September 9, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Photo by Katherine Beard

I hate to admit it, but every time I return to Colorado College after a sweaty summer of popsicle dribbles, hometown barhops, and leisure reading hours, I am filled with dread. The first block of the year always feels like a sucker-punch to the tenders. And now, as a senior who is already caught in the echoing whirlwind of questions like “What are you going to do after you graduate?”, tensions are running high, and my tear ducts are emptying more often than usual.

Something I have been thinking about a lot this summer, thanks to a torturous read of “Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney, is how absolutely botched our relationships are with each other, ourselves, and nature.

Power inequities and violence deeply inform and surveil how we learn to love one another and ourselves in the current worldly state of continual crisis. Capitalism, climate collapse, and violence against marginalized groups seep into the very fabric of our relationships. I feel as though my whole psyche is warped, especially when I come back to CC, where everything is tremendously fast paced.

Yet, there is one thing that helps me feel grounded: laying on or touching the earth. It might sound daft but laying in the grass or wiping the dust off my plants always shrinks my anxiety. Apparently, I am not the only one who relies on this strategy and there is science to support this peculiar phenomenon.

According to researchers, interacting with nature — from trudging through bodies of water to spreading out on a cute little patch of daisies — can reduce stress. Furthermore, this practice, known as grounding, can help with physical ailments, including chronic inflammation and wound healing.

Grounding is both a physical and psychological experience that relies on gravitational tensions inside and outside of the body, which allows connection with the earth and feelings of internal control and wholeness. Living in awareness of the earth is at the crux of the ecopsychology movement, which recognizes association with nature as a necessity for emotional wellbeing.

Grounding and a strong sense of place are prominent in Indigenous communities and are often not integrated within Western fields of medicine. For example, the current Desert Art Lab exhibition at the Fine Arts Center, titled “Chicanx Landscapes,” forefronts how Chicanx communities derive power and resiliency in connections with the Earth. Communities derive food from the Earth through engaging in reciprocal relationships of care. The exhibition rejects narratives of the desert being a “post-apocalyptic wasteland” and instead asserts that deserts are spaces of ecological and communal opportunity, which are historically and currently threatened by climate change and the colonial policing of land.

Grounding can be individually healing, as well. My longtime friend, fellow grass lover, education major, and summer camp employee, Greer Harnden ’23, had a few thoughts to share on the topic.

“After having shoulder surgery in May and working in the swimming activity at camp, I just know that water is healing for me,” said Harnden. “It is honestly such an emotional experience to be in the water and to even try to put my feelings into words.”

Harnden’s physical therapist explained how movement of Harnden’s shoulder in the water would be helpful for building mobility and strength, while the coolness of the water would soothe any discomfort Harnden felt. Beyond these more tangible benefits to wiggling in the water, Harnden, true to her water sign identity, feels an emotional connection to the water.

“Jumping into the lake when I am feeling stressed or after a hard day provides immediate relief. Even sometimes screaming under water allows me to feel better,” said Harnden. “It is so interesting how we use water to clean every day because, in that same vein, water is cleansing for our bodies and minds in ways that Western media and science have not acknowledged or tapped into.”

Not only does Harnden enjoy swimming in the lake on her own, but she also explained that being in the water with others offers its own healing through solidifying and strengthening friendships.

“After campers go to bed at night, the staff members sometimes go skinny-dipping, and the experience of fully being ourselves in an untamed, uncensored, and unabridged way is so powerful. I feel so free and connected to the earth, the people around me, and myself,” she said.

Yet, reflecting on the recent droughts in her hometown in Massachusetts and throughout the United States this summer and the impending anxieties around the global water crisis, Harnden, like many of us, worries about water. Climate change and inadequate infrastructure already threaten water supplies and access with Jackson, Miss. as one of the most recent cases. This event exposes a larger global issue regarding access to water and foreshadows future conflicts over the control of water.

Climate anxiety, an all-encompassing burden on each of us, can be debilitating, Harnden points out. While there are tangible steps to diminishing your individual impact on the climate, managing our emotions — whether they’re related to climate change, the upcoming Taylor Swift album, or mental health struggles — is an important practice.

Harnden advises folks to connect with the Earth in some way in order to be attuned to their own internal dialogue and to the pulse points of the Earth. Go lay in the grass on Yampa. Dance around in a puddle. Touch your overly-thriving spider plant. Scribble with Earthy hues. Submerge yourself in a reservoir. Walk around Old North End to gaze upon the moon and stars.

Whatever it might be, connection with the Earth can be and often is healing. You just have to muster up the courage to dive in.

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