Most people would agree that time in nature is good for us: we associate it with fresh air, exercise, health and wellbeing, and maybe also with wildness, healthy fear and reverence. When we think of creativity and nature we might think of Turner’s paintings of wild stormy seas or Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers, the photography of Ansel Adams and Sebastião Salgado, the environmental art of Andy Goldsworthy or perhaps traditional crafts and architecture from around the world made with natural materials. Nature can be a source of inspiration and can also enrich our creativity in more subtle, powerful and unseen ways.
1 “We ‘go’ to nature to find ourselves”
John Muir, father of the US national parks, naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist and early advocate for the preservation of the wildness of the United States, would spend months on end alone in the wilderness in the 1800’s with only a small back pack. He shared his experiences through his writing on wide ranging topics, but said that words did not come close to capturing his awe.
To say that we go to nature would have been such a strange thing for me to hear as a child: being brought up in the countryside we were immersed in it; we were simply part of it. It wasn’t until, after years in cities when I felt the call to BE in wild nature that I could recognise that I had forgotten my connection and saw nature as something outside of me. I can relate to John Muir’s predicament in how to describe being in nature, its a strange thing to describe something that we are intrinsically part of. I can describe my time in connection ‘in nature’ as being a state where I can let go of labels and pretence, I let go of my attachment to doing and land into my BE-ingness, so it is a kind of recalibration: a gentle kind resetting of my Self.
We have a profound blessing in being of nature and at the same time consciously able to witness it. There is such beauty to be experienced, such profound reminders of what we are made of: flowers, mountains, sunsets, fierceness: ways of finding ourselves that open our hearts and minds to different ways of knowing or remembering.
Sitting in a forest, watching the sea, walking in the hills you can feel the goodness of clean sea air in your lungs. Being in nature is good for our physical health. It calms our nervous system and brings us back to centre. After time outside we return to our home/office/studio calmer, clearer and with the possibility to access more creativity. Our bodies feel alive, tingling, awake and ready to engage. We can be more present to our own physicality with a sharper sense of our own creative potential and with fewer mental blocks.
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter”. Rachel Carson
There is a great sense of letting go when we spend extended time in nature; there is an ease that unfolds in our body heart and mind; a sense that we are held within greater rhythms, and that, no matter how battered or heart broken we feel with the state of the world or the state of our own life and dealings it is somehow OK when we can hear and feel the waves lapping by the sea shore, the branches moving in the breeze and witness the changing of the moon from day to day and the landscape from seasons to season. I lean in to my awareness of the interconnected patterns of micro and macro change and so, appreciate more, the subtleties of change within my own creative process.
“For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” Mary Oliver
Time in nature allows me to understand what ‘sacred’ means to me. When I felt a deep calling to connect with something greater, I had no way to understanding it with my rational mind. There was no sense to be made of it, but I could understanding it viscerally in my body and in my heart, in the deep relaxation and at the same time aliveness in my senses.
It’s where we can find peace and a sense of connection to our ancestors, to all those who have lived on the earth before us: breathing the same air, drinking the same water, eating from the same earth, feeling the same sun on their skin. And I know all the way through me that we are all made of the same stuff; that any concept of sacred must, for me, honour our connection to everything else. In this I remember that my creativity is a gift and a way of honouring and remembering what is sacred for all of us.
“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better” Albert Einstein
Time in nature teaches us to see with new eyes, to read the world around us in different ways, it teaches us that truly understanding anything takes time. Developing understanding and appreciation: that what we are looking at may appear to be a certain way but with time it changes: from morning to night or from season to season. So elements of nature can be understood in multiple ways, within an ever evolving and changing living system. This helps me to understand my own creative process and how it is not a finite thing but part of a greater unfolding, or an exploration that I will appreciate differently as time progresses.
Being in nature teaches patience: to simply be with what is, to listen, to observe, to see what we have not seen before, to tune in to what is more subtle or rare. Here on Dursey Island in West Cork, over the last few months I have been learning to recognise the flight of larks and the call of wrens and the wave patterns created by small pods of dolphins. And I know I am very much a beginner at reading this landscape. I feel that this patience helps nurture my intuition: teaching me to trust what I see and feel. Being quite an impatient person who usually wants to get things done quickly I regard patience as a superpower and I am learning the richness in slowing down, even just a little, and the richness of what is revealed to me at that pace.
7 Birthing Imagination
“It is the marriage of the soul and Nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to the imagination”. Henry David Thoreau.
I find the letting go and leaning in to different rhythms, the reassurance of change, the changing understanding and growing patience frees up my imagination. Somehow ideas land as I walk in mountains or sit by the ocean: when I just let myself BE. Little sparks out of the blue that I then carry back to the studio for exploration.
We go to nature to be inspired and we have been inspired for millennia. Just barely scratching the surface I thought of:
- Music, language and song being inspired by sounds and rhythm of wind and moving water, the songs and calls of birds and animals.
- Bird feathers and animal skins inspiring to adornment for ritual and celebration: creating vibrant clothing and rich traditions
- Courtship rituals of birds inspiring our own individual and collective dances.
- Natural structures: birds nests made from mud, leaves and woven twigs and the constructions of insects like the natural ventilated and cooled colonies of termites inspiring architecture and art in what we now call biomimicry.
- Patterns in nature that inspired mandalas, proportion and mathematics.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir
We emerged as beings amongst all of the other wonders of the living world on earth and began to evolve to think and create consciously. We learned to look around and then to see nature as a separate thing. It became a source of water, food and fuel; a commodity to be cut, chopped, divided, processed and sold for profit.
My time in nature teaches me that we are the very thing that we are chopping, mining and processing. Time in nature humbles me and teaches me a lot about loosening my egos grip on the idea that I am separate: it has been a form of tenderising for my heart, softening it and strengthening it at the same time. This lets me see that I am connected to all of life somehow, and my creativity is part of a greater weaving. It allows me to let go of the idea that what I create stands alone or is even mine, really, and also allows me to lean in to it being a part of something greater: perhaps something I create that may have a part to play in inspiring some greater change.
Being in nature gives me hope that we can learn to live more in our true nature; remembering old ways of connecting and combining them with what we have learned through modern technologies, to create a more beautiful world for our future generations.
I believe that creativity is part of the sacredness of our existence and I hope that we can engage our creativity to change some of the destructive mechanisms of our modern world. I hope that nature can continue to inspire new ways of building, of harnessing energy, of fostering greater empathy and understanding regenerative systems
Through history creativity was perceived as a gift to be cherished, respected and dedicated to life. I hope that we can learn to understand it in that way again.
Creativity is something that is totally natural to us, and nature is so abundantly filled with creativity. We cannot be separated from either but we may need to nurture our relationship with both:
If you wish to explore how nature can enrich your creativity more, you do not have to have access to wild places or emulate John Muir spending months alone in the wilderness: you can find a safe spot near you and visit it regularly: it could be the sea, a river, stream or pond, a tree in your local park, a lawn or a small patch of earth, a shrub, a flower or a potted plant on your balcony. No mater how small there is a connection that can be made.
You can simply observe, listen, smell, tune in and sit by it regularly. Let yourself feel and notice, write, sketch or paint. Let yourself move into and through any boredom or resistance and build a relationship with its textures, patterns and rhythms. And you can see what happens over time. Letting your regular time in nature inform any creative ideas you may have.
Perhaps some of this resonated with you or maybe not; I would love to hear your comments and experiences of how nature enriches your creativity.