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How to Tune in to Nature in Times of Uncertainty

Jill's headshot. She is leaning against a tree outside.

Hi, I’m Jill Doneen Clifton! I was trained as an ecologist, someone who studies the land and inhabitants and how they work together to create the ecosystem. As part of my work, I was able to live in remote places in nature for months at a time, often with only a few other people around, and immerse myself in the natural world. This gave me the opportunity to develop a relationship with nature, and not only to learn how it was organized, but to relate to nature in a way that was very healing for me. Currently, I am utilizing my experience in nature, as well as my studies of psychology, neurobiology, and energy healing to help mothers who want to give their children a way of relating that they, themselves, did not experience as children. To that end, I wrote Landscape of Mothers and offer group and one-on-one work supporting mothers to develop their inner mother so they can be the parents they want to be.

Uncertainty is one of the reliable hallmarks of life. There will always be moments where we don’t know what to do. These are also times when we have a lot of feelings and thoughts swirling. Our feelings orient us toward what we want, and the thoughts often check those desires against norms and expectations. Both of these things are necessary and can be helpful but are also often at odds. Uncertainty about what’s happening and how it might play out adds to the tension. 

So, how do we take care of ourselves in uncertain times?

My process is based in nature. There are three characteristics of natural systems that can offer us support and stability when we feel uncertain. Nature can help us navigate life when we don’t know what else to do.

3 Characteristics of Nature

1. Nature is neutral. 

Nature doesn’t judge your inner experience. The trees don’t care if you throw a full on toddler-level tantrum. They are still there, present, and willing to listen. The river doesn’t care if you sob into it, dropping tears and grief and letting go. The river continues to flow. The wind doesn’t care if you yell and scream until you are exhausted and your throat is raw. It will still meet you with the breath of the land and you are still welcome. 

When it feels like others need us to be a certain way so that they’ll listen, this neutrality of nature can be a welcome relief. Nature will not abandon us just because we’re having a difficult experience.

2. Nature is actually helpful.

The chemistry of the forest interacts with human nervous systems to create senses of calm and ease. Some airborne molecules made by trees even boost the human immune system. You can search the internet for articles on the science, but what happens when you go outside and notice the natural world? Do you already know that the fresh air, or the smell of trees, or touching the flowers at the park makes you feel better? 

3. Nature shares a fundamental flow of energy.

Life force energy flows through plants and animals, as well as humans. When we go out in nature with the intention to notice or connect with the life force energy in the plants and animals around us, we find it through resonance. Our attention is often drawn to what is happening outside of us that mirrors what’s going on inside. Like when we watch a sad movie, and cry about the plot or the characters and that helps us process our own grief over something else. 

Working with the Natural World

OK, so those are the three things about nature that makes it a good companion when we don’t know what to do. But, how does it really help us? 

This is a four step process to working with the natural world. I’ll share example along the way. As you read, you might notice if memories of your own connection to nature come to mind.

1. Inquiry

Honestly, it’s not required. I’ve received guidance from nature without having a well thought out question. But a good question can help provide a context. You can go to nature with a topic that you want to contemplate, really, whatever is on your mind. If you feel stuck, you can simply take the question: “What would nature do in this situation?” 

Example: I was struggling with a time of change, wondering what my role was in my family and my community. I took the question “What do I need to let go in order to move forward?” into the forest. I think of the forest as many trees working together, so it seemed like a good place to go with that particular question. That day I understood some very fundamental aspects of my life that needed re-examination (more on this in a minute).

2. Noticing

We can go out to nature and bring our curiosity, openness, and attention with us. When we let our subconscious scan the environment, we can trust it to land on something meaningful (see nature characteristic #3 above).

Example: In the inquiry I mentioned above, I went to the forest with “What do I need to let go in order to move forward?” When I got to the place I was drawn to, a large redwood tree that had survived a fire. I noticed that the fire had gutted the tree, leaving the center open and charred. The tree was fully alive and was deeply rooted through its outer wood, rather than by a central core root. 

3. Guidance

This step is where we explore and move through our uncertainty. Guidance is the desire to move in a particular direction based on the awareness that arises from the original inquiry and the noticing. It is an invitation to take action on our own behalf. The guidance indicates the next right step according to our internal systems. It’s the interpretation of the meaning of what you noticed. 

Example: When I looked at this burned out redwood tree, I noticed how it had lost its center. When I wondered what the significance of that was, I felt very clearly that it had lost its core, it had to give up what had been central to its life before the fire. It had to rely on the newer outer rings of its trunk to transmit water and nutrients between the needles and the roots. It had let go of what was. So, I understood the guidance to be that I needed to reconsider the things that I thought were carrying me forward. Did I need to let go of some expectations I had??

4. Reflection

Reflection happens after everything else. It is the time where we assess what we learned. We check that the guidance feels appropriate for the present context of our lives. That is, we need to consider the impact on others in our lives. Reflection is the step in which we integrate our intuitive guidance with our logical thought processes to figure out how we are going to do what is needed.

Example: The guidance that I needed to reconsider what I thought was central to my life required some discernment. I felt very clearly that something I once thought would be important going forward, wouldn’t. But, I also didn’t feel that my guidance was to blow up my entire life and make everything new. 

It took reflection and discernment to look at the layers of my life… It turned out that my work was changing. About a month later, I was going to bed one night, and I had the thought “Landscape of Mothers.” It caught my attention. I knew it was a title. I wrote it down. And that night I wrote, turned my light off to sleep, turned it back on, wrote more, and so on. Eventually I started writing by moonlight. Wind Mother presented herself to me that night and we began writing a book. 

Landscape of Mothers

The book I’m referring to is Landscape of Mothers. I wrote it for moms who want to raise their kids from a place of regard and connection, but weren’t raised in that environment themselves. It’s for moms who want to give their children the self-care skills and tools they had to learn as adults.

What we experienced as kids informs the kind of family and world that we want, but it can be difficult to live it out. The path to that desired family dynamic is full of learning skills and tools that we didn’t have when we were coping with our own childhood experiences.

Landscape of Mothers can be a map through that learning curve… not a how-to kind of map, but a here-are-places-you-could-visit kind of map. An ecology of possibilities and hope and trying things on. 

You can find the book local booksellers, independent booksellers, or Amazon if that’s what’s accessible to you or you prefer ebooks. And you can learn more about Landscape of Mothers here

Nature work is a fundamental piece of the Landscape of Mothers process, and that’s why I chose to share it with you today.

Best wishes on your journeys, fellow intrepid travelers! May nature support you in every way!


*Photo credit: Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

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