This article contains the last 13 suggestions for nature-based development tasks that simultaneously foster a strong relationship with the natural world and develop a meaningful sense of purpose. The list was started in part 1 of this series.
Going Deeper with Self ExplorationAfter developing a socially viable sense of self, we can begin to dive into that self much more deeply by exploring authenticity even further. Our secure and curious exploration of both the natural and social environments can now be turned inward as we begin to identify some of the most meaningful underlying values that allowed the attitudes and interests of the social self to come forth.
Understanding coherently our natural environment, our social environment, and our own deepest values allows us to begin developing a sense of purpose, which is another facet of a meaningful life as outlined by Martella and Steger.
All of the above ingredients are necessary for a genuine sense of purpose according to Positive Psychologists Damon, Menon, and Bronk who define purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self” (p. 121). The previous tasks involved exploring the ecosystems beyond the self, and now we must explore further into the self that resides within these ecosystems. The goal of deeply exploring the depths of the mind and its mysteries is to emerge with an intention toward which a meaningful life can be oriented.
Exploring the deeper mysteries of nature and your own mind is the next task. You can begin this exploration by…
- Deepening your meditation practice. This may mean longer and more intentional sitting meditations, new guided meditations such as loving-kindness meditation, or an exploration of other contemplative practices such as Yoga or Breathwork.
- Limiting or removing addictions, substance use, and distractions like T.V. or video games. This will allow more attention to be available for your underlying thoughts, feelings and desires to be noticed and explored.
- Reflective journaling, creative writing, poetry, dance, or other expressive arts that cultivate articulation of your deeper ideas, interests, and values.
- Responsible use of psychedelic or entheogenic compounds with the intention of self-discovery. This should be done with the help of trained and experienced guides or therapists.
- Embarking on wilderness expeditions. These may be guided or solo, and often include the practice of fasting for three or more days.
After exploring the nature of one’s deeper self with the same wide-eyed curiosity as a child in a new forest, and finding a personally meaningful purpose that will contribute to the ecosystem beyond the self, we can begin to explore the expression and embodiment of a life purpose. We begin to move away from exploring what nature is and towards exploring how we can contribute to nature in an authentic, personally meaningful, and ecologically valuable way.We do this by becoming competent in a delivery system that allows us to live out our purpose and sustain our basic needs concurrently. Competence is a crucial ingredient in this developmental task because in addition to being another psychological need according to Deci and Ryan, competence is what allows us to successfully transform our goals and intentions into useful actions that can help sustain ourselves and our ecosystem.
Identifying and becoming competent in an ecologically valuable delivery system for your life purpose is the next task. You can begin this process by…
- Identifying one or more cultural settings for the work that aligns with your purpose. Where can you find people who value your purposeful intentions?
- Shadowing or apprenticing yourself to an elder or older professional who is doing inspiring work, or work that is aligned in some way with your purpose.
- Developing the skills that will allow you to best embody your purpose. This may include classes, certifications, degrees, books, trainings, or personal work.
- Cultivating a lifestyle that will support the successful embodiment of your purpose. This may include diet, exercise, sleep, friendships, and time management.
Your successful embodiment of an ecologically valuable and culturally viable delivery system will eventually give way to further expressions of your life purpose. Innovation and the development of new and unique applications for your skills and interests becomes your focus. You can begin creatively flexing your expertise within your ecological niche in a way that no one else can.This will look completely different for every individual. Examples include new genres of music, new forms of poetry, new social or political programs, or new methods within an already existing medium. Expertly contributing novel resources to one’s ecosystem can be high in value, worth, and importance. These three factors comprise what Martella and Steger refer to as significance which, along with coherence and purpose, completes their articulation of a fully meaningful life.
The unique expression of one’s innermost purpose also aligns well with the height of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which he refers to as self-actualization: effortlessly manifesting the unique and valuable aspects of one’s deepest and truest self. This phenomenon of deep self is often referred to as the soul, and the work that allows the truest self to shine most bright is known as one’s soulwork. Soulwork simultaneously nourishes the world and the individual. At this point the ecosystem is now developing itself through you. You have become the very ecosystem that has been under investigation for so long.
Going Deeper with Expression
The art of forging unique and significant cultural resources is the next task. You can develop this skill by…
- Letting your intuitions about processes and systems guide many of your actions and decisions. You needn’t always fully understand an insight for it to be significant.
- Allowing your imagination to flow and your mind to wander and make free associations. Record your ideas, however fleeting they may be. Taking walks, naps, and breaks often helps to let ideas incubate and bubble up later with even more insight.
- Paying attention to your dreams and recording them often. Your mind is free to draw connections and experiment in unique and creative ways that are informed by your budding expertise. Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed and record dreams and ideas often.
- Continuing the valuable work of all the previous developmental tasks. Security, exploration, social skills, deep contemplation, and improving competence will all contribute to how well you create and deliver your unique contributions to your ecosystem.
Beyond all of these developmental tasks comes the job that Erikson calls generativity. Mentoring others in this entire process becomes the central task of those who have long contributed to their ecosystems in unique and significant ways. We move from investigating nature, to contributing to nature, and finally, to nurturing nature.Nurturing others for security, curiosity, belonging, self-discovery, and self-expression becomes the focus of those who have successfully navigated their own exploratory journey through the natural world. Coherence, purpose, significance, autonomy, competence, and relatedness all play vital roles in successfully completing our developmental tasks. The guidance of elders and mentors can be an invaluable resource in navigating this complicated terrain.
Ultimately, a successful relationship with nature will eventually lead one back to the beginning of the cycle, to an emphasis on merely being within this vast cosmos. The grace of equanimous presence may be the most valuable mentorship of all.
Glass, C. (2018). Nature and purpose, Part 1. Positive Psychology News.
Martela, F., & Steger, M. F. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(5), 531-545. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1137623.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
Plotkin, B. (2010). Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. New World Library.