5 Steps to Healing Our Toxic Relationship with Nature
As humankind, we are in a toxic relationship with nature. And just like with any relationship, there are a number of steps you can take to help repair it. In this episode, we walk through 5 Steps to Healing Our Toxic Relationship With Nature.
Our Toxic Relationship with Earth
Think about your relationship with your family or a significant other. When you love someone in that relationship, you treat them with respect, care, compassion, show them interest, give them time. You are invested in their growth, and their outcome, their happiness if you will.
It’s a safe place to be, where there is shared reciprocity – a mutually beneficial outcome. You show them time, care, and attention, and they return it – making you both feel good and have more energy after your interactions. It’s that warm fuzzy feeling of happiness being around people you love.
Well, the same goes for our relationship with nature – Mother Earth. The earth gives us life, water, protection, happiness. I bet if you think of some of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen – it comes from nature. The sunrise over a vast green field. A rainbow lighting the sky after a light rain. The sun sparkling over an ocean.
The earth gives so much to us in our relationship, are we reciprocating it?
I’m sure you see it coming but, the short answer is not really. By definition – we (as humankind) are in a toxic relationship with nature. A toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and physically damaging.
A toxic relationship is not a safe place. It’s distinguished by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, and control – sound familiar? From our unsustainable modification of almost 95% of the earth’s surface to the ravaging of natural fossil fuels for our personal benefit – humans have overwhelmingly asserted our dominance over nature instead of working with nature.We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship. And we are on the giving and receiving end of our own toxicity because human health and planetary health are linked. So we are living the consequences of our toxic relationship.
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We Are In A Long-Term Relationship
But here’s the catch – when you’re in a toxic relationship you typically have the option to get out. To never see that person again if you want to.
With our relationship with Mother Earth – there are no long conversations about how it’s not working out, no ghosting, no blocking your number, and hoping they won’t call.
We are in a long-term relationship with nature with the only end in sight being that we break it past the point of return. If we stay in this dysfunctional relationship like it is, it isn’t going to end pretty. Nature will still be there in the end, but we might not be.
And you might say, ok we are physically damaging the earth – we just need to do xyz. Carbon sequestering, more energy-efficient modes of transportation, recycling, and reducing waste – all of the things that we talk about that need to be done. All those things are great…
But it is more than that.
Have you tried to fix a relationship and been able to do so by just going through the motions? By taking a dominant approach to resolving your issues through tactical solutions? I doubt it.
Even money won’t fix the issue without a change in ourselves. An independent expert study shows that protecting 30% of the world’s land and ocean would require just 0.016% of global GDP and would outweigh the costs by a factor of at least 5:1. But why don’t we do it? Because we aren’t committed to healing our toxic relationship.
We need to feel emotionally connected
In order to stay committed to the relationship – we need to feel connection and investment. There has to be motive and intention behind our actions that allow us to stick to them, and even grow with better solutions to create a happier, more symbiotic relationship that can last even if our emotions ebb and flow.
Our emotions help us to connect so that we make better decisions that will positively affect nature, the rest of humankind, and ultimately ourselves. They bring us together so that, collectively, we can work towards implementing those tactical solutions. Our emotions are the key to our ethical decisions.
If I told you to treat your partner with respect because it hurts them when you don’t, you may just shrug it off. But if you saw your partner upset because of your disrespect you may be compelled to change your behavior.
Similarly, if I told you to recycle because it would help marine animals, you may not feel moved to action to improve that relationship. But if I showed you a video of a turtle swimming among a sea of plastic bags – you will likely feel an emotion that attaches you to making an ethical decision to start recycling.
The change in our emotions leads us to a change of consciousness that we need to sustain this relationship. It leads us to decisions that aren’t physically harming the earth, and actually investing in the growth of the Earth long term – taking us out of the cycle of our toxic relationship.
So how do we go about healing our toxic relationship with nature?
Well just like any relationship, there are a number of steps you can take to repair it. And I’ve narrowed it down to 5 steps that you can start today.
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Step 1 – Renew your connection
Fall In Love With Earth
As I mentioned earlier, there was probably a time in your life when you fell in love with the earth. When you saw something so awe-inspiring you thought you would never forget it. That moment was probably filled with a sense of peace and happiness. But as time goes by, you may have forgotten those feelings. We get caught in our day-to-day tasks – answering emails, cooking, cleaning – and we forget what brought us closer to nature.
There are a few things you can do here. One is to simply remind yourself of those awe-inspiring moments that lead you to fall in love with nature. Secondly, and probably the more effective way is to go outside into nature as often as you can to connect.
Put your feet to the ground, find a spot to sit, relax, and observe (do this simple 5-minute mediation). When I do this every morning I find that I hear new bird songs, see different bugs buzzing around the flowers, I can smell the fresh grass, or feel the wind giving me a simple hello as it brushes against my face. Instead of one moment that makes you fall in love with nature, you’ll soon find that you can find moments to fall in love with nature every single day. Reestablishing your connection and your desire to put in the time, care, and attention to make the earth a safe space.
