For most of existence, the human and natural worlds were inextricably intertwined. Our connection to nature was intrinsic. However, these links have become weaker and weaker across generations. Today, some of us are only getting outside between the walk from the car to the office.
How can reconnecting with nature change our mental health? Our relationships to each other? The way that we run our businesses? These are the questions that Cristina Schooler addresses through her company, The Rooted Method, which seeks to reconnect humans with the world around them. We spoke to her about her work, her views on the importance of nature, and how getting in the garden can make all the difference across many different areas of our lives.
Tell us a little bit about what you do with The Rooted Method.
I am a facilitator for men and women who are passionate about really reconnecting to that childlike wonder and intimacy that we feel in nature. I operate groups, retreats, and my Rewild Festival on this concept of rewilding. What that really means, at its core, is getting back into natural systems of relating to each other, relating to our bodies, relating to nature. It’s looking at how we can build out systems of reciprocity where we are sharing more resources, where we are bringing our supply chains closer to home.
How do you think that nature changes humans?
I think that one of the biggest overarching concepts that nature teaches us is that life is not linear. Yet humans, in our funny minds and bodies, try to make life linear– it’s “A plus B equals C.” It’s very logical. It is very much a western frame of thinking.
I think that living a life close to nature–in mind, body and ethos– really teaches us that things are actually cyclical. Think about learning to ride a bike. You ride a bike, you fall down and then you get up again. Nature’s the same thing. There is a death and a rebirth that is constantly happening. There’s a contraction and an expansion.
When we take that principle and apply it to our businesses, our families, our own mental health, I think we just bring so much more compassion and grace, and resilience to our lives.
Do you think our interactions with nature have to be on a large scale? Or can they be something we experience in small ways throughout the day?
Absolutely. I’ve had clients who live in New York City or right in the center of LA. [I say that] nature is something you access when you open your doors and you let sunlight come in on your face. What it is, at its core, is an awareness that it’s there, even if you’re not deep in the woods or deep in the jungle. We can have this connection in our backyards, or even if we don’t even have a backyard. If we have a plant on our porch or a plant inside our home, just touching the plant, becoming aware of that plant, really opens up our sensory experience and actually builds safety in our bodies.
So just through the awareness of nature being there as an entity, whether it’s the elements or a plant in your home, we start to build this biological trust in our bodies.
And how can that trust affect us as humans?
It really helps us remember that whatever problem or challenge that is in front of us, there’s always a much bigger picture there. When humans are in their stress response, our vision gets very narrow. It’s called foveal vision. So we just see the problem in front of us. What nature does is get us into something called peripheral vision, which is when our nervous system is relaxed.
So, for example, let’s say you’re working and you have a plant on your table. You take a break, you kind of soften and you look at the plant, you look at the details of the plant, you are unconsciously already getting into peripheral vision. I think, from a mindfulness perspective, from a workplace perspective, that if you’re struggling or feeling challenged, nature allows us to literally broaden our perspective. Maybe the challenge isn’t quite as big as we think. It opens up our pathways for Creative problem-solving as well.
How do you think that gardening, specifically, helps us connect with nature? What do you think is special about gardening when it comes to our relationship with nature?
Oh gosh, I could say so many things! My husband and I have three big plots in our backyard.
First off, it creates a respect for the supply chain of food. In our modern world, we can order UberEats, we can go to a restaurant, we can go to a grocery store and just get whatever we want, when we want. It’s a blessing and a privilege, but having a garden really creates awareness around where our food comes from: the farmers and the soil. Over the past couple of years of tending to our gardens, I find myself thinking about food differently. When I am at the grocery store, when I am at a restaurant, I think about it more, mindfully, more appreciatively. Gardening builds that gratitude feedback.
It also, intrinsically, slows us down. It slows us down to realize that we can do things with our hands, on our own. We don’t have to outsource everything in this world. We can find joy and meaning in things like taking care of our home and taking care of our homestead. It’s just such a beautiful byproduct of gardening.
The last thing is biological. When you get your hands in the soil, the microbes get underneath our fingernails and into our skin. It helps us remain resilient in our bodies. It affects our nervous systems and hormones. So I see time in the garden as both biological and mental at the same time.
What is a simple way for people to connect with nature right now?
I always speak to my groups and clients about this really simple and powerful act called earthing or grounding. It’s the practice of walking barefoot. In terms of human history, we’ve mostly walked barefoot. It’s only been in the last about 150 to 200 years that humans have really had shoes on their feet, which has prevented us from having a connection to the Earth.
If you are in a city like New York and can get to a park, or if you have a backyard, take off your socks and shoes and walk barefoot on the earth as much as you can. It helps our hormones, helps our resilience, and, really powerfully, it helps our circadian rhythm. Earthing helps us release melatonin in the day so that when we’re sleeping at night, our sleep is actually better.
Walk barefoot! You’re helping your sleep and your natural rhythms, which is so integral to so many processes in our body. If you’re in a position where you can just have fun with yourself or your co-workers or your family just walking barefoot, you’ll find some really beautiful connections.