Updated: Oct 3, 2022
I spent last weekend in bliss at a Peace in the Wild nature retreat led by a therapist colleague, and my time there inspired me to write about a topic that I have thought about for a long time.
As someone who has often felt the healing power of nature, I have frequently found myself thinking about why nature is so healing.
While there are numerous articles that show the physical, cognitive, and mental benefits of spending time in nature (such as this one and this one), there is one aspect of spending time in nature that I’ve thought of but have never seen anyone else address before.
Perhaps this particular aspect has not been addressed before because my drama therapy background makes me look at the world in a unique way. Because my drama therapy background often causes me to look at the roles people play in life, I have come to think that part of nature’s ability to heal is to let us drop our roles when in it.
Role Theory and the Many Roles We Play in Life
You may recall from this earlier article I wrote that one aspect of drama therapy is examining the various roles we all play in life. We play roles at home (e.g. spouse, parent, caregiver, etc.), at work (e.g. helper, teacher, expert, etc.), and in social situations (e.g. lover, friend, acquaintance, etc.). Sometimes these roles become stressful, such as feeling burdened by having to be a caregiver to a loved one or on the opposite end having to get used to being taken care of when one is very sick or injured.
Role theorists believe we are always in role, even when we are by ourselves. There are other theories, though, that believe people have a core being that is free of roles.
We Are More than the Roles that We Play
To illustrate the idea of a core being, think of a baby, an elderly person who has dementia, or a person with amnesia or brain damage. They may not have memory, may not consciously think about how they present to the world, or may not even engage with other people socially. Despite these things, such a person still has feelings, reactions, and some kind of presence. This presence seems to be a core part of the person that is beyond roles.
I believe that nature allows us to tap into this part of each of us that is beyond our roles.
Nature’s Lack of Roles Allows Us to Free Ourselves of Roles
The way I see it, nature does not have roles. Plants, soil, water, air, and animals do not take on different roles in life. They do not see themselves or others as social objects or personas in the ways that we humans do. They experience the world merely by being present in it. And when we humans are in their presence, my theory is that we are able to drop our roles to join them in being present in the world more fully than when we are caught up in the roles we play.
Trees, rocks, rivers, and other things in nature just are. A river doesn’t consciously think about carving a canyon, it just does. A mountain doesn’t decide how to be shaped, it just lets itself be influenced by wind and glaciers. And when we humans are in nature, sometimes we’re inspired to just let ourselves be.
Furthermore, we don’t judge things in nature. We don’t say things such as “That tree is so fat”, “Only pink flowers are beautiful”, or “That river is weak for moving at a slower pace than other rivers.” The judgments we make of ourselves and other people seem related to the roles we play, but since nature doesn’t have those roles we are able to lose our judgments.
With us not judging nature and nature not judging us, and with no roles to have to play while interacting with nature, we are then able to be fully present in the moment. With no pressure to impress nature, we are free to let ourselves be immersed in and inspired by nature.
Give It a Try!
Imagine taking a walk in the woods by yourself. The green of the grass and trees, the gentle wind caressing you, the bubbling brook next to the path, and the chirping birds in the forest soothe you. The fresh air feels good as you breathe it in and out. Your feet feel stable on the ground. You feel fully present in this moment and in your body. You feel good. You’re not thinking about work, family, or other obligations. You are focused on the beautiful sights and sounds surrounding you and the sensations you are experiencing in the forest. Like the plants, wind, water, and birds, you are in a state of just being, and boy does it feel good!
Whether you are an avid nature lover or someone who hasn’t spent much time outdoors, I encourage you to spend some time alone in nature to experience the peaceful state of being described above. Although you are likely to feel pretty good even if you spend time in nature with loved ones, the benefits will likely be greater if you are alone since you will not be distracted and can drop all roles for the moment.
Feel free to comment below with any stories you have about feeling at peace in nature or to let me know if you agree with my theoryabout nature allowing us to let go of our roles.
If you are interested in having help in learning how to incorporate time in nature into your self-care or in doing therapy in outdoor settings, contact me to learn more about the outdoor spaces I do sessions in near both of my offices.