Monday, October 19, 2009

Let Nature Comfort You

One of my biggest challenges on my journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer is conquering my emotional eating – or at least developing ways to keep it under control. To do this, I have to find other, healthier methods that comfort and soothe myself so that I don’t turn to food and overeat.

This may surprise some folks, but I’ve realized that one of my healthy ways to comfort myself when I’m stressed, unhappy, etc. is to soak in nature – though often through a car window. When I was upset or depressed with stuff in grad school, I often turned to my friend Delia and said, "Hill Country."

She’d do the same to me. We both knew what it meant. The absolute, next, free afternoon we had we were going to drive into the Texas Hill Country, look around at the pretty sites and the Texas Wildflowers in the spring, and often ended up in Gruene, Texas, where we’d eat at The Gristmill and sometimes take in a live, music show at Gruene Music Hall.

Nature can soothe when it’s much more extreme than regular life stress. On a commuter flight from Chicago to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I insisted the person sitting in my assigned window seat move so that I could look down on the patchwork fields of Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota.

I let it comfort me as I got closer and closer to my grandmother’s funeral and the eulogy I was giving.

I have a lot going on at work right now due to an upcoming, large event next week and just the general uncertainty of my industry and today’s economy. The past holiday weekend I flew back to Connecticut to visit my parents and to spend several days with them soaking up the beautiful, New England fall with all its vibrant color. We spent time around my hometown, a day at Block Island, and a day driving in Vermont and Massachusetts.

I love to soak up the beauty of New England – natural and man made (e.g. architecture) - whenever I go home, and it’s always at its prettiest in the fall.

Does nature ever comfort you? What other healthy ways have you find to comfort and soothe yourself so that you don’t turn to food?

Photos: The first two are of Block Island on Sunday, Oct. 11 and the final two are in Vermont on Monday, Oct. 12.


Elise Hayes on October 19, 2009 at 5:51 AM said...

These pictures are so beautiful, Michelle!

Yes, I find nature soothing. Inspiring. I grew up in woodland country (albeit almost always in suburbs, just at the edge of big cities), but it wasn't until I lived out West that I found country that truly called to me. I love the sere lines of the grass-covered hills and canyons in California, the stark severity of the eastern Sierra Nevadas, the sharpness of the air and the clean lines of the high desert.

Living back East again, I do love the colors the leaves turn in fall and the tight buds of the spring--but for the most part I've lost my appreciation for forests. My running path takes me through a forest and while I deeply, deeply appreciate the shade it offers in summer, it also makes me feel enclosed, almost trapped. For a while, before I figured out that my reaction was to being in the forest instead of open sky, I actually started carrying pepper spray with me.

But a sunset, a beautiful tree (preferably in isolation, for me :), makes me feel calmer, more centered, more aware of the beauty of life around me.

Annie Solomon on October 19, 2009 at 8:56 AM said...

Your post soothed me just by looking at the pictures. But I must confess I never think of going outside as soothing. I'll have to think on that some. I haven't figured out what comforts me besides food. Not a good thing. Thanks for sharing. You've given me something to ponder.

Michelle Butler on October 19, 2009 at 11:21 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! I do try to find the beauty of nature whereever I am, but there is nothing like the American West. It's pretty amazing.

The only place I've ever been where I found the nature unsettling was the Sedona, Arizona, region. I could see how it was beautiful, but it just seemed to freak me out. It filled me with an old-fashioned awe that was tinged with fear. One friend years later told me that all the new agers like Sedona bc you are supposed to feel the spirits or something there (can't remember the exact term). She suggested I could be very sensitive to it. I was there interviewing for a teaching job at a boarding school that was initally offered but then rescinded when a more experienced teacher applied at the last minute. I sometimes wondered if it was all for the best since I found the area unsettling.

I understand your issues with the forest and can see how it would be so easy to think it was the "woman alone in a secluded, dark area" fear.

Michelle Butler on October 19, 2009 at 11:24 AM said...

It took me awhile to figure out why I liked drives through nature so much. I'd grown up with parents who had enjoyed going for Sunday drives in the New England countryside. My roommate in Nashville and I would sometimes go for a drive in west Nashville - the countryside to the west - and it was always so much fun. It's more in hindsight that I figured out what I was getting out of it.

I've actually been thinking a lot about what can soothe/comfort me other than food. Two books that have given me ideas are The Zen of Eating by R. Kabatznick and 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers. Neither has got me to start meditating yet, but there are lots of helpful ideas in them.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on October 19, 2009 at 10:54 PM said...

I'm sorry I'm so late posting a reply, especially since I so love nature and find it incredibly soothing. I love going hiking, soaking up the fresh air, the scents of the outdoors (particularly love the smell of the woods after a rain), and the sounds of birds and critters of various kinds. I love, love, love it out West. I think it's because it's so different from where I grew up in a wooded, rural area of Kentucky. I love being able to see forever. I find the wide open skies awe-inspiring.

Interesting that you were weirded out by Sedona. I've never been there. Two of my favorite places out west are Yellowstone and Santa Fe. Someday when we're fabulously wealthy authors, we'll take a big cross-country trip. :)

Michelle Butler on October 20, 2009 at 9:12 AM said...

Like Oprah and Gayle, huh? That would be so much fun, Trish. We can put it on our bucket list. :)

I do think of you as my favorite tree hugger, so I thought today's post would resonate with you.

I love the wide open spaces of the West too. I don't think I could come up with favorites though - it's all beautiful. The scents of the outdoors can make me sneeze, so it can be a mixed bag there.

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