Honoring the rhythms of nature

Did you notice the trees? When we started quarantine none of the trees had leaves.  We knew Spring was coming, but in the Willamette Valley, we were still in the grip of winter.  Today when I walked the dog early in the morning I noticed every single tree has fully leafed out.  

While we’ve been sheltering in place, on hold, waiting for businesses and workplaces to reopen,  nature has been moving forward.  

There’s a rhythm to the cycle of nature that we can take a cue from.  The ebb and flow, of night and day and seasons, have long had an impact on our bodies and our health.  Our bodies rely on rhythm – our breathing, heartbeat, and our sleep/wake cycle, the Circadian rhythm, are all part of being alive. 

Recognizing the natural rhythms of the day and the year and leaning into them can have beneficial effects on health and well-being.  

Before electrical lighting lengthened our days, societies lived within the cycle of sunrise and sunset.

“Morning and evening are especially significant times for resetting our inner clocks. Awakening gradually with the sun, which stimulates the hormone serotonin, allows our body to peacefully resolve its sleep cycles and prepare us for the day. If we are in tune, our heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and cortisol (a hormone that defends against stress) level increase before we wake up. In the evening, these functions should decrease, while darkness triggers increased production of the sleep-inducing hormones melatonin and prolactin,” says Carol Venolia in Mother Earth Living.

Yet, our busy lives cause many people to be cut off from the natural rhythms of nature and their bodies. “They no longer get up with the sun, and they may stay up until the wee hours of the morning. Their pace of life is such that it is inconsequential whether it is night or day or winter or summer. The phases of the moon go unnoticed,” notes SlowMovement.com.

Disrupted circadian rhythm can make you feel out of sorts and can make it harder to pay attention. Hopefully, this season at home has opened space and opportunity for being more in tune with nature and its rhythms. 

Says Megan Roop at mindbodygreen.com, “Nature will quiet your mind, open your heart and invite ease into your body. You’ll feel the living connection with life all around you, giving you the capacity to open up to something that’s much bigger than yourself. Through nature, you’ll transform, awaken, and heal, and even get a boost in creativity, health, and quality of life.”

As hard as these last couple of months working and schooling from home have been, in some respects life has slowed down.  It has given us an opportunity to become more aware of the rhythms of nature and our own body clocks in a way that our busy hurrying about does not.  And it has given us the opportunity to walk more, and watch the trees bloom and hear the birds sing. 

Have you found your family becoming more in tune with the cycle of nature during our season of sheltering at home?

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Feeling anxious? Try Mindfulness

It’s been a wild month. We are all learning so many new things. What it’s like to be together 24/7 with no end in sight. What adding ‘working from home’ and ‘schooling at home’ does to family life. Exactly how many steps it takes to walk around the block, which we’ve counted as these walks are now happening multiple times a day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had many moments when I haven’t handled it well. I’m worried and stressed, frustrated and depressed. I have been delighting in the Zoom visits I’ve had with family and friends. But when the ‘meeting’ comes to an end, the weight of our social distancing crushes me. After one family call, I lost it and cried for nearly an hour. This is all so, so hard.

I was telling a friend about my rough week and she pointed me to an article that identified what I was feeling: grief. Says David Kessler, co-founder of grief.com, “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.” 

It helped to have a name for the weight I am bearing. But what helped more was his advice for dealing with these feelings. 

Presence and mindfulness

“To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain,” says Kessler.

“Presence” is the practice of being present in the current moment, focusing thoughts on what is happening today, instead of thinking anxious thoughts about the future or dwelling on regrets about the past.

Focusing on the present – this immediate moment I am living – help reduce my anxiety. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that right now we are all ok. We are healthy, the sun is shining, the kids aren’t bickering. In this moment I am ‘ok’.

Being deliberate about noticing our present circumstances is often referred to as mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is the practice of being intentional – aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Focus thoughts on that awareness, without judgment. Turning our thoughts to what we feel at the present moment, helps us turn away from thoughts about the past and anxiety about the future.

On my bleakest day so far, choosing to focus on just that day helped me move forward. I spent the rest of that day focused just on ‘today’. The next day I felt much better and the day after that, even better.

I know I’ll have hard days again on this roller coaster we are all riding. But remembering to come into the present moment and mindfully accept all the feelings – good and bad – will help on the rough days.

Let it go

When it gets hard, Kessler has one other bit of helpful advice: Think about how to let go of what you can’t control. “What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.”

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.