Is Nature Free?

pennsylvania-woodsWe all have access to nature. To be with plants, animals, insects and elements from the natural world, we only need to leave our homes. Even if we live in an urban environment there are parks, or blue sky above, the air, hopefully birds too. We can just walk out our door, no admission fee, no cost to us.

This idea of nature as free was prompted by a recent experience. In describing an ecopsychology workshop I was facilitating, a potential attendee asked: “why should I pay for spending time in nature when it is basically free?” I considered this. When I hear something is “for free” I think of receiving without having to give or offer something in exchange or return. I think this free perspective can lead to the disregard many people have for nature. This idea of nature being free feels out of balance to me, one sided.

The life coaching and “inner wilderness guide” work I do offers clients an opportunity to learn about their nature and the nature of others, in nature. Building a relationship with nature beyond recreation, relaxation, or as a food source, brings us into a place of exchange or mutuality. To express our gratitude to the natural world, or to dialogue with nature, invites relationship. Indigenous and earth based cultures consider all elements in nature as alive and as equally important as humans.

To deeply care about an other, whether a person, plant, moonrise or sunset, opens the way to caring and being in an interdependent relationship. We need this in our world today as we face unprecedented abuses to the environment.

How might it be to consider what we can offer to nature rather than what we get from nature? When did you last spend time with a tree asking “what can I offer you in exchange for your beauty, oxygen, and shade?”

Try this ecopsychology exercise: leave behind all devices, biking and hiking props, and canoes. Go into nature with only your curiosity and openheartedness. Wander until something draws your attention. It might be a large flat stone, a tiny crawling insect, a flower, animal, anything. Sit down, ask for permission to join this being, wait for the answer and if yes, become very still and present. (If no, search for another being.) Ask the question: “What would you like from me today?” And become even more still as you listen for the answer. You may think it is only your imagination when you hear a response. What if it is not your imagination?

Nature cannot be free if we want a healthy, clean world to live in. A relationship with nature, as with any person, is most full and rich when there is an exchange, when we give as much as we get.