by Dr. Bohdanna “Billie” Zazulak: Traumatic Issues like Global Warming and the COVID pandemic have brought to the fore our interconnectedness…
as well as the urgent need for a collective awakening, to protect not only ourselves, but also Mother Earth, which sustains us. How do we align our individual awakening with our responsibility to the planet?
“Once You Make a Decision,
The Universe Conspires to Make It Happen.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Growing up, I spent my vacations in a Ukrainian “summer village” in the Caledon Hills of Canada’s Niagara Escarpment, blessed with rivers and waterfalls of the ancient sea that once extended from Rochester, New York to Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. Memories of swimming in the river, which snaked its way alongside the community, floating downstream to the nearby village of Terra Cotta, and exploring the expansive woods alongside it are among my fondest childhood memories. These experiences in Nature first tuned me into the fact that we aren’t alone here in this world, even more intensely so than the hours we spent daily on our knees at the outdoor garden chapel that my grandfather, (a Ukrainian Catholic priest), had built for the community. As we recited our daily prayers, my mind would drift into the sparkling sun beaming off the colorful mosaic icon at the top of the stone staircase, the wispy clouds rolling by, and the bees humming in the tiger lilies.
From an evolutionary perspective, our deep, organic, and visceral connection with the natural world is intuitive, as humans have been evolving in the natural world for millions of years. Our extensive relationship with Mother Earth and all her wonders has cultivated “biophilia”, our innate need to bond with the universe around us. Our connection to the wonders of Nature and the importance of this connection for health has a long history in philosophy, religion, art, and culture, yet has only recently been recognized and validated by the scientific world. There is abundant evidence that our affiliation with animals, plants, landscapes, seascapes, and wilderness enhances our holistic health, and is beneficial for true flourishing.
It seems the world is coming to realize what environmental scientists have been saying for decades: that humanity risks careening off the rails into a planet-wide smash-up, unless we profoundly reorient the way we care for our Mother Earth. The time lag for global recognition was induced by disbelief in some, and denial by those with vested interests in the continued destruction of our planet. The time has finally come that most informed people recognize that we are all in this world together and need to cooperate at the local, national, and global level to preserve human and planetary health. The current crises and challenges to our body-mind-spirit and planetary health provide opportunity for learning and growth. Just like my patients who recover from injury and illness, we may seize this opportunity by following a MAP (Mindset-Agility-Purpose) to get back on a positive track to collective wellness.
Breath is the bridge that unites the body, the mind, and consciousness. Whenever the mind becomes scattered with thoughts, our breath allows us to take hold of our mind in the present moment. Focused attention on mindful breathing regulates our nervous system, awareness, and focus, which influences our perspective of how events are affecting our lives. As I walk ankle deep in the Canadian river where I once plunged headfirst, or wade through ocean water to my New England home every time there is a full moon high tide, mindfulness has a tremendous influence on my outlook. I can mourn and stress over the changes in the environment from my childhood, or I can choose to be grateful and in tune with the beauty in the here and now: a majestic snowy owl swooping by, the spots of a ladybug, or the stars of the night sky.
Gratitude in your daily life will nurture, restore, and renew your body-mind-spirit. Many studies over the past decade have shown that being grateful improves both your mental and physical health. Being thankful has significant correlations with the central nervous system that we are just beginning to discover, including greater areas of grey matter in the brain and the release of dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are your “feel good” chemical messengers. Benefits of gratefulness include improved immune and cardiovascular health, better sleep, more happiness, increased productivity, deeper emotional awareness, and enhanced participation and adherence to exercise and healthy lifestyle.
The pandemic has spurred a surge of outdoor enthusiasm to ameliorate cabin fever, with more people recognizing the health benefits of heading outdoors as an important part of self-care. Caring for one’s body-mind-spirit, is not selfish, but is in fact a necessity to fuel our ability to care for others and the world around us. Integration with Nature fosters love, compassion, and caring for our environment as an extension of ourselves, nurturing a sense of oneness with Mother Earth and all her life forces.
Agility is the capacity to respond to events in a flexible way and find the best course of action to move forward despite unpredictable events. Mental, physical, and spiritual agility is necessary to keep us sharp, nimble, resilient, and intuitive. Humans are dealing with acute trauma of immediate disasters as well as the background threat of existential doom, contributing to a rise in depression, anxiety, disruptions to health behaviors. These can all have downstream effects on body-mind-spirit with long-term consequences and hinder your ability to function at your optimal level.
Each of us will experience adversity in our own turbulent times. The question is, how will you get through difficult times with non-negative thinking, and how can you learn and grow through perseverance and resilience? A pessimist focuses on the difficulty in every opportunity, whereas an optimist recognizes the opportunity in every difficulty. Experiencing loss, injury, illness, death, grief, hunger, warfare, disaster, and life’s other exigencies, is often when our agility is put to the test, and awakening is born out of necessity. Negative experiences may be used to mobilize previously dormant potential from within. A tree hunkers down through the winter, yet grows bigger, stronger, and more beautiful when spring arrives.
The scientific community is recognizing the importance of resilience and agility as strong predictors of future wellness and as skills that may be acquired and developed. Green exercise, or physical activity undertaken in natural environments such as hiking, running, cycling, mountain biking, snowboarding, paddle boarding, sailing, and surfing (to name just a few of my favorites), improve your agility and instill appreciation for Mother Earth. All forms of active outdoor living, whether it’s gardening or just taking a walk to the park are empowering mentally, physically, and spiritually, and harness the energy of Nature and the universe to achieve our full potential.
A global movement is gaining momentum to overcome the interrelated challenges of climate change, social injustice, and global health inequity. Figuring out how we can be of service to Mother Earth and all her inhabitants aligns us with that movement, and awakens in us universal love, compassion, and unity, encouraging us to abandon some of the comforts and conveniences we may have gotten used to. Fortunately, the most important of these comforts: community, health, sustenance, and meaning in life (which ancient philosophers recognized thousands of years ago as essential for human happiness), are all thankfully still available to us. For anything more than these necessities, a conscious analysis of environmental costs and benefits must guide our individual decisions and actions.
Awakening is a very personal experience, and everyone’s spiritual path is unique and must be tailored to align personal abilities, talents, and resources with the needs of the planet. Responsible choices lay the foundation for the social learning process required to bring about the transformative, systemic change necessary for planetary sustainability. Deepening your connection to the universe helps illuminate your spiritual core and discover your true values, higher purpose, and calling in life. Mother Nature is not just a bunch of rocks, trees, and animals, but is a presence unto herself, and we are all part of this presence. Like a flower turning towards the sun, let Nature guide you on your spiritual path to deep peace, enlightenment, and magnificent joy.
Abundant research supports spirituality’s tangible influence on our bodies, our lives, and our social interactions. Spirituality is proven to help us heal from illness, give us comfort in the depths of despair, and transform our lives in the midst of our most concerning crises and challenges. The benefits of spirituality on mental and physical health include greater psychological well-being, relief from stress, and decreased immune system proteins associated with age-related diseases. People who identify as spiritual experience lower levels of anxiety and depression, display signs of better health (such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes), feel healthier and more connected with a collective consciousness to stay on course with pro-social and pro-environmental behaviors. Once we all make the decision to awaken and unite on our journey to collective planetary wellness, the universe will conspire to make it truly happen!