In more recent times, studies have shown that spending time outdoors is very beneficial for your health and wellbeing: for example, it can help fight short-term memory loss, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve your ability to focus.
I have myself experienced some of these benefits. I believe that spending time outdoors was one key way I reduced stress and anxiety, which I experienced over a long period of time. Now in hindsight, I also consider that exploring my relationship with nature helped me to tap into my creativity and find joy again after experiencing significant life challenges. Perhaps you can relate?
My love of nature began as a child. While born in Sydney, when I was just a year old, my parents and I relocated north to the Central Coast and lived alongside of a tranquil rainforest. The rustling whispers of the gum trees and the chatter and songs of the parrots and lorikeets inspired my vivid imagination and desire to create. In fact, one of my favourite hobbies was to write and draw pictures about nature, but as an animated world. Drawing on my European heritage, I often told stories about ‘the good folk’— fairies, gnomes and elves. Meanwhile, I loved to read and was drawn to literature, such as Anne of Green Gables, that touched on these themes.
Later, after my mother had a work-related accident, my parents separated and we were forced to move to another suburb. I missed the forest, and over the next five years, spent much less time outdoors.
After the passing of my grandmother, my mother, sister and I decided to pack up and move to the Derwent Valley in Tasmania. We moved into a western red cedar house on a one-acre property, bordered by large haunting silver birch trees. My mother, who had been sick by then for almost a decade, passed much time pottering around her newly established veggie garden and chatting to her hens. As she passed more time in her garden, I noticed that she was more content. Meanwhile, I experienced a creative renaissance; I began to paint with watercolour and even wrote two books.
Two years later, I left home to start my studies in Archaeology. The following September after I started my degree, Mum suddenly passed away. I was truly devastated. The day she died, I suffered my very first panic attack. In the haze of grief and anxiety, I forgot again the magic of creating and telling stories.
Until one day, in Cusco city, a ritual specialist from the Q’ero community divined my future. Tossing coca leaves onto a multi-coloured woven cloth, he scanned them and said: ‘you have much creativity; you need to tap into this.’ He then foresaw that as I co-created with my creativity, I would thrive in all ways. In that moment, I recognised how exhausted and unhappy I was and made a silent agreement to follow his advice.
I returned to Australia a short time later to continue teaching Archaeology at university and write my dissertation. Around the same time, I picked up my paintbrush again. Much to my surprise, I found myself painting Pachamama, Mother Earth, over and over again and the more I did, the more joy I felt.
In the Andes, Pachamama is sentient and the primordial mother of all. In 2011, Bolivia took the unprecedented step of giving Pachamama equal rights to humans. As stated in Article 7, she has the right to life, to water, to clean air and to restoration, among other things.
While living in Peru several years ago, I was blessed to learn about some of the traditional ways Peruvians demonstrate their love and respect for the Earth through ceremony. These experiences transformed my life by helping me deepen my own connection with nature in Learning to Love Nature the Andean Way.
In colonial and modern Andean art, Pachamama is often depicted as an anthropomorphic dome-shaped mountain. My own interpretation of Pachamama is more stylised and miniaturised. Her form is inspired by one of my greatest treasures, a Peruvian ceramic figurine, given to me by sister while living in Tasmania. Because Pachamama is the origin of all things and therefore, is everywhere, I depict her in all aspects of nature.
I now see how important it is to make time to spend time in nature and do simple things that fill the heart up with joy. As musician Carlos Santana once, ‘if you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.’ I believe that painting and contemplating on Pachamama helped me transform a difficult and painful set of experiences into beautiful life lessons that have progressively made me stronger as a person. It has made me more aware of my own responsibility to care and support the Earth too.
Do you love spending time outdoors? Are you inspired to look into nature and create? I would love to hear your stories and experiences.