The Power of Presence – What Nature Can Teach Us

“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.”

John O’Donoghue (Poet, Philosopher)

I recently read two nature books by Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways and The Wild Spaces. His lyrical prose imprints indelible images of forest, beach, mountain on my brain. I am there. I am present. To inhabit these spaces as he does, requires such attention to seeing; to listening; to hearing; to smelling; and to touching. A total absorption in the immediacy of experience. To be fully present in nature demands a raw nakedness and an openness to the truth of what exists at that moment.

What do we miss by not bringing all our senses to our moments in nature?

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I am reminded of an experience in high school, when I went with a friend and her father, an avid birdwatcher, to the moors of Shetland. Every morning we would set off for hours across the land or venture to the cliffs. I had little experience of walking across moorland. Initially, my ignorance and unfamiliarity with the land seemed to blind me to what was present. However, that all changed as my friend’s father tuned our senses to our surroundings. Suddenly, an unpopulated barren space was alive with the sight and sound of lapwing, meadow pipit, merlin, shag and snipe; the touch and feel of heather and gorse; the smell of salt and seaweed. It was about so much more than birdwatching and walking. It was about becoming fully present in and to the moment.

At the end of his poem “For Presence”, the late John O’Donahue reminds us:

“Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

 Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

Being present to the experience of nature is a gift embodying mindfulness, awe, peace and beauty that we can offer to our patients, loved ones, colleagues and friends. The act of writing prescriptions for patients to take time in nature continues to grow and flourish around the world including in the US and Canada. Above all, we need to remind ourselves as physicians that when we ourselves nourish ourselves through nature, we are grounding ourselves in the moment and cultivating the power of our presence.

“………. And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~ From the poem “When I am Among The Trees” by Mary Oliver

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