Make A Commitment
Make a commitment to spend 30 minutes each day in nature. Try spending that quality time in nature alone or in silence with another person.
The physical connection to nature is important here. Physically being in nature or connecting yourself with nature makes much more of an impact visualizing or seeing it through the glass window of your office or car. We need to build positive experiences that will define our relationship with nature and build lasting commitment.
Re-evaluate why you are here on this earth, and who brings you that life. Find that shared connection between yourself and nature.
step 2 – Identify and stop your negative patterns in their tracks
Some of the reasons why a relationship experiences stress can include not enough quality time, absentmindedly disregarding their needs, deflecting responsibility or blame. It can also involve negative actions that act as stressors.
So in our relationship with Earth – the negative patterns are pretty evident.
Less time is being spent in nature – causing the disconnect. In fact, in America, almost one in six adults report that they never spend their free time in nature. Carving out quality time is important for the things that you love – even when it comes to Mother Earth.
We are disregarding the needs of the planet when it is clearly displaying signs of distress. This is evident from climate change. And there is a large majority that doesn’t want to see our role in affecting the planet or are putting off blame to others.
We also are ignoring everyday habits that are stressors to the earth like driving our cars, overusing plastic and not recycling, wasting food, and overconsuming meat. Being able to identify these individual stressors to the planet means that we are able to take responsibility for our patterns and then take action to stop them in their tracks.
Step 3 – acknowledge (and appreciate) your differences
Now this one is a bit of a comparison between ourselves and the rest of humankind. In order to act as a cohesive unit to save Mother Earth, we have to acknowledge that we are all different. Yes, that may seem counterintuitive but hear me out.
Just like people have different love languages, there are different ways that people can express their appreciation and love for the earth. There are some sustainable actions that make sense for people to implement in their life that doesn’t work for others and vice versa.
Acknowledging that we are all different, but working towards the same goal puts us in a better position to direct our energy to heal our relationship with the earth and what we CAN do, instead of using our energy to butt heads with someone who may be doing things differently than you. In other words, there are many “right ways” to do things, and we can’t expect that everyone does it all.
Furthermore, once we acknowledge that our planet is inhabited by several millions of extremely diversified species and over 7 billion human beings, we can start to appreciate how beautiful that difference is and how we can work together to preserve those differences in humans and other species.
This appreciation comes with a willingness to learn from others. We see the world from the perspective of our own experiences first, but realizing that there is more to learn brings our ego down a notch and allows us to be open-minded to new or different solutions.
Step 4 – increase your commitment
Commitment comes from desire. So we’ve built the desire back by renewing our connection, but we need the consistency that comes from long-term commitment. And remember, we’ve already found THE ONE (aka our one and the only habitable planet) so we need to increase our commitment to making it work.
Relationships can be hard. They take work and effort. But once you get into a flow they become easier. A sacrifice you make one day to not eat meat or to carpool to work may not even feel like a sacrifice after you’ve committed to doing it over time. It could end up being something that you truly enjoy and find pride in.
Maybe you’re someone who spends 10 minutes a day in nature, up that to 30 minutes or more, and see the difference it makes. Or if you only spend Saturdays out in nature, try adding in a walk during your lunch break to get in that time. It will benefit your health and the earth.
In fact, in order to truly commit, you do need to engage in personal self-growth. My favorite phrase is “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Deciding to practice healthy habits for yourself will result in more energy, self-love, inner knowing, and empathy, which will result in a healthier planet.
“Our relationship with nature is more one of being than having. We are nature: we do not have nature.” – Steven Harper, Author
We are nature. So commitment to a healthy, prosperous nature is a commitment to ourselves for the same benefit.
Eliminate temptations and external forces that bring you down and take you away from your true values, which will allow you to fully commit to a better life and better relationships all around.
Step 5 – express gratitude
Doesn’t it feel good when someone you’re in a relationship with expresses their gratitude towards you? How about when you express your gratitude towards others? It gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling we talked about that comes from a healthy relationship!
Practicing gratitude also helps us to build empathy, and empathy is crucial in developing a sustainable life.
You can express your gratitude to the earth through affirmations:
- When you’re eating you can express gratitude by saying I am grateful for the fresh food and water provided by nature to nourish my body and quench my thirst.
- When you’re taking a walk outside you could express gratitude by saying I am grateful for the sun that warms my skin and the earth supporting my footsteps!
- When you take a deep breath you can express gratitude by saying thank you to the plants and trees around you allowing you to take that breath.
You can show your gratitude by being present. Being present will allow you to receive the gifts that nature is trying to give you – like peace, inspiration, or healing. Like we said, healthy relationships are reciprocal – so you can show gratitude for what the earth gives you, and get something in return without the damage. Being present in nature also helps to relieve some of the guilt that comes from past actions that could be preventing you from moving forward in a positive way.
And you can express your gratitude by taking actions to protect the earth, like picking up litter, composting, or gardening. In the end, be proud of the effort you’re making to improve your relationship with nature. You’re doing the best you can in this present moment.