10 Creative Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
here’s nothing more nourishing than spending time in nature. Nothing that is more nurturing to our spirit and soothing to our soul than being in the natural world. Our creative expression becomes more instinctive when immersed in the stillness of a forest or the invigorating seascape of a beach. Just as creativity is a natural part of being human, spending time outdoors is the most effortless and beautiful way to inspire your innate creativity.
Our fragile and immaculate earth is rich with inspiration. Many people feel more creative and free from restraints in nature. Even the most resistant of writers and artists find that their creativity is enhanced, passion reignited, and insight awakened by spending time in natural world.
Just as we are part of nature, our bodies and their internal rhythms are tuned to the rhythms of our earth. The sights and sounds, scents and feel of being outside – whether in a humble garden or a grand national park – can rejuvenate and inspire quite unlike anything else. If you’re feeling uninspired or a little disconnected from your own adventure, reignite your passion and purpose by stepping outside.
“Nature is the great visible engine of creativity, against which all other creative efforts are measured,” said Terrance McKenna in a talk in the early nineties. “Nature’s creativity is obviously the wellspring of human creativity. We emerge out of nature almost as its finest work of art. The productions of nature. And human creativity emerges out of that.”
One of the strongest forces of inspiration is the natural world. The delicate balance between spirit, mind and body can get disrupted in our demanding, on-call society. Leaving manmade environments to linger in natural ones reconnects us to our deeper selves, grounds us, and centres us, which is healing for our entire being. Disengaging yourself from your daily routine and taking time to observe the cycles of nature naturally inspires creativity.
In the same way your body needs to be nourished with healthy foods in order to function optimally, think clearly and create, your spirit can feed on beautiful landscapes, from the stillness of forests, to peaceful mountain treks and the splendour of the ocean. Taking a moment to pause and contemplate while outside also teaches us to be more loving and peaceful, and is as invigorating for our being as it is for our writing and art.
No matter how tethered we are to the demands of our lives, looking far away in the distance can make us feel free. Observing the beauty of nature led humans to develop and reveal their spirituality in the form of art. From painting cave walls to writing haiku poetry, we have always searched for and found inspiration by observing our earth, its seasons and natural wonders.
Creativity and Problem-Solving
Great authors and artists have always been drawn to natural surroundings though aside from their obvious loveliness, it’s been shown to have a massive effect on our ability to be creative.
A study conducted by the University of Kansas found that just four days of disconnecting from technology and spending time immersed in nature increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent. So taking your writing or art outside may help your process and projects too.
“There’s a growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, who led the study. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the [mobile/cell] phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for Internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”
Ruth goes on to say that the constant distractions and stimulations of modern life a threat. “They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of — things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood. Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”
Reconnection to Our Environment
Everything we know was learned by carefully observing nature around us, yet we enclose ourselves deeper and deeper inside towns and cities, further cutting our already slender and fragile connections with nature. Wild and undisturbed environments are becoming more vulnerable and we too are feeling the effects of being cut-off from the natural world.
In this video Loving Life, Loving Earth Tara Brach echos the Kansas study and states that like many countries in the Western world, Americans spend too much time inside with 90% of their time disconnected from nature. Of that inside time, Brach wonders how much is spent behind a screen, and notes that living in this ‘alternate reality’ affects us in profound ways. We become separated from the earth as we’re often living in a ‘trance’ in which we deny our true nature.
“We feel separate, inadequate, and unworthy. To defend against these feelings, we look outside ourselves for something to dull the pain. And our culture is all to happy to help. Buy more. Eat more. Get a bigger house, a bigger car… All of this over-consumption provides us a short-term fix (just like a drug) but causes long-term damage to our planet.”
Instead of filling this void with unhealthy habits or over consumption, spending more time outdoors can soothe this modern epidemic and make us more mindful of earth. Seeing the beauty of the planet also makes us want to protect it.
Mood-Enhancer and Stress-Relief
Nature was once our home and this seems to be embedded in our being. Returning to nature can feel like returning home. Although our lives are vastly different, our soul still resonates with that of the outside world. Allow your spirit to feel nurtured and inspired by the presence of natural settings by disconnecting from your daily routine and taking time to observe and follow the cycles of nature.
Even if you only have five minutes, just being outside lifts your mood and releases tension, allowing stress to drop away. “Nature is a huge healer,” says natural health expert and author, Jane Alexander. “There can be nothing more soothing than simply lying down on the earth and visualizing all your negative thoughts and feelings oozing out of you and into the earth.”
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health echoed this: being around nature can lower stress levels and boost your mental health too.
The American study showed that those who lived closer to trees, grass or flowers had less stress, anxiety and depression than those who lived in neighbourhoods with less than 10 percent tree canopy, who were more likely to report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
If you cannot get outside, you can still benefit from simply looking at images of natural scenes. A study by Berto (2005) found that just viewing pictures of natural scenes had a restorative effect on cognitive function. People’s performance was restored by picture of trees, fields and hills, but not by streets, industrial units or even complex geometric patterns. Filing your workspace with plants, photographs of our beautiful world, and natural objects are all calming to the spirit and nurturing to your creativity.
