The warmth of the sun kissing your skin. The feeling of salt in your eyebrows after a swim in the ocean. The support of soil beneath your feet — grounding you with every step. The sound of rain after dry season — nature’s music.
These are feelings felt by us all. We can all find beauty and inspiration in the natural world. This is a symptom of our shared humanity. It is our common ground.
For First Nations people, everything in the natural world (plus more) can be summed up in a word: Country. Country is fundamental to First Nations identities and goes far beyond the physical. Country embodies all aspects of First Nations existence — culture, language, spirituality and Law.
First Nations people have a deep interconnectedness with Country. It isn’t just the land around people. Country is us. We have a meaningful reliance on one another where we don’t just take, but we give. Country provides for and nourishes us, while we manage and sustain Country through culture and ceremony. Our Ancestors shaped the continent with cultural burning and fire management, farming and agriculture. But aside from that, we aim to leave nothing but footprints.
Importantly, our Ancestors were happy.
Research shows that feeling connected to nature (or Country) can make us happier and healthier. A study published in Scientific Reports in 2019 found that at least two hours a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. The study used survey data from more than 19,000 participants in the United Kingdom, who were quizzed about their time spent in nature.
This study is just one part of the growing body of evidence showing the positive relationship between nature and happiness, often called ecotherapy. Other studies show that being in nature decreases stress, relieves attention fatigue, increases creativity and inspires generosity.
But today, with many of us working in offices, classrooms or from home, we are spending more time indoors and online. And it’s almost undeniable that indoor living has been exacerbated by COVID-19. So what can we learn from First Nations thinking and notions of Country?
Leeton Lee is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man. A Bundjalung, Thunghutti and Mualgal cultural practitioner, Leeton works with the First Nations-led Firesticks Alliance to engage in cultural burning in South East Queensland.
Cultural burning is about reading Country and burning the right landscape at the right time. People engaging in cultural burning rely on knowledge systems as old as time and use traditional First Nations fire management techniques.
Leeton reflects, “When I go on Country, I look at everything and see the value or use for various plants and vegetation. If I don’t know, then I will wonder what the use or value is, as I know that landscapes provide for all our needs.”
“The flip side is also understanding or learning how I can protect everything I see. There must be balance in everything in life. For example, work, family, personal, health and spirituality. The landscape is no different. It requires balance, health, understanding, interaction and respect,” says Leeton.
Taking notice of the small stuff is an important part of First Nations thinking and notions of Country. This can be meditative and ground you in the present moment.
Luther Cora is a First Nations artist, photographer, traditional dancer and leader of the Yugambeh Dancers. He says, “I am most mindful at the beach — walking on saltwater country.”
“If I’m feeling stressed I go to an island off Tweed where some of my old people were born. We fish, we have a fire and we cook our catch on the fire. Sharing these moments with my family is what brings me the most happiness,” Luther reflects.
So if you’re looking for an easy way to reduce stress and boost your mood, why not enjoy some time outdoors and in nature? It can be as simple as a walk through the bush, a swim or surf in the ocean or stargazing under the night sky.
As long as you clear your mind and draw your attention to the present moment, you’ll be able to feel the profound benefits of being mindful on Country. And while you’re there, it might feel good to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land. They have cared for that Country since time immemorial.
Note: You can use the AIATSIS map to see whose Country you are on.
This article was originally commissioned for Men's Shed.