The Healing Power of Nature
“Out of silence, nature manifests the world of vibration. Everything that we experience is an expression of consciousness vibrating. Our child’s smile, a sunflower, a wave of sadness, and a flash of insight are all expressions of nature’s impulse to create.” ~David Simon
As the Summer Solstice draws near in the Northern Hemisphere, we have been celebrating all the gifts that nature showers upon us at this time of year, including the longer, light-filled days that lift our spirits, the delicious fresh fruits and vegetables coming into season, and the sensory pleasures of blossoming flowers, birdsong, and sunshine.
To help us deepen our appreciation and understanding of nature’s healing powers, this month in our continuing series of articles inspired by the legacy of Chopra Center co-founder Dr. David Simon, we’re pleased to share a conversation with Dr. Tim Brieske, an extraordinarily compassionate integrative medical doctor who has found personal solace and inspiration in nature since childhood. In his role as a staff physician and teacher at the Chopra Center, he also helps patients and guests tap into the beauty, wisdom, and healing that nature offers.
Has nature always played a big role in your life?
Yes, I have always been very much connected to experiencing nature. I have really enjoyed exploring wild places. Years ago I think I was trying to get away from people by immersing myself in the wild. Now I recognize that the connection I feel with nature is the same as the connection I feel with people. Exploring the intricacies of the wilderness of thought and perception held in the experience of living that’s in each of us is just as interesting and enlivening to me as exploring the intricacies of how the universe works.
I still spend time in nature daily. For me, it’s about having the opportunity to explore and allow my mind to drift from one beautiful attention to another. It creates a sense of bliss and understanding. I love thinking about what is, what has been, and what will be. It’s very grounding.
Chopra Center co-founder Dr. David Simon also had a deep love for nature. Did you two connect over that?
We shared a common love for how miraculous this life is and an enthusiasm for experiencing it. I think we both felt how fortunate we are to have this opportunity to live this life and to have a mind with the capacity to sense and experience it.
How does Ayurveda view nature?
The healing system of Ayurveda is about harmonizing our internal rhythms with those of nature. It’s understanding that we are in dynamic exchange with the universe. It’s not that we are separate or even a part of it, but that we are the universe and the universe is us. So everything in Ayurveda has to do with nature and how nature behaves.
How does spending time in nature awaken healing?
Experiencing nature reminds us of our amnesia of connection. In nature we can use all of our senses along with our knowledge of science to recognize how connected all aspects of nature are. When we distance ourselves from nature our ego has a tendency to create a sense of separateness or individuality. In order to think that we are separate, our mind must discriminate and judge.
The more discrimination and judgment we practice, the more ingrained is our sense of separateness. Our orientation increasingly shifts away from connection and towards separation. We become more object-oriented instead of self-referred. It’s difficult to feel wholly integrated in body, mind, and spirit when we find ourselves in this pattern of thinking. Orienting ourselves toward Self by enveloping ourselves in nature and experiencing connection allows our bodies and minds to orchestrate healing.
The magic of nature is that it allows us to be introspective, contemplative, and quiet. You don’t really have to go too far away from where you are. It’s as simple as sitting still outside and recognizing the elements of nature around you.
Through nature we have an opportunity to experience each of our senses in a way that invigorates our minds and allows us to more easily recognize our inextricable connection to our source.
How do you tap into this awareness?
Each morning I go on a walk and when I first go outside, I imagine that I am doing this for the first time. I go through each of my senses. What is it that I am seeing, what do I smell, what do I hear, what do I taste and feel? Then I l lean forward and begin walking and try to take in everything that comes my way.
My morning walking has always been a meditation for me. From the time I was a little kid, I would just watch where my mind went. As I got older, I started to meditate in different ways. Sometimes I follow my breath, and other times I observe my thoughts rising and passing away. Sometimes I focus on a piece of poetry or something meaningful in my life. On occasion, when I go far and deep enough, all thoughts dissipate. And then I am in absolute blissful commune with my surroundings. I never tire of that. It’s timeless.
What exactly is a walking meditation?
It is a practice of present moment awareness. You practice it silently and relatively slowly. The idea is that you begin to fall forward and observe each foot catching you. If a person is unable to walk or has to use some other instrument to walk, it’s still the same idea. You are just moving at a slower pace than you would otherwise. You do your very best to bring your attention to the present moment while being conscious of everything that is coming into your senses at that time without judgment.
I usually set a timer so that about every ten minutes I’m reminded to stop and take a few deep breaths and re-center myself in the present moment. I find that even though I am practicing just walking and being in the present moment, my mind does drift off into all sorts of different thoughts.
So anyone who tries a walking meditation shouldn’t be concerned if they drift off?
It’s not our nature to be in the present moment. That’s why we have practices! [Tim laughs.] We have a sophisticated mind that takes us to all sorts of places, and meditation is a way to come back into the present and to come back to our true Self.
It’s a remarkable experience.
What are the benefits of this form of meditation?
