Writing To Connect with Nature
This issue of AHN News is dedicated to using writing to connect with the natural world.
It begins with an interview with Tina Welling, author of Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature about spirit walks, overcoming resistance and more.
This is followed by a book review of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
This issue concludes with a link to an Orion Magazine article about teaching writing in prisons as a way to connect inmates to the natural world they have been separated from by incarceration.
You can find additional writing inspiration, on the Arts & Healing Network’s Book List - please use the pull down menu to sort by writing and poetry.
May this issue inspire your creativity and sense of wonder.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network
“What we really want is to experience aliveness, and we find that vitality in creative expression and being in the midst of that boundless energy in nature.” ~ Tina Welling
Tina Welling is the author of Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature and three other novels. Her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of anthologies. As she explains, “If anything defines my life it is the intention to become fully aware and participating in the exchange of creative energy all about me. That includes writing, of course, but also includes my relationships, the outdoors and spiritual practice.”
Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me a little bit about your creative journey, and how you began to use writing as a way to connect with nature.
Tina Welling: I began journaling and writing creatively as an urge to know myself. And that resulted in an expanded sense of awareness. I experienced changes that opened me to my body and to my greater body, the earth. I became more connected to who I truly was, while also engaging in a deepened relationship with the mountains, meadows and forests around me. Writing down what I was experiencing enhanced my relationship with the outdoors, while being outdoors supported my creative energy.
Mary Daniel: In your book, Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature, you describe a wonderful practice called Spirit Walking. Can you share a little bit about that practice and describe its three steps?
Tina: I wanted to sort out exactly how this relationship between my creative energy and that of the natural world worked. It felt, at first, like a big soup – a whole bunch of ingredients simmering in one pot. I felt nourished, but a bit confused about what was happening. Eventually, I realized that it all came down to the quality of attention. In order to break that down, I came up with three simple steps. I called it a Spirit Walk, and it can take place outdoors in your backyard or far into the wilderness. You need only paper and pen.
- Step 1 is NAMING
List what your senses bring you, using all five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
- Step 2 is DETAILING
Deepen your experience by selecting one thing in the natural world – for example a pine cone – and describe it in detail, again using your senses. Become aware of body sensations and comfort levels.
- Step 3 is INTERACTING
You have created a relationship with your surroundings and opened your unconscious to arising memories, emotions, dreams and fears. Write whatever occurs to you. Trust it. This is your unique material.
Mary Daniel: Many people want to write and they want to connect to the natural world, yet when it comes to actually doing it, they meet resistance. Do you have any advice for getting started and overcoming resistance?
Tina: I experienced huge resistance in connecting with my creative energy and nature most of my life. I came from a family who valued business careers and intelligence. The physical, emotional, creative parts of life were considered unimportant. Yet all along I felt such longing to express myself in language and to be comfortable outdoors.
I began by taking baby steps. I first wrote in a journal, then short poems, and then moved into book-length manuscripts. From my doorway, I walked two blocks away, then three, and eventually I packed my lunch and headed out all day hiking into the mountains. I love feeling at home surrounded by trees and hills. Winter or summer, I stuff a delicious lunch, my notebook and my knitting into my backpack and head out to make a day camp someplace I think is beautiful.
Mary Daniel: Why do you think that writing in connection with nature can be such a healing catalyst?
Tina: Nature and our personal creative energy are one thing, governed by the same rules and rhythms. When we align ourselves with the energies of the natural world, we expand into greater aliveness. When I’m outdoors in a safe place, I can open myself to stillness, connect with my essential self and be nurtured by all the life throbbing above, below and around me.
Lessons and patterns for living well are everywhere in nature. We are reminded that like the earth, we live with seasons of producing and rest, and that we must attend our inner lives just as the trees and plants grow their root systems. We know we must act out of our authentic selves, just as each species of bird and animal life do and we enjoy a sense of healing when we experience oneness with all of life about us.
Mary Daniel: Would you be willing to share an example of how you have been healed by writing?
Tina: I was a dependent wife and mother. My plan was to make everyone in my family happy, and then I’d make myself happy. I found out that I didn’t know myself well enough to know one thing about what made me happy. Writing "constellated" my thoughts and emotions, and step by step I uncovered my authentic self. I fell in love with creative energy and for the first time wanted something just for me. It took a while but eventually I learned to take the time and space I needed to do my work. I wrote three novels and now Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature. In the book I tell the story of my individuation process – as Jung would call it – and it wasn’t always an easy ride; people around me had a hard time with my changes. Happily it all ended well.
Mary Daniel: What is inspiring you most these days in your own creative practice?
Tina: For me right now, it’s a season for taking in rather than putting out. It’s wintertime where I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming [USA]. The trees are being nourished by their own fallen leaves, the mountains are covered in ice and snow, and bears are hibernating and birthing young. It’s a time for being nourished by the wonderful exchanges my new book has stirred – hibernating, growing inwardly and birthing new ideas. Engaging in creative energy leads directly to a spiritual deepening. So I’m reading, watching, daydreaming and doodling. And one tiny confession: I have to work a bit to remind myself that being a creative person isn’t all about output – times of input are necessary.
Mary Daniel: Do you have anything else you would like to share?
Tina: Just a dash of cheerleading to encourage engagement with creative energy in any form and for finding solace, companionship and even instruction in the natural world. Nature is the macrocosm and our creative energy is the microcosm. As the old spiritual law states: As above, so below. We can learn about the smaller by learning about the larger... and vice-versa. What we really want is to experience aliveness, and we find that vitality in creative expression and being in the midst of that boundless energy in nature.
To learn more about Tina Welling and her books, please visit her website.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
“I offer... a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven of three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story – old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with the earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this beautifully written book, she shares many stories – of indigenous wisdom, of harvesting with intention, of improving a pond for her children, of making baskets, of using science to track and prove what native people have always known and so much more. It is a richly woven collection of essays, each one bringing the reader into greater sympathy with the natural world. By reading these stories, one is comforted and also challenged to pay more attention to the interconnected and reciprocal fabric of the world around us.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants was published as a 390-page paperback in July 2014 by Milkweed Editions, and you can hear the author read excerpts of her book here. You could also here a TED talk with the author here.
How Long Has It Been Since You Smelled a Flower?
by Richard Shelton in Orion Magazine
In this article, poet Richard Shelton describes his experience teaching writing to the incarcerated. As he explains, most prisons are designed to keep inmates separate from each other and from the natural world, and so inmates are deprived of one of the greatest healing forces – nature. However through writing, they can invoke coyotes, apple trees, storms, cicadas and night hawks, and thereby stay connected with the organic growing world outside the prison walls.
This article concludes with several pieces of writing by prison inmates, with an introduction by Richard Shelton: “...here they are with all their warts and calluses and their enormous creative drive — a drive that has helped keep them alive, saved them from 'psychic death.'”
This article was published in the January/February 2015 issue of Orion Magazine. You can also listen to a three-way discussion about prison writing with Orion Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chip Blake, Richard Shelton and author Ken Lamberton here.
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