To learn how to truly appreciate nature’s wonders, follow the example of small children. They fling themselves into the grass and the mud, captivated by the activity of a miniature ant village or the slow crawl of industrious worms. Branches become swords, fallen tree limbs become hideaways, and trickling brooks become oceans as imaginations run wild.
As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the [sighing] of the trees. --Valerie Andrews
“Must we always teach our children with books?” asked naturalist David Polis. Rather, he recommended, “Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
For many of us, deep learning is the stuff of adventure, not the content of classrooms. Even though I’ve had a lot of formal education, I have learned the most important life lessons outdoors. Stepping out into the great expanse of nature, I have been humbled, schooled, rejuvenated, awed, and delighted.
Here are the five top lessons I’ve learned from nature.
Simplicity is best. When life gets hectic and chaotic, bring it back. Take deep breaths of fresh air, feel the sun on your face, look for shapes in the clouds, take in the beauty of the stars, or watch the sun rise. Nature impresses with just a few broad strokes. (This lesson can be applied to relationships, self-care, presentations, and marketing brochures!)
Balance is key. A healthy mix of work, exercise, relaxation, and interaction with peers is necessary to do our best work and keep ourselves charged. Whenever I’m really cranky, my family realizes that I need some quality time at the ocean or on a lake to right my ship. Nature is an incredibly complex system that relies on balance to sustain itself. So must we!
Interdependence rules. The circle of life plays out in nature every day. It can certainly be harsh, but I believe it also demonstrates how interconnected we all are—as humans, animals, plants, and the Earth. How I treat my environment and the living beings within it has direct consequences and a ripple effect—whether that’s on the success of my business or the health of my community. Our connectedness also means that we can lean on and be replenished by each other and our surroundings.
Perspective is everything. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, you need to take a step back. We can get so caught up in the details of our lives or our tasks that we lose perspective on what’s important. Nature is wild, mysterious, and infinite. Take some time to lose yourself in it. Even simply appreciating the gift of life can help you get centered and grounded.
Replenish for the future. Humans have done inestimable damage to our planet. Instead of stop-gap measures to stem the tide, the emerging permaculture movement is trying to replenish the Earth. Permaculture is the ecological practice of working with rather than against nature. It addresses the way we live on this planet, respecting the plants and animals around us, and leaving the biosphere in a more productive and healthy state than we found it. (Grailville Workshop) How can we leave our little corner of the Earth in better shape than we received it?
“The Earth is a school. Learn in it.” is one of the four fortune cookie sayings that I launched my t-shirt business with. What have you learned from nature? How does this saying or concept inspire you? Let us know in the comments below.
Kristen Golden is the owner of Fortune Cookie Wisdom, an apparel line of t-shirts featuring inspirational fortune cookie messages. After a career in anti-violence work, she created this company to inspire, amuse, and connect people.