Nature has been called one of the world’s best prescriptions for restoration of physical and mental health by indigenous people, scholars, theologians, scientists, and artists since the beginning of time. What the typical Rx label doesn’t tell us, however, is that the prescription isn’t just a one-time experience. With regular use, it connects us with an unlimited energy source we can count on for personal restoration every time we let ourselves become part of it.
I’m not a mental health expert, but I know from personal experience that our surroundings can play a major role in how we feel about ourselves. For me, that world is very much connected to nature. And, by working to conserve a small piece of the environment, I’ve taken some valuable steps in my own wellness journey.
I discovered the connection between mental health and nature by accident. I’m from the heart of the manufacturing Midwest – Toledo, Ohio. Now, you might not think there’s much there from a natural standpoint, but you’d be wrong. The Nature Conservancy has identified where I live as one of America’s last great places. It’s called the Oak Openings Region. It’s about 850,000 acres of sandy soil between Toledo and Detroit. That’s a little larger than the state of Rhode Island! It’s as rare as The Everglades in Florida, the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, and the Redwood Forests. 99% of the Oak Openings is developed and people don’t even realize they’re in it. The last 1% of undeveloped land is hidden in the hands of private landowners.
My husband and I felt called to restore our 20 acres of the Oak Openings. Our journey has not been a straight line, but we’ve successfully brought back many rare plants and species – some that had been considered near extinction in our area. What surprised me the most was that we didn’t have to plant many seeds. We just had to disrupt the wrong environment and give what’s supposed to be there a chance to thrive.
We think of our property as an environmental zen – or even “zenvironment,” for short. A zenvironment is an intentional space that nurtures restoration for nature and for people.
Let's face it, we're all trying to get along as best we can. And, we all come up against invasives that make that hard. We have to deal with our challenges; but we don’t need to let them hijack our souls. We deserve better than that. We all have a right to find our own zenvironment. It’s an investment we make in our own mental well-being. Nature has taught me that even when less than 1% remains, there’s still hope. And, we all have at least 1% of ourselves that’s special and worth restoring, preserving, and nurturing.
Here’s what nature taught me about creating a personal zenvironment.
First, identify the invasives. Ask yourself, what’s preventing you from becoming your authentic self?
Second, we have to be brave enough to own what we love about ourselves. Nature showcases its glory every chance it gets. What makes you excited to be you?
Next, we must welcome some prescribed disruption in our environment even if it feels painful or scary. What are you willing to change?
Fourth, we have to be show up for ourselves every day. Remember, nature never takes a day off.
Finally, when we’ve done the hard work, we need to take a step back and celebrate as amazing things unfold all around us.