Many humans begin to feel more alive as the longer days and warmer air of spring invigorate us. This “waking up” we often experience during this time of year is a metaphor for the journey of “waking up” in a larger sense. At some level, we remember that humanity is in fact just one part of the rhythm of nature, connected to the earth and to all living things. Humans, animals, plants and minerals are all intricately interconnected though modern life has separated many of us from that reality.
“We’ve largely lost connection with the sacredness and beauty of life. We’re no longer participants in the flow of life; we’re consumers of it,” says Justin Pegnataro, executive director of Two Coyotes Wilderness School, which operates in Newtown, West Granby and Killingworth. The stress of work and modern demands—such as paying the mortgage, raising children in a competitive world and the distractions available via technology—can make it difficult to connect with nature in the deep way that our ancestors once did.
We live in a crucial time for life on this planet; it cannot continue as it currently stands. “Humans today, particularly in North America, are living a totally unsustainable lifestyle, but we’re insulated from [the repercussions of] it,” says Pegnataro.
Freshwater is being consumed at a faster rate than it can be renewed. The U.S. comprises 4.4 percent of the world’s population, yet is currently responsible for 18 percent of the world’s total primary energy consumption. Climate change is causing melting glaciers, rising sea levels, weather extremes, ocean acidification and heavier rainfall, all of which can have catastrophic consequences for life everywhere.
The call to action is clear: humans must live differently if we are to continue to live on the planet. But how do we begin?
The first step may be to reconnect with nature. About 80 percent of Americans live in urban or suburban areas today, yet humans as a species have spent about 95 percent of their time on the planet as hunter-gatherers living in close connection with the earth. Modern life as lived today can create feelings of disconnection and isolation. Reconnecting with nature helps us rediscover our truer, wilder selves; it also helps us give back to the natural world we are a part of.
“What really feeds and nourishes the human soul is our connection to each other and to the more-than-human natural world,” says Pegnataro.
Once we’ve reconnected with the earth and all living beings on a physical and energetic level, we can then begin to practice more sustainable living from that place of connection. Some local experts provided some wisdom on how to both reconnect with nature and practice more sustainable living.
Give Gratitude to the Natural World
We take so much in our life for granted, especially the natural wonders that surround us.
“We look at the sun and we take it for granted,” says Jessica Hunter, a shamanic practitioner in Bridgeport. “Yet it provides warmth for the planet, light and the ability for life to flourish so we have food and shelter.”
Creating a ritual that conveys our gratitude to the natural world can re-ground us in a space of thankfulness. It can be as simple as looking up to the sun and thinking words of gratitude and appreciation, or it may be a more complex process.
“Come from a place where you can make a ritual that’s personalized to you,” Hunter recommends. “What is truly coming from your heart? Touch into your feelings. The best way to connect with nature is from your own spirit.”
Deana Paqua, a teacher of spiritual and holistic health in Ridgefield, teaches a concept from the traditional teachings of the Andes, called “Ayni”, which means sacred reciprocity.
“In our contemporary culture, we ‘take’ on a grand scale from the Earth and do not give back as a regular conscious practice,” says Paqua. She suggests leaving an offering whenever we take something from the earth. “Offerings can be something as simple as a flower, a small crystal, a piece of hair or seeds. Whether you take a stone during a walk, a shell from the beach, fresh produce from the garden or some flower clippings, say a few words or a short prayer of gratitude, and leave your offering in the spot of your choosing.”
Mindfully Reconnect with Nature
Each week, spend unplugged, quiet time in nature.
“We’re not separate from nature; we’re a part of it,” reminds Hunter. It is easy to forget that since our lifestyles create artificial separation from nature. Even when we do leave our house or office, we’re often driving, on the phone, listening to music or simply wrapped up in our own thoughts; we don’t notice the world around us.
Hunter recommends simply focusing our energy on the outside world when we want to reconnect with nature. “Sit near a body of water, and smell it, taste it and spend time appreciating it. Take a moment to feel the sun on your face. Even if you live in an urban area, nature is intermingled everywhere. Take the time to appreciate the bird that sits outside your window.”
Pegnataro suggests similarly simple actions, including going out into nature and having a cup of tea or running outside barefoot in the morning grass. “It just might be the doorway to begin a different kind of conversation,” he says.
Set Up Bird Feeders
Even during winter when we often spend more time inside, bird feeders can bring nature to us.
“Feeders aren’t necessarily for the birds,” says Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society. “The feeders are actually for your enjoyment—they’re for you to see the birds and connect with them.”
Comins suggests keeping a list of the birds seen at the feeders and involving every member of the family. Every year is different; a feeder may attract a certain species one year that won’t return for 20 years. “That’s the great thing about nature,” he says. “You can step out your door and find something new every single day.”
Seeing birds up close can help us to better appreciate them, which may prompt us to take additional actions to protect them and their habitat.
Plant an Organic Garden
Whether in raised beds in a suburban backyard or in pots on the windowsill of a city apartment, planting an organic garden brings us back in touch with dirt and living, growing things.
“Being able to grow something you can eat and sustain is an important part of getting back in touch with nature,” says Hunter. “Plants are a huge part of our planet and a crucial part of sustainability for us.”
Growing our own food decreases our carbon footprint and increases our sense of connection to our ancestors, reminding us that all life is linked. If we add composting food waste to our practices, we can use that compost to feed our garden, seeing the cycle of life even more clearly.
Practice Sustainable Living
Once we’re more firmly rooted in our connection to the earth and all living things, we can move from that place of connection and begin to take action to protect the environment.
“When I hear people say, ‘Just throw that away,’ I always say, there is no ‘away’,” says Daphne Dixon, executive director and cofounder of Norwalk-based Live Green. “The water we’re drinking today is the water that the dinosaurs drank. There’s no new water and there’s no ‘away’.”
She recommends a practice called “materials management”, or recognizing that everything is material. “I always try to have an awareness of an ideal life cycle for everything.”
Once Dixon finishes using something, she considers the best next phase for that material, whether it’s recycling, donating or reusing it for a different purpose. Consciously working to decrease the trash we throw “away” is a crucial practice for creating a more sustainable lifestyle.
In North America, we continue to use nonrenewable resources at an unsustainable pace. Simply conserving electricity can go a long way.
Companies like HE Energy Solutions complete home energy audits. Their technicians analyze the current use of energy in the home and then replace light bulbs with LEDs, plug holes in baseboards to preserve heat, switch shower heads to low-flow, and add weather strips to doors and more. These measures will lower our footprint while also saving us money on utilities.
Be a Conservationist in Your Own Backyard
“If you have a backyard, landscape a component for birds and wildlife,” says Comins. He recommends creating a nectar garden for butterflies, native bees and other pollinators. Utilizing native plants will benefit more species of birds and insects than non-native ones. Keeping the lawn as chemical-free as possible encourages birds and wildlife. Likewise, creating some structure in the lawn—plants and flowers that help birds transition from the grass up to the tallest trees—can be beneficial.
“Moving from low plants like violets to knee-highs like coneflowers to plants that are waist-high provide cover and foraging areas for birds,” Comins says.
Connect with Local Organizations
Getting involved with local organizations can help us become more active and engaged in our communities. Many local environmental and conservationist groups are banding together to contribute to hands-on projects and advocacy campaigns that can help our actions go much farther than each group might alone.
“In the end, life is going to continue on this planet,” Pegnataro says. “How can humanity responsibly be part of this community of life? How can we ensure the health and wellbeing of future generations of human beings and other beings, too?” This is the work we are being called to do at this moment in time.
How will we answer?