Nature provides many lessons that connect to our mindfulness practice
As the weather changes, consider taking your mindfulness practice outdoors.
Many believe that nature has the power to awaken, transform and connect people to their deepest wisdom and sense of self. For some, being outside is a way to navigate the busyness and stress of life and can be an easy way to connect to a sense of peace and nourishment. Research indicates that spending time in nature affects the physical and mental health of children, youth and adults in positive ways.
As the weather changes and the days get warmer, you can add variety and interest to your mindfulness practice by taking your practice outdoors. Wherever you live, making connections to the natural world around us can open our minds and hearts to a more expansive way of looking at our lives—and reminds us that we can even love and connect with that which we cannot control. An important life lesson indeed. Sometimes fresh air can bring fresh thoughts and open our minds to new thinking and creativity.
In his book, Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery, Mark Coleman reminds us that the natural world provides us with many opportunities for quieting the mind and opening the heart. He writes, “Compared to our ceaseless daily activity—in which we’re always trying to be someone and get ahead—the experience of sitting in soft sand and listening to the sound of waves seems profoundly restful. The more mindful contact we have with the outdoors, the more we absorb the tranquility and ease that we find in the smallest caterpillar or in a grove of shimmering aspen trees. We slowly learn how to embody that peaceful presence that we so admire in an old pine tree or in a pastoral landscape.”
If you are interested in connecting more intentionally with nature by taking your mindfulness practice outdoors, here are some suggestions:
- As you walk into your school, workplace or home, feel the ground beneath your feet with each step you take. Try to walk slowly so that you can really feel connections to the earth beneath your feet as you walk. If you use a wheelchair for mobility, notice the wheels of your chair rumbling on the pavement as they make contact with the earth.
- Take a break and sit outside on your front steps, in your backyard or on a park bench for several minutes allowing yourself to just “be.” Notice your breath coming in and out of your body—as you also notice the feeling of the breeze on your face.
- Walk to a nearby park or visit a stand of trees and pay attention to the colors, shapes, smells and sounds of the trees. Simply take in the experience of one tree with all of your senses for five minutes.
- Find an outdoor space where you can sit quietly for several minutes and invite a listening meditation. Allow the sounds of nature including rustling leaves, singing birds, buzzing insects, trickling water and other sounds in the natural world to drift to your ears. Remember that humans are part of nature too, so allow the sounds of voices or movement from people to enter into your awareness without trying to fix, change or control anything or anyone.
- If you can, go barefoot more often. Gently guide your attention to the sensations you feel in your feet, and notice the temperatures and textures you experience as you walk on concrete, sand, wood, water, gravel, grass, leaves or on the soft, damp floor of the forest.
- Sense the feeling in your body while walking, gardening, biking, kayaking, hiking, climbing or while participating in any outdoor sport or activity. Bring your attention to what you’re experiencing in your muscles, joints, on your skin and throughout your whole body.
- Become aware of the movement of a bird, insect or animal for a few minutes. Simply notice them with a sense of openness and curiosity. Practice just sensing your shared experience with this creature on the earth rather than thinking about it too much. If you notice yourself thinking, gently guide your attention back to sensing this experience.
As the days grow longer and warmer, nature provides abundant opportunities for waking up our senses and inviting a sense of calm, stillness, peace and mindfulness into our lives. When we practice mindfulness, we pay attention on purpose to the present moment with curiosity and kindness. When we notice our minds wandering, we gently bring our attention back to our breath or other singular point of focus.
When that singular point of focus or “mindful attention” is the sound of trees moving in the breeze, the beauty of the sun shimmering on a puddle or lake or other experience out of doors, we can awaken in powerful ways to our own inner wisdom, sense of purpose, compassion and connection to the larger world in which we live. In other words, focusing our attention on the heart of nature can open our minds to our own true nature. As Mark Coleman says in his book, “Nature teaches us that peace is accessible in any moment if we cease to resist or struggle against reality and learn to surrender to what is happening in this moment. Being in nature can teach us to come to terms with how we are in every moment, whether we’re happy, tired, sad or angry. It is from here that the wisest, integrated actions come forth.”
Michigan State University Extension provides resources focused on developing resilience and educational sessions focused on social and emotional health and wellbeing including RELAX and Stress Less with Mindfulness.