More recent research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology has shown that feeling connected to nature is related to innovative thinking. Exploring the link between connectedness with nature and cognitive style, Carmen Lai Yin Leong at Victoria University of Wellington, found that being connected with nature was associated with innovative thinking – the ease with which we can break free of convention and think about things in novel ways.
“Venturing into the natural world often involves physical demands (such as hiking), risks (such as getting lost) and opportunities for uplifting experiences (such as the viewing a sunrise from a mountain summit),” says Carmen. “To connect with nature, therefore, people often must be open to new experiences and embrace a sense of adventure. Similarly, innovative thinkers must be open-minded to embrace novel ideas.”
They also found that it enhanced holistic thinking, which takes into account the interconnectedness of all parts of a creative problem. “An understanding of nature also teaches us that all things in the natural world (including life cycles and ecosystems) are interrelated. Similarly, holistic thinkers emphasise the interconnectedness of ideas within a system.” Both of which unsurprisingly enhance creative thinking.
Early Morning Inspiration
Often writers and artists use nature’s wisdom for creativity. Many choose to wake up early in the morning to experience the serenity and fresh creativity that arises at this beautiful time of the day. The rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds and pattering of raindrops are some of the inspiring sounds of nature.
As you observe the darkness seeping away and the world coming to life, you become at one with the miracle of all life. There are also many health benefits from rising early in the day, which are only enhanced by stepping outside.
If you are blessed with the use of your legs, use them. Taking walks in the morning and seeing the sun’s first rays embrace the flowers is immaculate and undiscriminating in its creative inspiration.
Nature Walking for Creativity
A study conducted by University of Kansas found that those who hiked through nature and were peaceful and calm in their approach scored a full 50 percent higher than the other test groups. “Taking a walk, especially out in nature, among trees, can release a great deal of stress,” says Taoist practitioner, author and teacher, Stuart Alve Olson.
“Taoists developed very specific techniques for walking as a method to improve health. They developed what they referred to as ‘walking like a cat’ because they considered cats, especially the tiger, to be the most adept walkers.” Alternatively, taking your tai chi, chi kung or yoga practice outside as the sun rises is a beautiful way to start your day. It leaves your body and mind rejuvenated, allowing you to start your writing and creative work with renewed clarity and calm.
Connection, Spontaneity and the Tao
In the Taoist philosophy, an emphasis is put on the duality of the natural forces and the microcosm within our bodies reflecting the macrocosm around us in our world. “Nature and Silence, suggest ways in which Tao is observable every day. Just as the ancients were inspired by nature to seek Tao, so too can we begin to understand Tao through the world around us,” says Ming-Dao Deng, author, teacher and martial artist.
As we discover more about the world we leave in, and can explore the infinite of possibilities, igniting our creativity and spontaneity. “Those who follow Tao have always considered humanity to be a part—and a subordinate part at that—of nature. Therefore, to begin on the path of Tao is to observe nature and understand that we are a part of it. Nature is not wholly synonymous with Tao but it is completely a part of Tao and thus a perfect way to glimpse Tao. They love nature and spend time in the wilderness learning from the seasons, studying animals, and absorbing the lessons of nature’s creativity.”
Every spiritual path can only be enhanced and our connection to ourselves and our world liberated by being in nature. When we journey into the wilderness, we connect with our inner wilderness and discover our true nature, who we are when we strip away all facades that we wear to please others, be accepted or protect our tender souls.
“Take a moment and look at the world around and inside you,” says author and teacher of the Taoist arts, Ralph Wahlstrom. “Consider the natural elements: the quality of light, the temperature (warm or cold against your skin), and the weather; and consider the textures, plants, colours, and all the qualities of your surroundings. Now think about your inner workings: the flow of blood through your veins, the beating of your heart and rhythm of your breathing. Jot down your observations of the natural inner and outer worlds.”
Staying in nature reconnects you with your true, authentic self, allowing you to live with more integrity and sincerity towards others. As each of us individually wake up to our own unique being and be true to ourselves, acting in accordance to our real and authentic values.
“In nature nothing is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways and they’re still beautiful.” ~ Alice Walker
Nature has a way of revealing some of its most spectacular faces only when few eyes are watching. Whether you’re in a local park or in a vast rainforest, it has the ability to transform feelings of melancholy into bountiful creativity that always enhances your writing and art. “Natural writing can rise from our interaction with and the inspiration of the natural world,” says Wahlstrom.
To draw inspiration from nature, you need to be mindful. While taking a walk in a garden, field or park, observe the flowers that are blooming around you, the delicate flutter of a butterfly’s wing; the tranquil chorus of songbirds; the gentle wind that caresses your face can all help your body relax, your spirit soak in the beauty that surrounds you, and your mind liberated creatively.
Capture these moments in your heart and when you are alone, think of them. The more you get involved with nature, the more you can draw inspiration from it. Nature brings us back into the moment, that place of tranquil contemplation, allowing us to simply be, unruffled or swayed by the relentless demands of our hectic world. In full presence our ability to express ourselves creatively is magnified and our true voice as writers and artists liberated too.