I often meet people who have never just walked without being tied to a particular direction or destination. Many have never given themselves permission to do something like this since they always feel this pressure to hurry up and do something else. People often experience an epiphany when they do it for the first time. It’s very enlightening and empowering.
The benefits of walking meditation are similar to meditation in general. It allows us to quiet the turbulence of our mind, intellect, and ego to a point where we may find ourselves with an awareness of the absolute silence between our thoughts. Meditation grounds us in the present moment, and it empowers us to have a practice that benefits our mind, body, spirit, and overall sense of wellbeing. Just like other forms of meditation, you can practice walking meditation with a group of people and have a shared experience of inner quiet and peace.
What’s some of the feedback you’ve received after people try walking meditation?
It’s overwhelmingly positive. We always have a discussion afterwards so that people can share their feelings. We spend a lot of time talking about conscious communication in our courses at the Chopra Center, so we reflect on the emotions that come up, the physical sensations in our body, and what it is that we need and want. I guide participants to pay attention to these aspects before we do our walking meditation, and this fuels the discussion afterwards.
Some people have had difficulties with walking because of an illness or a past trauma, and doing a walking meditation slows them enough that they may be reminded of that past experience. It can sometimes be upsetting, but they are also empowered by the experience as they realize that they have survived the episode and do have the capacity to heal. This can propel them forwards in terms of understanding their unlimited potential to heal and thrive.
Why is it important to experience silence?
Silence is one of the four ways we have of bringing ourselves from a reference of ego and intellect towards a reference of Self or soul. The other three are meditation, non-judgment, and experiencing nature. The practice of silence allows us to experience a state in which we were are no longer filling space with what we are saying or what we are thinking about saying. As a consequence, the essence of who we are and what our true purpose is has a greater opportunity to emerge. When we begin to recognize and cultivate this emergence, our lives begin to shift and expand in a direction of connection, compassion, empathy, and humility.
Can you recommend other exercises that will help us tap into greater awareness?
One of the valuable practices that I learned from Deepak’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is to ask myself What do I want? and write down everything that comes up. Then I set it aside for a day or two. When I revisit the list, I ask myself again What do I really want? And then I wait a few more days before asking again.
I have found that as we distill what’s really behind all of the things we are reaching for, we start to realize that connection, happiness, and love are the common denominators. We may then find ourselves on a path to discovering our innate wholeness by inviting an understanding of our true nature and what our true purpose is. We can use meditation, silence, non-judgment, and nature as a way to move us along that path.
How can one experience and learn more about the healing power of both nature and silence at the Chopra Center?
At some level, the experience of nature and silence are woven into all of the Chopra Center’s retreats and programs. We offer instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation at every event because it is one of the most powerful ways to experience the inner silence and peace that is so profoundly healing. Our Pacific Coast location here at La Costa Resort & Spa is one of the most beautiful in the world, and we encourage guests to take time each day to connect to nature . . . to breathe in the fresh ocean air, walk barefoot in the grass or sand, pay attention to the infinite variety of colors and textures, and listen to the healing sounds of the wind and wildlife and water.
The healing power of nature is part of what people learn at our Perfect Health program. In fact, I speak about it in just about every class I teach regardless of the topic! In our 10-day Perfect Health program, we do walking meditations.
For guests who have who have attended our Seduction of Spirit meditation and yoga retreat, Seduction of Silence is an opportunity to go deeper and spend the majority of the time in silence and advanced meditation practices. Deepak will also be leading a new retreat coming this September called Silent Awakenings, which will be our first extended silent retreat. It is dedicated to the memory of co-founder David Simon and will take place at a beautiful rustic resort called Asilomar, up north near Monterey. People will get to spend a lot of time in nature and in silence, and it should be a great event as well.
How can letting ourselves connect to the rhythms of nature be transformative?
Anything that we do that allows us to experience connection and love will enliven and maximize our innate healing abilities, not only in our body, but also in mind and spirit. For me, it’s the essence of our being. Being in nature instantly brings me to that place . . . it’s always soothing, integrative, and calming for me.
Would you like to share any final thoughts?
I encourage everyone to spend time outside in nature. Simply walk, breathe, and be. A friend of mine taught me the phrase solvitur ambulando, which in Latin means “everything is solved by walking.” In my experience, this is true. Nature is a great antidote for all that ails you. And if you can’t get outside, bring nature inside. Do something that connects you with the miracle of this existence every day.
More about Dr. Brieske
Tim Brieske, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, mind-body healing expert, and Chopra Center staff physician. With his characteristic compassion, wisdom, and lighthearted nature, he provides medical consultations for guests and patients and offers mind-body guidance at the Center’s events and programs. In addition, he has practiced Family Medicine for fifteen years and serves as an emergency physician and hospitalist in Wisconsin.
Read Dr. Brieske’s previous articles in the Chopra Center’s Healing Wisdom blog:
Choose Love >>
Healing through Nature >>