The Importance of Being Outside
By Joyce & Barry Vissell
Recently we attended our son, John-Nuri’s, performance in Portland. While we were waiting in the long line at the intermission for some juice, we got talking to one of his new friends. He wanted to know more about our son. He asked incredulously, “Does he really walk in the woods for at least one to two hours every day?” We told this young man that he was raised with the importance of being outside as much as possible, and yes, rain, shine or snow cannot keep our son from his daily walks. This young man then went on to explain to us that he rarely gets outside as he works from home in tech. Then he said, “When I finally am done from my long days of working in front of the computer, I cannot even imagine going outside and walking. Instead, I just relax in front of the TV. But I’m feeling that I’m missing something in life.”
I thought about this conversation with this young man for a long time. Yes, he IS missing something vitally important in his life. Our connection with nature, with the out of doors, is absolutely important to our physical and mental health. Being outside helps bring peace and quiet to our minds.
And as that young man experienced, sometimes we feel so tired from our work that all we want to do is lie down and watch something on one of the various sized screens at our disposal. But I feel it is important to force ourselves outside because the benefits are so great. I had Covid in November 2020 before there were vaccines and when many people were dying. I felt worse than I have ever felt except when I almost died in NYC at the age of twenty from sepsis. With Covid, all I could manage was to lie in bed and feel miserable. But I knew I had to get outside in order to start to heal and feel better. It took all of my energy to put on warm clothes and step outside. But as soon as I did, I started to feel somewhat better. I forced myself to walk in the woods by our home for five minutes every day. That is not much as I am used to walking much more, but five minutes helped to lift my spirits and brought a sense of hope that I would fully recover.
In this past year, I have worked in my counseling practice with three different women of varying ages, each from a very different part of our country. I knew each of these women before and knew their life stories. They had all worked through much of the life pain of their past. But perhaps because of Covid and the isolation, they found themselves very depressed. Even though the threat of Covid was currently not so strong, all three women were spending their time on their screens and staying inside. I worked with all three on their resistance to go outside. We would set goals that they would go outside for at least five minutes each day. It took weeks for each of them to complete that commitment, but when they did, they started to feel better. The screens were turned off and in their place was the sound of birds, the wind, the sunshine or rain upon their faces. The great healing power of nature began to work its magic even just for the committed five minutes. Then I worked with them to actually move in nature, through walking, jogging, yoga or dancing. These three ladies independently chose to walk. Week by week, their spirits improved greatly, and so did their desire to eat healthy food.
I am a strong believer in the power of nature to heal and help our mental health. When I lived in New York City for two years as a student, it was harder to take my daily walks alone as it was sometimes dangerous. I figured out a time that was relatively save and made my way past very busy streets to a place where I could walk along the Hudson River. Yes, it was very crowded and I had to always be careful that I was not being followed, but I found it was worth it to just walk along the river and allow nature to bring healing. The hassle to get there and the possibility of danger was not as great as the benefits that I received.
Before Covid, Barry and I traveled quite a bit and were at airports a fair amount of time. Even with full travel days, we found ways to be outside. One time at the Boston airport, with several flights ahead of us and a long wait from a delay, we made our way up to the parking garage and for one hour we walked outside in circles on the roof of the garage. We could see nature below and feel the sun and wind and it helped to restore us for the long trip ahead.
Once, I broke my leg and ankle and was confined to a wheelchair. Barry drove me to a beach walk along a sidewalk and pushed me every day. Even though I was not walking, the power of nature was a strong healer for me.
St Francis of Assisi was a strong believer in the power of nature and he often walked many miles each day. He felt that the trees could take away negative thoughts and desires and so he often found himself among them. There are many places dedicated to St. Francis and one of many that we visited is called Fonte Columbo in the famed Rieti Valley. This place has a beautiful trail that is very nicely maintained and along the way are very lovely trees. Visitors are encouraged to walk this trail and allow the trees to bring peace to their heart and mind. I have walked this trail many times, and each time I feel so much better than when I first started.
So I want to encourage each of us to get outside at least once a day. Nature is powerful and can bring healing and peace. And the bonus. It is totally free.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books and a new free audio album of sacred songs and chants. Call 831-684-2130 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.