Connecting Through Creativity: Nature-Based Mindfulness

Connecting Through Creativity: Nature-Based Mindfulness

By Barbara K. Stump, MA

Last week we celebrated Earth Day, or as some of us affectionately refer to our planet, “Mother Earth.” Did you do anything special to commemorate Earth Day? Did you want to? In a few more weeks we will be celebrating Mother’s Day. Have you made any plans for honoring some of the special mothers in your life? I have a few suggestions of things you can do to celebrate these two occasions. So, welcome along on this journey to honor “Mother Earth” today, and  every day. Plus some of those special mothers in your life, possibly including yourself!

Calling the planet we live on “Mother Earth” has always seemed like an interesting analogy to me, why not “Father Earth?” Quite possibly this is because the stereotypical role of a mother is to nurture, care, feed, and encourage children to grow, learn, and play. I was a single mother, twenty-four hours/seven days a week, for most of my children’s upbringing. Consequently, I also had to take on the other role of a parent, typically defined by the father, as the protector, provider, and the disciplinarian. Perhaps some of you reading this were single parents as well, or are currently in the same predicament. It’s a difficult and demanding job—no rest for the weary. However, let me tell you, if no one else has yet, it is impossible to be everything. I could not do it all, and of course I made mistakes, but all parents make mistakes along the way. Please do not let anyone tell you otherwise. So, you do the best you can with the resources you have in front of you. At the end of the day, if you know you did your best, then let it rest. You need to be good to yourself, or you won’t be good to anyone. Likewise, we need to be good to “Mother Earth.” 

As I reflect on my view out a window this morning, I am looking at a beautiful blue lake with signs of spring all around. Today I have a deeper appreciation for it because of a segment I saw on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend. It was about a photographer, named James Balog, who is capturing landscapes around the world with his camera to illustrate the effects of climate change. Balog explained how he is taking photographs of how the earth is now, so that future generations can see how beautiful it once was. It was not a cynical interview. In fact Balog was awestruck and humbled to have his photographs displayed in museums next to Dorothea Lange’s work. Dorothea Lange is a famous photographer who chronicled the Great Depression in black in white photographs during her lifetime. Anyhow, Balog was rather frank in his interview describing how the levels of fresh water will be much lower on the earth in years ahead, and his work of recording this occurrence is not only art, but reality. 

Collecting images is one way to observe and acknowledge our earth. What will our children’s children say about the planet they inherited when they see these photographs by Balog? What are some things about our earth that you admire the most and hope will remain permanent fixtures? How are you engaging with nature, and in what ways do you seek nature mindfully? According to the Mental Health Foundation, nature-based mindfulness practices have a positive effect on our psychological well-being. In this blog, I would like to suggest three ideas for embracing the concept of nature-based mindfulness with our shared home, the earth. In harmony, perhaps you could weave them into your Mother’s Day celebrations. Hopefully, you might find it mutually rewarding, and beneficial for your well-being. They are as follows:

  1. Planting a memory garden or tree
  2. Searching for coastal findings
  3. Artful walks

Let’s start with the first idea: Planting a memory garden or tree. If you have a child, or children, this is a great opportunity to foster a lifelong love for nature. At the home where I raised my two sons, we always planted flowers around Mother’s Day. I’m sure some of you do as well. The first time my boys helped to plant something larger than flowers they were ages 6 and 10. Earlier that year, my  mom—their grandmother—had passed away. My neighbors gave me a sympathy card with a gift card to use at a local garden nursery in memory of my mother. I waited until Mother’s Day to use the gift card, and then I purchased six peony bushes, my mother’s favorite flower. My sons helped me to plant these bushes along the side of our garage. Their help was the best Mother’s Day gift—it was priceless! Every June we enjoyed seeing the peonies bloom. As the years passed the peonies became very abundant. So, we would invite our neighbors over to gather bouquets for their own homes. This brought me immense pride and joy for so many reasons. Here is a picture of our peonies row from our old house. Fortunately, I was able to split and transplant a few of these plants to our new house. Happily, we can continue to enjoy the early summer pink blooms, and the memories they represent.

I should share that these peonies do not require a lot of maintenance, but if you do not like to garden at all, maybe the next idea will be more your speed. Do you enjoy walks on beaches? Do you also like to collect things? When was the last time you did either one of those activities? For Mother’s Day, or practically any warm day, discovering coastal findings is one of the easiest activities you can do with family, friends, or even by yourself. Maybe you need to escape from your motherly concerns, and remember that inner child or spirit inside of yourself. Do you know who I am talking about? The one that knew how to play, and felt the sense of awe for finding the most interesting shell, stone, or sea glass on the beach. Not to mention, a time when you did not have the stressors of the adult world weighing you down. Most children love to collect, count, and describe objects they find. How fun is it to hear their little voices share their excitement for finding the most interesting sea shell or rock on the beach? It’s equally entertaining to share these discoveries with adults…or maybe it’s just my friends? Regardless, collecting intriguing rocks on Lake Michigan beaches is something I look forward to doing every summer with friends and also by myself. You might be surprised at how easy it is to get lost in the moment, and sometimes if you’re lucky you might find a treasured Petoskey or a Leland Blue Stone.

My last suggestion for engaging in nature-based mindfulness includes walking—not on a beach, but in a place where you can take in both nature and art. We all know walking is great exercise, and a good way to bond with those you love, including your children, your spouse, cherished friends, with pets, and by yourself. You might also enjoy recording your time on nature walks through taking photographs, drawing and painting, or writing in a journal. Obviously, there are ample opportunities to find beauty in nature, but visiting a garden park that includes outdoor art sculptures adds another element to enjoy on your stroll, or hike. One of my favorite outdoor sculpture parks is Meijer Gardens located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Below is a picture of my boys with me from one of our times together there.

A few other suggestions, in addition to Meijer Gardens, of places where my family and I have enjoyed outdoor sculpture parks are: The Olympic Sculpture Park, in Seattle, Washington; Bernheim Forest and Arboretum, in Clermont, Kentucky; and The Walk of Art Sculpture Park, in Elk Rapids, Michigan.  Below is a photograph that one of my sons took while on a hike at Bernheim Forest and Arboretum. It’s a sculpture, built using reclaimed material, by Danish Artist, Thomas Dumbo. The wood sculpture is titled “Mama Loumari.”

This sculpture definitely captures the feeling of an exhausted mother, one who just wants to hunker down in nature and take a rest. Very relatable! We all need to rest and re-energize after caring for others, or we won’t be any good for anyone, including ourselves.

Nature-based mindfulness is not anything new, but often we lose sight of how precious this place we call our home, the earth, really is to us. There are many Native American proverbs about the importance of taking care of, and honoring, the earth. Chief Seattle, is quoted as saying, “We don’t inherit the earth, we borrow it from our children.” To build on this thought, the photographs I mentioned earlier, by James Balog, recording the changes in our climate affecting the earth are hard to ignore. If anything, I hope this gives you motivation to get outside this Mother’s Day, and try every day to appreciate “Mother Earth.” The benefits to your well-being will be worth it—today, and every day. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the important women in our lives, including: grandmothers, aunts, mothers-in-law, pet mothers, Godmothers, and of course, Mother Earth!

Barb Stump is an art education consultant and G3 contributing writer.