Florence Williams begins her book, The Nature Fix, with a very startling story: A middle-aged Japanese business man with a very serious case of cancer decides to go sit in the forest before he turns himself in for treatment.
He stays a few months, and when he walks out again, his cancer is gone.
The author goes into the chemical affect that cypress has on a body, one, apparently, that changes the nature of cancer cells in the body. She connects this reality to biophilia: a belief that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. In this case, to heal.
The book continues as the author travels the world looking at the ways people’s encounters with nature result in physical healing. Her research is wide, the stories varied, but the message is the same throughout the book: there is something about nature that we shouldn’t overlook.
Susan S. Scott, in Healing With Nature, takes a very different approach to this subject. Suffering a serious injury in her back that prevents her from sitting for lengthy times, this psychologist decided to try walking with her patients through nature during their appointments. She was only seeking an alternative to having to sit in pain in her office, but what she learned is that her patients also benefited from their contact with nature. One emphasis became the notice of how trees have ways of healing themselves after trauma, teaching the counselor and her clients to appreciate how we, too, as humans can tap into our ability to self-heal.
Academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland did a study on the effect that just seeing birds out your window can have on one’s overall well-being. The results showed a significant lowering of depression, anxiety, and stress in those people who interacted with birds.
I began chemotherapy in mid-August a few years ago. It wasn’t until the following mid-May that I could get up in the morning and stay conscious all day. (This may have included a nap during the day.) The overall effect on my body was devastating. The chemotherapy, far from helping my body, harmed it in more ways than would be proper to list here. But one thing was very evident: I was weak. If I went out to do errands on one day, I would be bed-ridden for the next few, recovering from the exertion.
What was most striking was the realization that the more I remained sedentary, the weaker and sicker I became.
My own ill-health led to more ill-health.
As one who might describe herself as a Professional Death Facer-Downer, having disappointed a number of doctors in my life when they prognosticated my impending exiting of this realm, I had a great deal of experience to fall back on.
When my children were very young, I faced death. But at that time, because of my children, I was disinclined to go along with the doctor’s orders. And so I researched my condition, came up with some theories, and acted on them. One thing I did was to flush myself of toxins. A somewhat messy process. But very effective.
I survived. Angered the doctor. Angered even my own husband.
But I felt some relief.
So here I was again, as weak as a wet dishcloth and getting angry at its seemingly infinite circular nature of weakness feeding weakness, illness feeding illness. So I remembered the detoxing I had gone through a half-lifetime before.
And starting working on it again.
At another time of tremendous illness that had led to muscle weakness, I had forced myself to do a little walking. And some sitting stretching exercises. And it made all the difference in the world. My muscles responded like a water-starved being just coming out of a desert and finding fresh water to drink.
I was back in action.
So, along with detoxing, I decided that I had to walk to restore some strength.
So I walked. But this time, I walked in the woods behind the house. Before I had walked on paths next to roads. Now all I could see was leaves and tree trunks and scrambling squirrels.
I couldn’t believe my reaction. Having spent much of my youth wandering through the woods in Maine, just the difference in the air that I breathed in every day that I walked thrilled me. The sounds of bugs and birds were like symphonies to me.
I was home.
I began my study of death and its dance when I returned home from India in my twenties. And between the weakness I carried in me after that trip, and the medications that I was now on for various and sundry wrongnesses in my body, I could not exercise for very long periods of time. Sometimes I would become ambitious and try doing ten minutes at a time throughout the day. But the constriction of time I could exercise was discouraging.
But here I was in the woods and feeling not just healthier, but happier in so many ways, I didn’t mind just walking for a few minutes.
Except my body was changing in a way I would never have imagined: I started walking an hour each time I was out.
And it wasn’t long before I didn’t even feel tired after such an effort.
Me. Exercising like a normal person.
Something I hadn’t done since before I had children.
So as I read these books on healing with nature, I understood. I responded. I cheered.
It was real.
There is something about nature that is healing and even inspires tapping into our ability to self-heal.
Using nature to heal isn’t necessarily an easy task. You have to be the motivator. And you have to figure out how to keep your commitment to it going in spite of snowstorms, and hurricanes, and blistering heat.
You also have to learn that nature of your own body, how there are times that gentleness is necessary. That pushing oneself doesn’t always keep you on the path to recovery.
The best healing element of nature is how it accepts you for who you are, no matter who you are. The nonjudgmental nature of nature can heal a mind and body better than anything else, because it encourages you to just listen to yourself. Accept yourself for who you are, and follow your own lead to healing.
If a tree can work its growth in such a way that it strengthens itself where a lightening strike has weakened it, then so can we. Damage, in nature, is just a part of life.
We, on the other hand, can fall into the illusions that damage to ourselves makes us less of a person. Damages us permanently. Decreases our humanity.
If one thing keeps us from allowing ourselves to heal it is self-doubt.
There is no such thing as self-doubt in nature.
There’s just existence.