Reflections on nature and OCD
For me, there’s no where I feel more grounded and connected with the outside world than when I’m in nature. Maybe when you read the word ‘nature’ a certain image comes to mind; maybe a forest, a lake, fields full of wild flowers, rose gardens, coastal paths, water, the ocean, just to name a few. Maybe you have a favourite place in nature, a place where you go to find calm and quiet, to be mindful and just be. I am very grateful to have a small but beautiful park just opposite my home, this park is my grounding space for the mornings. As many of you can relate, when living with a mental health disorder such as OCD mornings are tough, and you often find your mind has started spiralling before you’ve even had a chance to sit up in bed. I use my small but peaceful park to walk my dog before work every morning, to practice mindfulness and notice all the small details; what birds can I hear singing, how many different shades of green can I see, how many tones can I pick out in the sound of the wind in the trees. I also live 40 minutes from the small beach of Seaford, in fact as I am writing this I am taking in all the sights, smells, and physical sensations bought to me by this beautiful piece of landscape.
Maybe some of you are completely surrounded by nature, such as the exquisite Lake District where Alfred Wainwright walked all 214 fells whilst beautifully illustrating and writing the famous seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, so that others could follow in his footsteps. A. Wainwright once said “You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again”, I think this quote is beautiful and reminds us all that we can begin again, no matter what our experience, or how hard we crash we can rise and soar again. Maybe some of you live amongst magnificent mountain ranges, that remind you everyday that there are things much bigger than your thoughts and feelings. Personally, I love mountains, I love the way that they sit and watch the world go by everyday and have done for so many years, and no matter what the weather is on the mountain, they just sit. Jon Kabat-Zinn beautifully communicates this in ‘The Mountain Meditation’; “In the same way that we can learn to sit in meditation, we can learn to experience the mountain. We can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives, over seconds, over hours, over years. In our lives and in our meditation practice we constantly experience the changing nature of mind and body and of the outer world. We have our own periods of light and darkness, our moments of colour and our moments of drabness, certainly we experience storms of varying intensity and violence in our own worlds, minds and bodies. We endure periods of darkness and pain, as well as the moments of joy, even our appearance changes constantly, experiencing a weather of its own. By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice we can link up with its strength and stability and adapt it for our own. We can use its energies to support our energies to encounter each moment with mindfulness, equanimity and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings are preoccupations, our emotional storms, crises, even the things that happen to us are very much like the weather on the mountain, we tend to take it all personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal. The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, honoured, felt. Known for what it is and held in awareness, and in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence, a stillness, a wisdom. Mountains have this to teach us, and much more If we can come to listen.”
Photo by Ales Krivec
Being in nature allows us to step out of the busy fast paced doing mode that we so often find ourselves in. It allows us to step out of doing mode and into being mode. A space where we can be mindful, focus on the sights, smells, sounds, and physical sensations as we sit or take a stroll. This can be very valuable when we are experiencing poor mental health, whether it’s stress, anxiety, OCD, depression – just to name a few. It’s easy to place our attention on our thoughts or feelings, as someone who has lived with OCD for over 17 years, I got very, very good at this. One of the most important skills I have learned and continue to develop in my recovery journey was that of mindfulness and choosing where I placed my attention. As defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. Maybe you don’t need to answer these questions your brain asks you, maybe you don’t need to focus on getting rid of that uncertainty, and maybe you don’t need to do those mental compulsions no matter how real any of it feels. Maybe instead you can give yourself permission to place your attention elsewhere. Perhaps on the sound of bird song, or the feel of your feet on the ground, or the breeze running past your skin. This isn’t to say that this is a quick and easy switch to make, just like physical fitness, it’s a mental fitness skill that you have to practice and cultivate over a long period of time, some would say a life time.
I was honoured to be one of six campers who attended ‘The OCD Camp’; a camp organised by ‘The OCD Stories’ We found ourselves in our own nature haven just a few minutes from the M25. You really don’t have to go far to find a secluded, peaceful place surrounded by nature. There were so many parts of this 48 hours that changed my life and my outlook on OCD recovery, too many to mention here, but one of those elements was nature. Nature allowed us to connect with ourselves and each other, we were surrounded by woodlands and rhododendrons, we could hear the birds singing and see the sun rays beaming through the trees. One evening we peacefully watched a colony of bats flood out of a hollow tree as we sat around the campfire.
Nature can ground us and remind us of the beauty in the world that can be so easily missed if our attention is placed on our thoughts and feelings. I hope you find your little piece of nature and start to cultivate a focus of attention outside of your head, because it may just change your life for the better.