The Role of Nature in Well-Being and Ceremony
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs, American naturalist & essayist
Even a short walk in a park can lessen the physiological impact of daily stress. In nature, our bodies and minds relax, our stress levels dip and we experience improved moods, better sleep and a greater ability to bolster our immune system. It’s hard to imagine a better setting to undergo a healing process or Plant Ceremony, or to focus on well-being.
Four out of five people in North America live in a city. But even those of us who don’t live in metropolitan environments have put aside our natural rhythms. With the help of our devices and schedules, we’ve turned productivity into an art form. Modern life has provided us with many effective and practical ways to push back against daily pressures, from meditation apps to yoga classes. And these are wonderful tools, but whether you are seeking transformational healing or improved wellness, the antidote cannot be found where the illness occurred. This is why Dimensions places such importance on the surroundings of our Retreats: the remedy is in nature.
Usually, we return from vacations or a beautiful hike feeling well-rested. Maybe on vacation, it’s also a little easier to get along with your family, compared to the regular grind? Maybe your stresses are lessened? You can thank “rest and digest” mode. In this state, our blood pressure lowers, we’re calm and relaxed and we’re able to become embodied in the present moment. We feel safe. All of these qualities send a message to our social engagement system, which improves our ability to relate to others and increases our capacity for compassion. Now imagine applying “rest and digest” mode to your therapeutic plans.
“Rest and digest” mode is activated in nature, making setting a critical factor in wellness and recovery. From a physiological perspective, daily stresses and trauma activate dorsal vagal and sympathetic nervous system responses. These are the fight, flight and freeze responses that are triggered by our central nervous system when we react to challenging, stressful or traumatic stimuli. Being in natural environments activates and strengthens our vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve sends information from our brains to our muscles and organs. It controls sensory responses (like our heart rate), motor function (including our ability to speak) and parasympathetic response (such as respiration and heart rate). It’s a critical motor in our bodies, and when we are in nature, we activate this motor to stimulate a ventral vagal response. We are signalling to our bodies to “rest and digest.”
From a physical perspective, “rest and digest” mode is a regenerative state that supports healing. These physical qualities have the knock-on emotional effects described: we are calm, relaxed and present. This is the optimal physical and emotional state in which to engage in healing or improve wellness because it creates the conditions for you to be more receptive to any therapies or ceremonies. For these reasons, nature is a critically important setting in which to approach the shared, spiritual experience of Plant Ceremony or other psychedelic-inspired ceremonies. These settings naturally help us to be in the perfect state of receptivity to integrate the lessons, knowledge and wisdom that is gained in ceremony.
Plant Ceremonies draw on wisdom and cultures that have existed since long before modern cities. To engage in ceremonial experience within an urban environment or office setting removes the opportunity to access deeper consciousness, revelations and wellness. In practical terms, whether you’re consciously engaged with day-to-day matters or subconsciously aware of city-centric stimuli (such as technology or traffic), the presence of urban life encroaches on a ceremonial experience in a way that limits its potential. Heightened awareness is no longer a virtue but a challenge.
But when Ceremony is conducted in nature, upheld by experts, with your body in “rest and digest” mode, you’ll find that none of these issues need to be navigated. In fact, in the words of author Adele Getty, “When these medicines are taken in a natural setting, the experience is often enhanced; it’s as if the world of plants, animals, rocks, rivers and mountains informs us in no uncertain terms that we are a part of the inner-penetrating web of life, a true kinship that is at the core of human experience.”