Why Do People Find Healing in Nature?

Photo by Author

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالطَّيْرُ صَافَّاتٍ ۖ كُلٌّ قَدْ عَلِمَ صَلَاتَهُ وَتَسْبِيحَهُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَفْعَلُونَ

Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and the birds with wings spread? Each has known his salat prayer and his exaltation (of Allah), and Allah is Knowing of what they do.

Surat Al-Nur (Light) 24:41

The healing and restorative power of nature is well-documented, and it is essentially free and without side effects. Nature therapy, also called ecotherapy, is the well-documented treatment of many health disorders by immersion in or interaction with “nature”, which refers to any part of creation, especially living things, even when represented in videos, pictures, sounds, or scents from pleasing natural sources. Another article is one of many discussing how such therapy works or can be applied, the how often confused with the why, which is rarely addressed. When children ask “why is the sky blue,” the answer nowadays is usually a scientific explanation of the how. But the child’s probing why may ask a different question: for what purpose or meaning is the sky blue? So in that spirit we ask here the question why is nature such a healing force not so much to know how it works as a mechanism, but what is the root cause and the purpose/ intention of this phenomenon. 

The Quran addresses this question in three ways: first, the description of plants and trees of all kinds as joyfully or delightfully beautiful, thus showing us the intention, from the point of view of the Creator, to bring us delight and joy in the beauty of what He creates. And delight itself can promote healing. Second, by informing us that everything He created exalts and glorifies Allah in their various ways, reassuring our souls of His universal and restorative Presence. Third, the Quran tells us that while the heavens and the earth and all that is in them praise and glorify their Creator, not all people do, making us the exception among creation, as our worship and attitude is voluntary, subject to free will, and hence human action can be both helpful and/or harmful, sometimes in the extreme. 

We can see how human activity has destroyed species and ecosystems, caused unspeakable agony to entire human societies, and in so many ways made each other miserable and sick. Many humans, especially the rich and powerful for whom trust, humility, and gratitude are difficult qualities to maintain, cause more harm than good, poisoning our world in so many ways. And not all of nature is beneficial to us, creating a counter-force to our tendency to hubris. Nonetheless it is in nature that we find an essential goodness that nourishes the soul, derived directly from nature’s unmitigated connection to Allah the Exalted, which bathes us in its true purity and clarifying power.

The “prayer” mentioned above in reference to nature is salat in Arabic, which word expresses “contact” or “connection” as well as the formal body-language Islamic prayer which is different from du’a or “supplication,” like “prayer” in English. Salat is exemplified in the first Surah of the Quran, Al-Fatiha, which means “opening,”in some ways like “opening” the phone to “contact” someone, the old-fashioned “lifting the receiver” of pre-cell phones being perhaps a better example. We “lift our receptivity” when we pray in this sense, opening ourselves up in an expression of trust; this also occurs to some extent naturally when we immerse ourselves in “natural” environments, and even human-made “sacred spaces,” if they are indeed used for reverence and praise of Allah. This is a higher level of “mindfulness,” being not simply aware generally in a somewhat passive state, but actively aware and contributing to the worship and praise that all creation does without question, given a higher value as we have the choice not to.

In the Quran, the number one destructive trait is arrogance, whose opposite in the Quran is gratitude. That in itself is a fascinating juxtaposition. It can be easily understood that someone who is arrogant is less likely to be grateful, which needs the ability to acknowledge the good that comes from other than oneself, or obeisance to oneself. This in turn assures the arrogant will fail to find the joy they desire, because they have closed their receptivity to it. In this sense arrogance is a form and also a source of ignorance. Willful ignorance. 

Human intent has often been to conquer and control the resources and gifts from the earth, which involves depriving some people (and many other creatures in the process) of these riches in order to make them exclusively available in excess to themselves, what the Quran calls al-mutrifeen, the “upper crust” of society, the wealthy/ privileged ones. This is the level of arrogance where humans have created ugliness and oppressive environments: the direct result of hubris and greed with little or no regard for “others,” which includes people, animals, plants, and even whole ecosystems. People are, in other words, poisoning our environment with injustice-based actions and thus making ourselves sick both inside (our minds, psyches, souls) and out (our bodies). Contrast this with “nature:”

And the earth – We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein of all delightfully beautiful pairs…

Surat Qaf  50:7

…And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows living things of every delightfully beautiful kind.

