In the concrete jungle of the city, it can be very easy to go through life and never really connect with nature. Since many researchers now believe that our connection to nature is very important for our overall well being, a disconnection from nature has very real consequences for our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Separated from nature, we are more stressed, heal more slowly, and we feel much more emotionally imbalanced.
So if a connection to nature is so critical for our wellbeing, what can those of us who live in cities do, since we are so isolated from most major natural ecosystems? Find nature everywhere, of course! Nature is really all around us, from the weather, to the birds that come to our backyard feeders, to the insects that crawl around on the ground, to the “weeds” that have pushed through the cracks in the sidewalks. Nature always finds a way, does it not?
The following are some suggestions for ways that “city folks” can get back in touch with nature. Our ancestors were in touch with nature every day, but in this modern world of concrete, television, automobiles, the Internet, and rubber soled shoes, we must intentionally cultivate a regular practice of getting back in touch with nature for the sake of ourselves, as well as for our world. For that which we understand and love, we will also protect.
Observe and interact in your local community. As Permaculture Design Principle #1, observing and interacting is where we must always begin in our efforts to live more sustainably on our planet. By observing and interacting with our local community’s environment, we become much more aware of where things are, what living things exist around us, and perhaps observe some things that need to be healed, such as a polluted or eroded landscapes.
Get grounded. It is now known that physical connection to the Earth is very important for our own health and wellness. Despite sounding “out there” for many people, the Earth actually emits its own powerful healing frequencies that resonate with our own body’s frequencies and promotes the health and wellbeing of our bodies.
While our ancestors were probably physically connected to the Earth nearly all of the time, our modern lives far too often shut us off from the healing frequencies of the Earth due to insulated rubber soled shoes, living and working in insulated buildings, walking around on concrete floors, and rarely spending time outdoors with bare feet.
Fortunately, there are now products available to us such as mats, bed sheets, and yoga mats that we can use indoors to connect with the Earth’s frequency through any grounded outlet, and there are now even “Earthing” shoes that allow for us to connect to the Earth when we are outdoors. Alternatively, you can always take your shoes off and place your bare feet on the ground for a minimum of 15 minutes each day and experience the many balancing effects of being in direct contact with the Earth’s healing energy.
By the way, grounding ourselves by touching our bare feet in the sand and taking a refreshing dip in a lake or the ocean is a great excuse to visit the beach!
Unplug and be still. As difficult as it can be for many of us in today’s fast paced digital society to unplug from our electronic devices for even a little while, it is important to periodically do this to help ourselves live life more purposely and to notice the nature that exists around us.
Visit your local zoo, botanical garden, park, arboretum, or nature center. These are special places in urban areas that can help us get back in touch with nature and can provide a peaceful retreat from hectic everyday city life.
Establish your very own backyard habitat. Because the development of urban areas has fragmented natural habitat so much, planting native plants in our yards can provide an oasis for pollinators and other species that likely don’t have much other habitat remaining in urban areas.
Such areas also allow us to get back in touch the native species of our region within our own backyards. Since permaculture design encourages a “Zone 5” element that incorporates some wildness into our designs, this is the perfect zone to encourage the planting of native species.
Become an urban beekeeper. While keeping bees is certainly not for everyone, it is an ideal way to help support our pollinators and our environment, and to learn a lot about how nature works.
Volunteer with local conservation organizations. Most cities have at least a few conservation organizations that focus on important local environmental issues such as maintaining clean and healthy watersheds, restoring habitats, and cleaning up litter. Find one that you are interested in and donate or get involved! Once you get involved, stay connected to the important work that they are doing in your community.
Compost! By composting our food scraps in our backyards, we are actively participating in the cycles of life, recycling our food waste, and by taking the time to observe the composting process and the activities of the worms and the other critters that hang out in our compost bins, we can learn a great deal about how nature works. Getting our children involved in this process is an excellent learning activity for them as well.
Start a nature journal. Find a spot in nature, sit down, and contemplate the mysteries of the universe and your natural surroundings. After trying out this activity, you might find that you actually enjoy this activity so much that you will want to write in your nature journal more often!
Take a hike (or a walk)! Seek out local trails, parks, and walk or bike places instead of driving everywhere locally. You will likely notice elements of nature that you never did while driving, simply because you are slowing down and taking more time to observe your surroundings.
Exercise outdoors. Instead of paying for an expensive health club membership, walk, swim, jog, or go for a run out in your local community. Some people even do mind-body activities such as yoga or tai chi outdoors. You may find that you enjoy exercising much more when surrounded by fresh air, blue sky, trees, flowers, and birds than being around treadmills and exercise equipment in a gym.
Join a club! There are often many different social clubs available in communities for those interested in nature activities such birding, hiking, skiing, and astronomy.
Grow your own food. Growing our own food in urban areas is one of the best ways to connect with nature since we are engaging in the care of other living things, and we learn a lot about the natural processes that occur in nature, including nutrient cycles, composting, the water cycle, ecological niches, pollinators, and predation. Permaculture gives us many excellent tools to plant abundant and productive gardens that work with nature and don’t require any chemical inputs, so we end up with wonderful nutrient-dense food that is great for our health.
Most urban dwellers with limited growing spaces can still grow many things vertically in small spaces, grow plants in pots, on windowsills, on balconies, or on decks.
Get to know your local flora and fauna. Grab a field guide or two (electronic field guides on smart phones are okay too!) focused on your favorite living thing, get out there, and identify local species in your community. Before long, you will be able to identify many species and no longer need to rely on a guidebook as much.
Go on a scavenger hunt. Search for and find items from nature such as bird species, rocks, plants, mammals, and insects on a list and work together as a team with friends or family. This is a great adventure to bring children along to encourage their natural curiosity and connection with nature. Just remember to take only pictures and leave no impact on your local environment!
Get artsy! Draw, sketch, or paint your observations in nature, or create art with natural objects (be sure to only take those that will have minimal-to-no lasting impact on the environment). Even if you don’t consider yourself to be especially artistic, try this activity anyway and stretch yourself. You may just find that you really enjoy such activities!
Grow herbs for your health care. In addition to growing nutrient dense foods in our gardens, we can grow our own herbs and make our own herbal remedies to help ourselves heal. Nature has many great healing properties for us if we are just willing to give them a try!
Engage with each of your senses. When you are out in nature, what do you see, smell, feel, hear, and taste (just be absolutely sure that you know that what you are tasting is safe to consume)? Take note of what you are experiencing, and contemplate what you can learn in that moment.
Practice permaculture! The design system and ethics of permaculture require that we must understand the nature around us and to work with it regarding how we live on the Earth. Many human-created systems seek to impose our human wills on nature, and this has lead to many environmental, social, and health problems that we must now address in order to achieve a livable future, and permaculture is an excellent resource that we have at our disposal for solving such problems.
Permaculture also provides us with the tools that are ideal for restoring degraded ecosystems and landscapes and living in balance with the natural world.
These are just a few of the many ways that we can connect with nature in our cities. Can you think of any more?