The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is nature.
Absolutely, nature helps us to see the beauty in life. Spending time with the natural world calms the mind, slows us down, helps us breathe again and let go of stress. I tend to think that one of the reasons nature is so helpful is because it's not susceptible (as far as we know) to excessive rumination like the human mind can be. But there is also an aspect of human nature that needs awareness and acceptance; not just our desires, conflicts, emotions, and various mental states; but awareness itself, the capacity to be aware - the capacity to be mindful.
Where a positive outlook on life is very much part of mental health, what may appear to be a negative outlook is not always a sign of mental illness.
Of course, symptoms of mental illness such as addiction to substances, eating disorders, being excessively driven, depression and anxiety, are all signs that at some level or in some way we have a psychological or emotional wound that has not been addressed. Or for some of us, it may be that we are in some way living our lives dictated by our upbringing, the expectations of others, or etiquette that does not express who we feel we really are. Despite all of this, there is still a faculty of awareness that, believe it or not, remains healthy, although it can be very dormant and appear to be unavailable to the sufferer.
One of the reasons awareness is avoided is because it involves the slowing down of the thinking mind, and as the thinking mind slows down, we become more in touch with our feelings. This can be uncomfortable and support is often necessary to help process our difficult feelings. The key is awareness, and finding or reconnecting with the ability to express ourselves authentically.
The genuine expression of sadness is a sign of mental and emotional health. The genuine expression of anger, in a way that doesn't hurt others or ourselves, is a sign of mental and emotional health. The expression of grief and loss (and there is a lot of it at the present time) is a sure sign of mental and emotional health. Just as the genuine expression of love, empathy, compassion, and joy, are signs of mental and emotional health. Accepting our human nature as something inherently right, and taking care of ourselves with whatever we are suffering stops us from trying to escape and distract ourselves from our own energy, and helps to re-collect ourselves and heal, while increasing our capacity for well being.
Spending time with the natural world makes it easier for us to give permission to be with how things are; the sky, the grass, the trees, and the sounds of nature. We become aware. Nurturing our capacity to be aware of our human nature is also giving permission to be with how things are, and we stop fighting with ourselves. We can breathe. It is the inner battle that needs to be surrendered. For obvious reasons, a battle with ourselves cannot be won.
Awareness is what holds us and helps us to bear what needs to be expressed. Awareness is always healthy, despite how what we are aware of may feel, and we all have the capacity to be more fully aware.
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