their time outdoors, according to the results of an Environmental Protection Agency–sponsored survey.

As we’ve moved more and more of our lives indoors, especially to work and to be entertained in front of screens, scientists are warning that we’re entering an age of “nature deficit disorder.” Coined by Richard Louv, nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.


Why How Nature Outside


The long and the short: we need to find ways of getting outdoors regularly and to allow those experiences in nature to shape who we are – even when we’re indoors.

That’s why, from February 12 to April 15, my team at Nearness will host a 10-week course on deepening our connection to nature.

It’ll be a journey into the sacred realm of sunset landscapes and beloved animals, interconnected ecologies and climate change. We’ll ask, how can we feel more in tune with the natural world, even when we’re indoors or far from much natural life? How can we unlock our inner wildness, the freedom and physicality we can experience in the outdoors? What can we learn from indigenous and non-Western spiritualities? And how does all of this connect to our day-to-day challenges and longings?

Our Nearness program takes place as a series of Zoom calls, during which we’ll walk through conversation starters, readings, and exercises that have been developed by experts in connection, psychology, and spirituality.

One of the practices we’ll engage in this course is something I found myself doing naturally while hiking in the Dolomites: taking time to notice nature, even in the smallest places.

Being a fan of musical theater, of all the wildflowers I wanted to spot along our hike, I kept searching for edelweiss. Sure, we were on the Italian side of the mountains and not in Austria, and sure, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song was written for a Broadway musical and isn’t a folk song at all, but I’ve hummed that tune for as long as I can remember.

So, every day when we crossed a meadow, I kept looking for that small white flower. And every day I found another small white flower…that wasn’t edelweiss. Until, on our final afternoon, descending down into a valley, with cowbells ringing on either side, I found a few remaining blossoms. Edelweiss!


Why How Nature Outside


Fifty years ago, my parents fell in love in the mountains. This year, the mountains reminded me of the things worth loving.

I hope you’ll join us for our Connecting With Nature journey to fall back in love with what matters most to you. 

Casper ter Kuile is the CEO of Nearness and the author of The Power of Ritual

Trail talk

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