Outdoor Recreation Provides Spiritual Benefits

Have a great summer everyone! The church year is winding down and we are about to begin our summer schedule. Perhaps this frees up some time for all of us to spend more time outdoors. Many of us have plans for summer activities such as camping, hiking, bicycling, swimming, boating, gardening and/or observing nature at cabins, on vacations or on weekend getaways. All are opportunities to experience the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of outdoor recreation.

Outdoor recreation provides spiritual benefits? Both scientific research and anecdotal evidence show that it does. I was a park and trail planner for 38 years and during my planning processes drafted a vision statement for every park and trail I worked on. For years I included the phrase that people’s use of the park or trail would “enhance their physical and mental health." No question about that. Towards the end of my career, I added the word “spiritual” to the list. It felt risky to me. I thought people would object to that and ask it to be taken out of the vision statement. The vision statement was posted along with other recommendations during multiple public reviews of the plans. I always expected people to say “take out that word spiritual, this is a public facility and that word doesn’t belong here.” But no one ever did. The statement resonated with people.

In addition, scientific research has shown that outdoor recreation provides spiritual benefits, specifically as it relates to fostering connectedness with self and others. This helps us live up to our seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Outdoor recreation is a way to use our first source in our spiritual and humanist journeys, “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” Here are some examples of the direct experiences at the cabin that renewed my spirit and called my attention to the forces which create and uphold life. They include seeing the iridescent red and green feathers of a hummingbird at the feeder, a bluebird splashing in the bird bath, a bald eagle soaring over the lake, a pileated woodpecker eating suet, a turtle laying eggs, a mother and two fawns in the field, and 27 newly planted flowers in the garden.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences. I hope people invest some time this summer to reap the spiritual benefits of the outdoors.