My youngest daughter and I were up early on a Saturday morning, enjoying coffee at the dining room table and watching our cats sit in the open window sill as they watched the birds and squirrels at play. The breeze was fresh and cool, reminding me of many dewy spring mornings. For an early morning, the noise level was almost comical. Birds were calling out to one another; squirrels were chittering, cicadas and crickets were fine-tuning their instruments for a morning concert. Sound is one of the first nature experiences I remember. One of my aunts had taken me into the woods at various times of the day with the instructions to “Listen!” She taught me how to identify the sounds of the creatures, whether it be their call or their footstep. When my daughter’s were young, I had done the same with them. But we had not been out into the woods in many years; the rat race of life had taken over our free time.
As my daughter sat by the window, I noticed the tightly clenched muscles in her jaw and the frown on her forehead. My youngest is an over-achiever and she adds to the pressure of her life by insisting upon perfectionist standards in everything she does. She is her own worst critic, relentless in her criticism of herself and her work. Stress is her constant companion – to the point that she has developed health issues over the past couple of years including migraines and gasteoparesis. I have tried to coach her in several methods of relaxation and meditation in order to find an outlet for her stress, but thus far, nothing has worked.
“Angela,” I asked, “What do you hear?” She sat there for a moment with a puzzled look on her face. “What do you mean, mom? I don’t hear anything.” I had to laugh.
“Close your eyes,” I commanded. She looked at me intently with those deep blue eyes that are always questioning her world. “I mean it; close your eyes.” So she does.
“Now – listen and tell me what you hear. Tell me how many different birds you heard and what else is going on out there. Listen for each tiny sound and tell me what you hear.”
“There’s a bird; maybe two. And some squirrels playing…”
As she sits with her eyes closed, I bring her attention to three other bird calls very different from the two she distinguished. We hear the tiny scurrying feet of a lizard in ivy outside the window. In addition to the squirrel chatter is the scritchety-scratch of their nails as they scamper up a nearby tree. There is the buzz of the dirt-dauber, building a nest under the eave of the house. A tiny limb is shook loose from a tree overhead and drops to the ground.
As she listens intently, I watch the muscles at her jaw line relax and her forehead smooth out. Her arms relax and the cup of coffee dangles loosely from her fingers. Her head tilts to one side in a relaxed, quiet stance and occasionally as a sound she hasn’t considered before crosses her mind, she smiles. The entire process takes ten minutes.
Nature has a soothing, calming effect on the weary, work-worn, stressed-out body and soul.
When my oldest was an infant, she suffered terribly from colic. We walked the floors continuously, jiggling her on our shoulders, singing softly or cooing nonsensical syllables quietly in her ear. Nothing ever worked for more than a moment or two. One night, I was so exasperated I felt as if the walls were closing in on us. I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t soon get some sleep. I could not sit in the rocking chair one more second, nor could I walk the hall one more time. Instead, I made a bee-line for the kitchen door and quickly found myself in the driveway…and in silence! My daughter’s head popped up from my shoulder and her eyes stared intently into the night sky. She giggled contentedly and lay her head back down. She was asleep within five minutes – and after I stayed in the night air for another ten minutes, I was able to lie her down and she slept for the rest of the night.
Nature has an amazing way of helping us to find balance in our lives. Take your family, take your children, find a place to explore and enjoy nature. Really listen to the sounds around you; truly see the creatures that exist beside you. Watch how they interact together in their environment and realize that you are a part of that environment, too. Take the balance they teach and apply it to your life. It is spring! Now is the time to enjoy the wonderful treasures of this earth! You will be glad you did.