Reconnecting With Our True Nature
By Philip Hosmer, Executive Director, Nature Worx
Not surprisingly, in a society where Americans spend 10 hours a day looking at electronic screens, 93 percent of their time indoors, and report more loneliness, depression and anxiety than ever before, we are reassessing our need for the nature we abandoned. We are looking back to Mother Nature to find our way again.
There is a wealth of data and evidence being generated across the globe on the positive impact on our mind, spirit and body of humans being in nature. Over the past 30 years, Japan has developed a certified medical specialty of evidence-based therapeutic nature activities based on shinrin-yoku, which is clumsily translated as “forest bathing.” Shinrin -yoku is more appropriately translated as “forest medicine.”
Dr. Qing Lee, Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, refers to the Japanese word yugen, a term for feelings that are too deep for words, that give us a profound sense of the beauty and mystery of the universe. Using all five senses, forest bathers mindfully take in nature in such a focused way as to connect deeply to the natural world and the web of life. And to experience yugen.
If this all sounds like tree-hugger magic, there is actually hard evidence behind it resulting from hundreds of published scientific studies. Dr. Lee and his colleagues have reams of data built from three decades of research. By implementing surveys and monitoring vital signs, research teams have documented the positive effects of mindfully being in the forest: elevated mood, more consistent sleep patterns, reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, boosting of the immune system and lowering of heart rate and blood pressure. The Japanese have designed a network of 62 certified forest therapy bases and they are used each year by between 2.5 and 5 million people, many directed to go out in nature by their physician.
So if nature is medicine, and being involved with it provides a way for us to connect with the larger world and with ourselves, it’s logical to apply its benefits to those struggling to cope with the pressures and stresses of life in the 21st century.
To help others find their way home to nature and create balance in their lives, I founded a not-for-profit organization called Nature Worx in 2017. I was inspired by two friends in my life, whose lives reflect the spectrum of outcomes associated with the destructive forces of addiction. One friend overdosed from fentanyl at age 33. His mother found him dead in his bedroom. The other friend was beset by a brutal combination of multiple addictions that left him suicidal, but has clawed his way back from the brink and has been clean and sober for 15 years.
I wanted to use my knowledge of the ravages of substance use disorder and my understanding of the healing properties of nature to support people who are in recovery and more broadly, those struggling to cope with life’s many challenges. My intent was to create a locally delivered program that enables participants to develop a relationship with nature, see it as a resource to their health and teach them practical skills to deepen their connection to the healing properties it offers.
Nature Worx is a mélange of disciplines that I have compounded, tested, and honed through real-time experience with our clients. The program is interactive and led by professional guides, who come from a variety of backgrounds: social work, substance abuse counseling, education, outdoor recreation and natural interpretation. The one quality our guides share is that they have extremely strong group facilitation and people skills.
Our approach draws closely on the shinrin-yoku principle of mindfully using all five senses to experience the natural world and absorb its therapeutic qualities. But for those with limited experience outdoors, shinrin-yoku alone does meet them where they are
Our guides layer in elements of mindfulness, meditation and natural interpretation. We start by setting a context for what they are experiencing, we teach tangible exercises and skills, and the group shares insights and wisdom at the end. Our approach creates several different bridges to nature for individuals to walk over. When and how they choose to cross a bridge depends on who they are and where they are in their journey.
The success of the program thus far has led to discussions with public health officials, corporations, veterans organizations and nature centers about its applicability to a variety of populations.
Nature Worx is just one part of an emerging global movement focused on using nature to help people heal. There is science and evidence behind this movement and some think in the near future, more physicians will take note. Eventually, the thinking goes, insurance companies will have to buy in. Our journey back to nature, our home, will then be joined by many.
How to Get Involved
GIVE: As a not-for-profit organization focused on using nature to help people heal, Nature Worx relies on support from donations, grants and corporate contributions. We are a federally approved, tax exempt 501 © (3) organization, and all donations are tax deductible.
VOLUNTEER: We welcome the support of volunteers who would like to help us with all aspects of operating a not-for-profit organization: Budget and finances, legal services, grantwriting, partnership development, social media, communications, curriculum development and videography.
REFER: Let us know if you’re aware of a company or organization that could benefit from our services. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
JOIN OUR TEAM: Are you aqualified professional who would like to serve as one of our paid Nature Worx guides? Please contact us at email@example.com
We thank our following clients and partners:
Ashley Addiction Treatment
Chesapeake Environmental Management
Community Foundation of Harford County
Harford County Teen Court program
Irvine Nature Center
Ladew Topiary Gardens