Surat Al-Hajj 22:5

Is He [not best] who created the heavens and the earth and sent down for you rain from the sky, causing to grow thereby gardens of joyful beauty which you could not [otherwise] have grown the trees thereof? Is there a deity with Allah? [No], but they are a people who ascribe equals [to Him].

Surat Al-Naml 27:60

The Arabic word baheej is often translated “beautiful” but there is a difference between baheej whose root is bahja (where the “h” sound is pronounced) and husn, another word meaning “beauty”. Bahja refers to radiant beauty which engenders delight or joy in the beholder, often referring to plants, whereas husn refers to beauty itself, often used to describe people who are especially good-looking. The word husn can also refer to manners or behavior, in which case it means “very good” or “ideal” manners. So these Arabic words have connotations that are different than their English translations. From this we can see that the “joy” or “cheering up” qualities in nature and “green spaces” is specifically referred to here in the Quran, and it is that quality which we find healing. Note that the word baheej or delightful is also expressed as “delightful pairs” (50:7), showing there is delight in their very “pairing”, the sense of renewal and fertility that reproduction exudes in a plethora of ways, a kind of busyness, hope, and energy in their very being. Humans in particular need this benefit.

Do you not see that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people? But upon many the punishment has been justified. And he whom Allah humiliates – for him there is no bestower of honor. Indeed, Allah does what He wills.

Surat Al-Hajj 22:18

The expression “many of the people” shows how we, endowed with free will and its subsequent capacity for evil, are differentiated from the rest of creation by the absence of some of “the people” from “prostration,” the signature expression of humility, worship of and submission to Allah the Exalted. Could it be that what we find healing in nature directly reflects the unquestioning natural affinity all creation has in their connection with our Creator? Is it their very glorification of the ineffable reality of God that makes us feel genuine relief and healing in their very presence? This idea in no way participates in proselytizing, or trying to change us in the sense that human believers often do, but rather it is just quite literally being themselves as Allah created them. 

Exposure to such natural environments requires a certain amount of time, which has been shown to be no less than “precisely 120 minutes” or two hours. Although this and other articles show some details regarding how this works, as mentioned above, I have not seen a truly deep dive into the why. There’s a reason for that. 

Modern Western society has ceased all mention of God in ordinary public discourse, in an effort to avoid getting into the contentious issue of “religiosity,” where “scientific” empiricism has emphasized theories that expressly exclude the possibility of a deity, about whom people are always in dispute, ultimately leading to the exclusion of God from ordinary discourse except within “religious” groups. Although freedom of religion was established in the United States in 1791 as part of the First Amendment, it wasn’t until later in the 20th century that mention of God was replaced by “nature” in all news reporting and most public information. It’s ok to say “Mother Nature”, which autocorrect will gladly capitalize for you, but not to say “God,” let alone something more imposing like “The Almighty” or “Creator.” Yet what gives nature, that is to say “creation,” its healing power and beneficial qualities is simply one thing: the total reverence for and the connection all nature has with Allah, the Exalted Creator.

The bee’s labor is in a place of utter beauty and delight. Designed by Allah. (Photo by author.)

Usually, when one thinks of dogs, cats, lizards, and most insects, for example, one does not think of them as praying, prostrating, or in any way worshiping Allah. Our idea of worship is usually confined to humans in their “places of worship” such as temples, mosques, churches, or synagogues, and is commonly thought of as expressed in rituals, prayer, liturgy, and codes of ethics or behavior, although the latter is considered more “religious” than “worship” per se. As for “nature,” until recently, it was a common notion that animals are governed by “instinct,” something like built-in programming, motivated only by physical needs, and neither animals nor plants, let alone mountains or stars,  were considered to have consciousness or self-direction in any way, let alone worship.

The Quran upends such preconceptions by reminding us in many ayat or verses that all creation worships Allah. And thus all “nature” consists of conscious, and to varying degrees autonomous, beings, and beings-within-beings, all around us, aware of and interacting with us and each other, many of whom Allah has subjected to us for our benefit. Provided we respect them and treat them fairly and with appreciation. This includes not only “living things” in the organic sense, but mountains, which the Quran tells us “exalted Allah” along with the Prophets David in 38:18-19 and his son Solomon, who was also taught the language of birds and other creatures as per 27:16,19). Stars also “prostrate”, and the “heavens” and all that is in them. Such creations actually can teach us about Allah, about what is important in life, and about our role in this world. And by simply being they can heal us. This is the “why” we look for: immersion in nature in itself connects us to Allah even though we are not aware this is happening. That is the element that heals: the sense of Allah’s healing and clarifying presence, reinforced by His creation. 

