Loss, Nature & Spirituality

All of  us experience loss in our lives and need to find ways to grieve and cope with this natural and challenging transition. Balanced Rock Foundation was formed following the tragic loss of a dear friend and community member Joie Armstrong, in an effort to provide a space for healing in nature using the tools of yoga and creative writing. If you have experienced a recent loss, we urge you to reach out to us and consider coming on a backpacking or campground-based retreat to support your grieving process. We are grateful this month to share the following guest blog post from Jennifer Allan about moving through losing a loved one. 

Finding Solace in Nature and Spirituality after Losing a Loved One

By Jennifer Allan

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Holmes and Rahe scale, used by doctors to predict future illness, lists the death of a spouse or child as the single most stressful event that can occur to a human being. Losing a family member turns one’s world upside down, changes our plans for the future, and can lead to a sense of solitude that is difficult to bear. At this time more than any other, it is important to lean on others but also to search for a sense of connection. Research carried out over the past two decades has shone a light on the important role that nature and spirituality can play in helping human beings survive through the toughest of times. Studies have shown, for instance, that being part of a spiritual community is the only social activity that promotes sustained happiness. Nothing else – including volunteering and other selfless acts, provides quite the same level of support.

Nature, Spirituality, and Bereavement

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing investigated the effect of spiritual activities on parents who had lost a loved one (in this case, a child). They found that spirituality assisted mothers with symptoms of grief, depression and PTSD, and promoted greater personal growth. Fathers, meanwhile, seemed to find greater solace in religious activities. Of course, spirituality per se is a much wider concept than religion. It can include self-reflection in nature, leaning on family and friends, meditating in a natural setting, or taking part in worship. Harvard academic Casper ter Kuile notes that these days, millennials in particular are seeking spiritual connection in everything from mountain climbing and trekking, right through to taking part in Crossfit, or communicating regularly on social media.

Nature Awakens our Rich Interior World

Many studies have been carried out on the effects of spirituality on bereavement. Around 94% of findings show positive connections for both men and women who rely on religious/spiritual beliefs to get over life’s vicissitudes. What can those who are not used to prayer or other introspective activities do to find their spiritual place? Nature is a great place to start. Carl Jung noted that divorcing ourselves from nature wrests meaning from life and makes us feel small and alone. He wrote that it was only when beholding the majesty of Nature that human beings could comprehend the magnitude of the spirit or be reminded of the importance of tending to their spiritual health.

Where to Begin?

To find the spiritual activity that resonates with your needs, think of what used to ignite your passion before you lost your spouse. Did downhill mountain biking get your heart racing? Was simply sitting in a park your way to disconnect? Did you feel a sense of peace and calm by doing a yoga class or meditating? You could start with something as simple as forest bathing, which involves simply visiting a green area such as the mountainside, a lake, or a park. Open your sense to the sights and sounds around you. Touch leaves, and trees, walk slowly through a lush area and enjoy the smells and textures that connect you to something far larger than yourself.

Spirituality and nature can play an important role in soothing symptoms of grief, including anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies have shown that even contemplating imagery of natural scenery can significantly lower stress hormone levels. Imagine what actually walking into Mother Nature’s embrace can do to your psyche at a time when you most need solace, peace, and quiet.

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