Welcome back! So far we’ve examined how Nature connection and mindfulness practices synergize to support well-being and regulate the nervous system. Today, we’ll explore the first step towards mindful connection in Nature: cultivating the sense of presence.
Nature is happening right now. You could be in the most amazing, wondrous place… out on a sandy beach surrounded by deep blue waters, or on a mountaintop with a view to infinity… but if your mind isn’t present to the moment… if you are lost in concerns about the future or fretting over the past… then you’ll likely miss 99% of the magic of the moment.
So our first step in developing a mindful outdoors practice is in cultivating our ability to savor the moment. What are some pathways to this state of presence? Throughout the course, we’ll be engaging with a variety of practices that help us to reach the moment, including sensory practices, movement skills, and harnessing the power of observation. Today, in particular, we’ll be focusing on the power of the senses to shift our awareness into the moment.
When we step into presence, realize that we are actually shifting the areas of the brain that we are using. Thoughts, ruminations, and worries, and all the other manifestations of the internal dialogue—that little voice inside that judges and analyzes—are generated by the prefrontal cortex. This is a great part of the brain to engage when we want to solve a problem and use our analytical skills. But, if we want to fully engage at the moment, we need to shift into the brain’s sensory areas, and into the neural networks that support attention and awareness. When we do this, we give our brain a reset. This restores our attention so that we can focus our creativity more effectively afterward.
To be mindful means that we are attentive. As we cultivate presence, we spark new connections and observations. This leads to attunement with the rhythms and cycles of Nature, both within and around us. Nature helps us develop attunement by inviting us into our senses, leading us into a natural state of presence and meditative awareness. We can carry this attunement into the rest of our day and other interactions. We’ll use this basic cycle throughout the course in many different ways.
When I step outside, whether it’s just to sit in the yard and listen to the birds, or if I’m arriving at a trailhead to explore a favorite outdoor area, I make a point to pause for a moment and become present. I check in with myself and allow myself to let go of where I’ve been so that I can be here now. I might take a few conscious breaths, or just feel my feet on the ground. Once I’ve arrived at the moment, then I feel prepared to go further, knowing that I’m ready to meet Nature right here, right now. In meditation today, we’ll experience a few strategies that support this kind of presence, which is our gateway into Nature’s mysteries.
Meditation: Expanding Your Senses
Let’s begin with a few deep breaths like we did in the last lesson, with one hand on the belly and the other on the chest. With each breath, we’ll breathe in Nature’s energy. And if there’s any stress or tension you’re ready to release, you can imagine exhaling it as a dark grey smoke that sinks down the Earth and composts in the soil. Let’s do a few breaths like that now.
As you breathe, I invite you to let a little smile form on your face… and send a smile to all of Nature, feeling the support that comes each moment from Nature, which gives us a place to live and bodies to experience it with.
Wherever you are, I invite you to expand your senses around you.
First, feel the touch of the air on your skin, on the back of your beck and forehead, and on your arms. Perhaps it is a subtle feeling, or maybe the wind is noticeable. Just tune in to the sensation of the air that surrounds you for a moment, and feel yourself filled with the air as you breathe.
Next, allow your ears to soak in the soundscape that surrounds you. Notice any sounds that stand out to you. Now, listen for the more subtle sounds… small birds, the breeze moving through the trees, or sounds in the far distance. Then, let all the sounds come into your awareness all at once, like an orchestra of many instruments and many rhythms. Be with this sense of active listening for a moment.
Now, notice your body’s posture for a moment. Take a deep breath… and as you exhale, let go of any tension in your body. Since the Earth beneath you, supporting your body.
Now, breathe in a few little whiffs of air into your nose, like a dog picking up a scent. Notice the scent in the air. Take in a few small breaths through your mouth, allowing the air to roll in over your tongue, and notice any tastes in the air, too.
Finally, let your eyes wander across the landscape, appreciating the life that moves through the forms of Nature. Notice the shapes of the leaves, the colors and hues around you, and the pockets of light and shade. Look with wonder as if you’ve never seen the world before as if you are opening your eyes for the first time.
Take one more deep breath, allowing Nature’s energy to fill you with peace and refreshment. Know that throughout your day, you can return to one or all of these senses, to enjoy the moment and open to the presence of Nature.1. Presence is the first step towards connection with Nature. As we cultivate presence, we spark new connections and observations. This leads to attunement with the rhythms and cycles of Nature, both within and around us. 2. Nature helps us learn attunement by inviting us into our senses, leading us into a natural state of presence and meditative awareness. We can carry this attunement into the rest of our day and other interactions. We’ll use this basic cycle throughout the course in many different ways.