Is the natural world animated with soul I often wonder? Can the rose love me in the same way I love the rose?
I certainly have experiences of love in my garden. I also have experiences of joy and tenderness, of frustration and annoyance. I can feel tender towards the plants and flowers, and I very often want to protect them, as I would a small child. I can get frustrated with the slugs eating my dahlias but at the same time not want to hurt them.
I might go a step further and say I feel that the plants, flowers, insects, and earth are speaking to me. Not in a language that we would speak to another human, but in textures, colours, sounds, and sensations in my body. And when I listen carefully, I can feel stillness in my body. I allow myself to be held by the stillness and connect to something bigger than myself.
Carl Jung (1967/1942) said that “nature is not matter only, she is also spirit” and James Hillman (1992) spoke of the “soul spark” that inhabits the natural world. Through the concept of the anima mundi or world soul, Hillman suggested that everything has a relationship with us in the same way as we have a relationship with it, or them. So the lake can love me, as much as I can love the lake. The lake has a spirit.
This is an ancient idea which has largely been lost in modern times. Irish mythology tells us that sacred wells provide the source of all knowledge which is disseminated through streams and waterways. We are told that the earth has a soul.
Perhaps we can reignite this animated connection by spending more time in nature, in a conscious way. Taking time to really notice our interconnection. By opening to the unknown and by becoming open to the present moment. And just maybe this connection will benefit us, resource us, regulate us, inform us, help us adapt to difficult circumstances, and gift us with creative insights.
Beneficial wellness effects of being in nature is not just a mythical idea. Science indicates that spending time in nature has huge health benefits, including reducing stress levels and helping us to sleep better.
Our body physiology changes. For example, listening to birds stimulates the inner ear muscles which improves vagal toning giving a better sense of ease in the body. Offering tender touch to a plant stimulates the production of chemicals in the body, including oxytocin, which helps us to bond and feel safe. Putting our hands or feet on the soil grounds our body, lowering heart rate, and deepening the breath.
Importantly, nature can become the healer of our disconnect. If we have an intimate conversation with nature then perhaps, like David Abram (2010), we can bring our “body into line with the earth,” offering transformation and joy. Hillman (1992) might suggest that we need to feel the interconnection to feel intimate, “the world without soul can never offer intimacy.”
There are many perspectives and levels of connection to the natural world. From the magical and mythical, to the physical and scientific. Whichever resonates best for you, try rekindling and deepening your relationship with nature. A loving rose can be a much needed resource in difficult times.
Abram, D. (2010). Becoming animal. New York, NY: Random House
Hillman, J. (1992). Anima Mundi: The return of the soul of the world. Putnam, CN: Spring Publications.
Jung, C. G. (1967). Alchemical studies. In R. F. C. Hull (Trans.) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1942).