We are after all not so very removed from the animals or plants. In fact, we are the “worst of creatures” when we indulge in our tendency toward arrogance, selfishness, and greed. 

Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have denied (Him/ His bounty), and they will not [ever] trust (Allah) –

Surat Al-Anfal 8:55

Notice that human “deniers” also make things, but not with an eye for beauty or healing; rather with an eye to making money and subjugating people for that purpose with little regard for their being living creatures with a purpose and value. 

Workspaces for human laborers without regard to their worth as sentient beings. Designed by capitalists.
Designed as a prison to create human misery. Designed by humans to subjugate other humans.

The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.

Surat Al-Isra’ 17:44

Notice that here the Quran acknowledges our ignorance of the fact that animals and plants, even mountains, which we don’t think of as “beings” in any sense whatsoever, all worship Allah in their own way, and are conscious, and even have “languages” or “ways” of self-expression. Prophets Solomon and David, as mentioned above, were taught the languages of birds and other creatures by Allah the Exalted Omniscient, and prayed communally “with the mountains”. To this day there are unique people who also understand the languages of non-human creatures and even communicate with them. The Quran teaches us that all living creatures form “nations” and communities like us. Respect for this fact can only make us better people and enrich our lives, certainly help solve some of our most intractable problems, such as how to develop sustainable energies and societies that are more just, and how to stop polluting our world with chemical poisons and plastics, which are killing the very ecosystems and their biodiversity we require to survive. 

It is not, then, merely a matter of a few people healing themselves by gardening or finding a pet. It is a matter of acknowledging the whole of creation as sacred, the universe as a place of worship, and our purpose in life as being intelligent and loving caretakers of the beautiful and healing beings Allah created. That reverence and positive energy is the path to healing, and beyond that, survival not only of our species, but of myriad living things and indeed of the magnificent planet earth with whose care we have now made ourselves, however undeservedly, “entrusted.” 

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Starling murmuration in Scotland

More Examples in the Quran of Nature’s Praise/ Worship

Indeed, We subjected the mountains [to praise] with him (Prophet David/ Dawood), exalting [Allah] in the [late] afternoon and [after] sunrise.

Surat Sawd 38:18

And the birds were assembled, all with him (Prophet David/ Dawood) repeating [praises] to Him (Allah).

Surat Sawd 38:19

And to Allah prostrates whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth of creatures, and the angels [as well], and they are not arrogant.

Surat Al-Nahl (The Bee) 16:49

And these first lines of five surahs, forming a series:

Whatever is in the heavens and earth exalts Allah, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

Surat Al-Hadeed  57:1

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth exalts Allah, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

Surat Al-Hashr 59:1

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth exalts Allah, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. 

Surat Al-Saff 61:1 

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is exalting Allah, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

Surat Al-Jumaa 62:1 

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is exalting Allah. To Him is the dominion, and to Him belongs [all] praise, and He is over all things competent. 

Surat At-Taghabun 64:1

Note that these above five first lines are very similar, all referring to “whatever” instead of “whoever,” so as to include things we perceive as “non-living” as well as things we consider “living” or “beings.” The word “competent” is far too ordinary and limited a translation for qadeer which does mean “capable/ competent” but in a much more powerful sense. Consider that it refers to “all things” and then try to picture “all things” in detail to get a sense of what this implies. The significance of this series has yet to be analyzed, but it begins in the “Ramadan” or “9th house/ chamber” position, in every other surah (making the first 3 odd-numbered surahs) until Surah 61, which is in the middle of the series. It is then found at the beginning of the next surah, 62, after which it appears at the top of every other surah again, ending on surah 64, in the 4th house, as is Surat Al-Ikhlas 112 the sum of whose numbers and letters is 64, the number of codons in the genetic code of all life. This number in that sense refers to creation itself, especially the creation of living things, and may also have an association with “rebirth.” Or Resurrection. Or perhaps, in concert with the rest of this post, it reminds us that within our own earthly lives, in the here and now, we are in a continuous state of renewal as each heartbeat “resurrects” dead deoxygenated blood into living oxygenated blood. And all around us creation is in a state of continuous dynamic renewal. And Allah is over all things “competent.”

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