3 Lessons We Can Learn From Nature About Boundaries and Shame

RAFT Team, January 11, 2021

We’re in the throes of winter, the very coldest season of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are short, the nights are long. Darkness hovers close. Trees and plants know it’s time to rest — they either drop seeds and die or lay dormant until spring. Many animals hibernate. We humans layer on the clothing and pad ourselves against it all. With all this shifting and uncertainty, it can be the most difficult season to enforce a concrete thing like boundaries. But we can take our cues from the world around us and learn from nature.

Nature Pauses. 

We can take our cues from nature in this frigid season. We see all of nature slowing down around us. It’s a time of rest before the beautiful chaos of spring. This year, more than any other year we’ve known, we’re exhausted. The uncertainty and unrest surround us, and the freedom of movement we’ve always known has evaporated. Yet still we run about, trying to finish our to-do lists and set new goals to carry us through to next winter. 

Let us learn from the slowing down of nature during the winter. Leaves don't think they should be growing right now. They don’t think they should be growing right now. Bare branches bravely bare the ice and weighty snow in their dormant state. All of nature rests in its unashamed nakedness waiting of the next bloom. There's no shame. They understand the cycle of the seasons.

Lessons from nature can be learned as it becomes dormant in winter

How You Can Model Nature's Pause

We can stop the hustle and slow down as well. We can unashamedly say no to some things, just as the trees say no to new leaves right now. The right-here present time of most living things encourages us to pause. Without shame, looking steadily into the future with hope.

In a world where “busy” is glorified, it can be difficult to free up space in our days. 2020 was a difficult year and most of us need to lower our expectations of ourselves. To realize we can’t be as productive as we might have been in past years. To be gentle with ourselves.

Nature sheds. 

Every fall in a red blaze of courage, leaves finally let go and swirl to the ground in colorful mounds. It's part of the 12-month cycle of life. They do it naturally with the hope of spring already growing in the branches they leave behind. The tree doesn't question whether or not it should shed its leaves. It's not forced. It's part of the natural progression through the seasons.

We can learn lessons from nature as trees shed their leaves each fall. What can we release from our hold?

How You Can Model Nature's Shedding

What do you need to shed right now? What can you set aside so you can rest in this dark season? Just as trees shed their leaves, it may be time for you to shed some of your current activities and responsibilities. Take some time to analyze what’s actually serving you and what’s not. Talk with loved ones about what it would mean to do less and enjoy more. No shame!


We can look at the ground for clues as well. Soil is a living environment, rich and dark and teeming with all kinds of organisms that help anything you plant in it flourish. Dirt, on the other hand, is soil that is worn out and mostly dead. It’s that hard-packed ground that people walk all over. 

Plants don’t grow well in the lifelessness of dirt.. But we can coax dirt back to life by adding compost and organic fertilizer, aerating it, treating it gently, and letting it rest. Over time, it will grow large, healthy plants again.

Lessons from nature can be learned from soil and dirt.

How You Can Model Nature's Rest

Winter is a time for rest. Without this natural pause, we wear ourselves down. We exhaust what little resources we have. We crush our creativity and deplete our joy. Lean in to self-care in this season, your soul's fertilizer. Curl up with a book for an evening. Take a long walk and allow the cold to make you feel alive. Assemble a puzzle. Take a nap. Learn to knit. Find something that will nurture your heart, which in turn will nurture your body. Find something that will bring you joy and lighten your load, even if just for an hour.

Nurturing Results in Resilience

Nurturing yourself will grow your resilience. Brian Koslow, an author, business coach and motivational speaker said, "If you nurture your mind, body, and spirit, your time will expand. You will gain a new perspective that will allow you to accomplish much more."

At first as you learn from nature, you might fight the growth, striving against the new boundaries you’re establishing. Change is unsettling. Busy is hard to give up when it’s what you’re used to. You’ll feel like you’re stretching beyond what feels like reasonable expectation at times. But then suddenly you’ll realize you’ve outgrown who you used to be and are blooming into a new you, fueled by the cycle of slowing down, shedding, and resting just like the nature that surrounds you.