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  • Writer's pictureMoss & Fern Counselling

Spirituality and Nature-Based Therapy



A year ago I sat down with a friend visiting from out of country who is a public health educator and professor. In our conversation we discussed how spirituality is a major portion of healing that is often missing within the public health and psychology realms. I let my friend know that I have had this blog post written and deleted a dozen times over the last month, knowing the importance of it and yet fearful that it would be distorted. I thank my friend for her amazing work that she does everyday and for helping me see that sometimes I need to lean in and be brave and just publish the blog post (even though it took another year to post)! Enjoy the read.


A large part of my hesitation comes from my American background where spirituality often meant God in the monotheist Christian sense or it meant cultural appropriation often of Turtle Island Indigenous practices or Westernized Eastern religious practices without respect for their backgrounds and sacredness to their people. Sometimes it is easier to ignore spirituality than to get swept up in the complexity of it.


Historically, psychology, like many dominant, colonial Western organizations, recognized Christianity as the only religion that was permitted and encouraged to recognize their spiritual practices and combine with Christianity with growing research. This has led to a the recognition of Christian Counsellors that now includes recognized Universities, training, and directories for easy access. Only in recent decades have other directories that focus on diversity been growing within the field (read here for local directories) but many do not cover diverse spirituality.


What has occurred is this the picking and choosing of other religions to try to meet society needs in Western culture. Unfortunately, in that cherry-picking many teachings that are meant to coincide with individual pieces are lost and/or taken out of context.


What is really neat is that no matter who you are, where you are from, how mixed your ancestry, or if your ancestry is unknown, there are so many options in our current time to explore! Connect with your ancestors, spirituality and pursue more questions to explore that will bring you closer to a deeper, richer, more complex, and authentic, wonderful you.



Connecting with Your Spirituality

Spirituality, spirit, or sometimes called soul, is something that is missing from most psychotherapeutic practices. If it is present it seems to be only surfacing with monotheist colonizing religions or through appropriation of various Indigenous and Eastern practices. This has been reflected in research long enough and it is time to start lifting the spiritual beyond dominant cultural practices and acknowledging other spiritual practices without appropriation. For more on appropriation and spirituality read here, here and here as well.


This is me giving permission to you, in case you secretly were waiting for someone to (even though you don't need permission), to explore connections to things bigger than you. I am not a spiritual teacher and don’t want you to take my words as your only guidance. My hope would be, that my words spark, or feed, an inner flame - an inner dialogue you may already be having. The thoughts about interconnectedness, feelings of being a part of, or other can’t quite put your finger on, spiritual notions. Free these thoughts and explore them with the support of nature. Maybe you are thinking about a few of these:


  • What resonates with you, lifts you up and gives you hope?

  • The stars, galaxy, and vastness of the unknown universe? (sometimes called dark nature)

  • The feel of wind on your face while you listen to leaves shuffle?

  • Noticing squirrels scurrying and dancing about?

  • The buzz of a bumble bee that reminds you of our interconnectedness through pollination?

  • Or the buzz of a fly that reminds you of interconnectedness by the clean up of natural debris that flies aid with?

  • How do you connect with life cycles? Season cycles? The trees and animals in your space?

  • What do you know about the lands you are on? Who were there before and now?

  • What do you know about the lands of your ancestors? How they cared for the lands? How did they work with and honour nature? (yes, this is true even for white bodies – there is a rich history of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and others connection with nature – no need to borrow others)

Aristotle noted that "in all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." Take this an invitation to examine your interconnectedness with nature. This may lead to the blossoming or enhancement of your own spirituality, however you define or create it. Maybe it will be something marvelous!


Take care,


Autumn


I know a few of you might be wanting more than links and some academic references. Here are just a few academic resources that you might find interesting for different reasons focusing on spirituality and nature:


Ashley, P. (2007). Toward an understanding and definition of wilderness spirituality. Australian Geographer, 38(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049180601175865


Hansen, M. M., & Jones, R. (2020). The Interrelationship of shinrin-yoku and spirituality: A scoping review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26(12), 1093–1104. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2020.0193


Heintzman, P. (2003). The wilderness experience and spirituality what recent research tells Us. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 74(6), 27–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.2003.10609216


Heintzman, P. (2009). Nature-based recreation and spirituality: A complex relationship. Leisure Sciences, 32(1), 72–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400903430897


Kamitsis, I., & Francis, A. J. P. (2013). Spirituality mediates the relationship between engagement with nature and psychological wellbeing. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36, 136–143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.07.013


Naor, L., & Mayseless, O. (2020). The therapeutic value of experiencing spirituality in nature. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 7(2), 114–133. https://doi.org/10.1037/scp0000204


Pasek, Z., & Dyczewska, A. (2012). Man and Nature. A New Project on New Spirituality. Problemy Ekorozwoju – Problems of Sustainable Development, 7(2), 67–76. https://doi.org/https://ssrn.com/abstract=2133957


Ryff, C. D. (2021). Spirituality and well-being: Theory, science, and the nature connection. Religions, 12(11), 914. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110914


Taylor, B. (2001). Earth and nature-based spirituality (part I): From Deep Ecology to radical environmentalism. Religion, 31(2), 175–193. https://doi.org/10.1006/reli.2000.0256


Taylor, B. (2001). Earth and nature-based spirituality (part II): From earth first! and bioregionalism to scientific paganism and the new age. Religion, 31(3), 225–245. https://doi.org/10.1006/reli.2000.0257


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