We are all connected to the natural world. All of us made from it. Whatever your beliefs, one must acknowledge that our bones and blood and skin are made of the same stuff as rocks and trees and rain. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, sums it up best.
Women are particularly connected to the natural world. People usually support this conclusion by noting that our cycles, such as menstruation, are linked to the moon and the tides. But it goes even beyond that, I think. Another correlation between women and the natural world is that our bodies possess a pattern of seasons — a continual turning through the cycles of life. To be a woman is, like the earth itself, to be physically circling through times of birth, expansion, dormancy, and death.
Given the deep and tangible quality of the connection between women’s bodies and the natural world, it’s logical that we can draw a deep sense of strength and purpose from tending that relationship. And why we often suffer when it is lost.
Throughout history, there have been times when circumstance and/or politico-religious movements have worked to abolish the close relationship between women and the living world. Even today, a woman’s relationship with the spiritual aspects of life faces multiple challenges. First, more and more of us are living and working in places that offer little exposure to nature. Second, there is the considerable distraction of our fast-paced, multi-faceted lives. And third, the myths and stories still being told about women often muddy reality and reduce our significance.
How then can we face up to these challenges?
Over the years, I have found three simple practices that anyone can integrate into their lives to gain deeper personal roots and purpose. No matter your faith, age, or lifestyle, performing any of these exercises will allow you to feel for yourself the power that arises when a woman aligns herself — directly — with the natural world and its creative forces.
- Contemplate the eternal every day. In our increasingly fast, harried, and indoor lives, more of our attention is going toward man-made devices such as cell phones, computers, tvs — things that are impermanent. To help restore a sense of connectedness, try to spend a little time contemplating something that is part of the eternal world. The thing itself doesn’t have to be grand or exotic. What matters is not the object, but the depth of your attention. Anna drew incredible inspiration from a single blade of grass. You might do the same from a houseplant. Maybe a bird outside. Or how about opening your fridge? Any fruit or vegetable will do! Contemplate how its life began. From where it draws its energy. How it is vulnerable or strong. While the practice may seem odd at first, over time, you will come to crave these moments spent reflecting on the aspects of life that endure.
- Remember who you are, no matter who you must become. All of us lead double lives. In one life, we are powerful beings, imbued with the ability to create and nurture life. In the other, we are bank tellers, teachers, high-powered business executives, on-the-go moms, devoted partners, etc. The demands of our second (and third and fourth and fifth) identities often overshadow the intrinsic magic of the first. As women, we literally need to train ourselves to pause at moments throughout our day to remember our inherent self, to honor our abilities as women, and to draw a sense of strength from these reminders. Given all we do in a day, it’s easy to be forgetful. Sometimes we even have to remember to remember who we truly are!
- Question any story or ideology that runs counter to natural reality. Whether it’s a woman being formed from a man’s rib, women being thought to “weak-minded” to vote, or a recent college dean’s suggestion that female students are born without their male colleagues’ “intrinsic aptitude,” all stories influence our society. For centuries, such faulty ideologies have shaped our families, religions, and politics — and even our sense of self! Because of this reality, we should never shy away from asking difficult questions, or challenging the status quo. Only by doing so can we free ourselves of the outdated and unconscious thinking that keeps us down. (By the way, I’d love to see that college dean’s aptitude for handling two kids while working as a full-time scientist!)
If you’re feeling like you’ve “lost your way” or are “feeling disconnected,” it’s possible that you’ve simply forgotten to tend the relationship between yourself and the natural world. Given all we do, and the challenges we face, it’s easy to see how we can get off track.
Fortunately, since women are inherently connected to the cycles and creative powers of life, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get us re-aligned. In fact, even just taking the time to read about our relationship to the natural world, and pausing to remember the truth of it, can make all the difference.
Kristen Wolf, author of The Way, is a mother, writer, and filmmaker living in the Rocky Mountains. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University and holds an M.A. in creative writing from Hollins University. This is her first novel.