Nature as Healing

Forming a personal relationship with the Earth— one that forced me to view its own healing as intertwined with my own— forced me to radically and compassionately confront my own healing.

When you wake up as the sun does you get to watch her get ready. 

You call out Mother Earth!, and although you’re a grown person, far from the womb from which you came, she responds to you.

You get up from the sleep that has claimed your life for the past eight hours. Stretch your palms to the sky, welcoming mama’s warm embrace.

Jump out of bed. Throw on something reasonable. Chug water, little dribblets still left on your chin, on your cheek. 

I run for the hills. I run for the Earth’s mounds, her warm embrace and bosom all telling me, ah yes, welcome, you’ve made it. You’ve made it to the most spectacular show on Earth, for the sun is waking up, which means that it is time, we are ready, for Mama’s warm embrace––to be engulfed in the flames that each day wake us anew.

Photo via Zaria Howell

Waking up on a farm feels like rebirth. Or at least it did to me, when I spent a little over two months working and living on one in rural Illinois in the summer of 2021. I was taking my final set of classes online and preparing to graduate in the fall— and “start” my life.

That summer was different from anything I’d experienced before. I shared a room and lived in a house of roughly twelve people (yes, my privilege is showing). And although I regularly found myself uncomfortable—away from home, an introverts in an extrovert’s experience, feeling the racial pangs of being a Black femme in a rural, white space—there I was—some believed out of place—right where I felt I belonged. 

I have always found nature extremely healing. When I was young I chose to spend more time outside with the rolly-pollies rather than with peers my own age. I remember having to be pulled inside by my parents or persuaded with food. In hindsight, I think the environment felt safer, and more welcoming, than some of the other physical spaces I was in at the time.

But after spending much of my middle and high school years in the city and the rest of my college years in the suburbs of Chicago, I felt like I had lost connection to the life force from which I draw my personal power and utmost gratitude for life: the environment.

And so, after graduating, I saw the opportunity to re-nurture that love and I took it. 


Zaria holds vegetables
Zaria holds vegetables.

Living with and amongst the breathing and expanding environment can be a truly spiritual experience. 

In the city, I regularly found myself living in fight or flight mode—consumed by school work, graduate school applications and an upcoming college graduation. It felt unsustainable for me and regularly left me feeling burnt-out by Saturday. And although I was only 21 at the time, my body felt much much older—a sign of the ways I wasn’t caring for her in the ways she might’ve needed. 

And I’m not alone in this feeling. A 2021 report on the mental health impacts of remote work, over 75 percent of surveyed participants said that workplace-related stressors contributed to increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

At the time that I’m writing this, there’s quite a few things going on in the world. A few days ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. Around that same time, Chicago, and other major cities, announced the end of their mask mandates—a day many of us weren’t sure we would ever see. And the Great Resignation—which sounds more and more like the entrance to an amusement park, rather than a mass exodus from the bustle and grind of 9-5 work culture—means people are quitting their jobs and renegotiating their needs and dreams left and right.

And so, perhaps now more than ever, is time for us, as a collective, to decide what environmental consciousness means and looks like to us, for it’s clear we’ve become disconnected from the life force energy that binds us to our environment. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Indigenous activist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, describes the relationship between humans and the environment as being reciprocal: “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

With this understanding of the environment, and our role in it, in mind, here are some gentle ways to bring this environmental awareness back into your everyday frame of mind.

  1. Show gratitude. To your plants, your favorite walking trail, the water you shower with, the sunshine you let rest of your face. It is an incredible and absurd experience to be a human. Show gratitude to the environment for the ways it aids in your everyday life experience, which doesn’t necessarily have to involve hugging nearby trees or calling out to Pachamama if you don’t want it to.
  2. Play. The environment, in all her glory, regularly reminds us to surrender. The sun does not apologize for being bright or resist her own solar power, so why should we, as humans, give up our most primal desires, which is to, put simply: play and survive?
  3. Be mindful. Go slow. The environment reminds us that, even when there is lots going on around us that we can not control, we can choose to, internally, be still. Studies show that even taking a few moments to notice nature could dramatically improve both your day and mental health. Where in your life can you bring more mindfulness, meditation or intentionality? 

We are living in some very overwhelming times. At any given moment of the day you might find yourself resisting the urge to sit still; somewhere there’s a fire asking to be put out.

But you, like the sun, are also a fire that must be tended to. What if, rather than rushing to put out the many fires that appear to threaten the stability of our world, we surrendered to our own?

What would it look like if we all surrendered to the healing that these fires are urging us to consider. Some might say all that would be left behind us is brush and ashes—not much to build a world with at all. I’d say a scorched Earth is quite exactly what we need to build a new world.