Welcome back to Day 4 of the Mindfulness In Nature series.
So far we’ve explored how Nature and mindfulness can help us to enjoy greater wellness, and why cultivating presence is the first step towards attunement with Nature. We also experienced several meditations that help us arrive into the moment and connect with Nature’s energy.
Today, we’ll introduce a way to bring this presence into motion, to develop a dynamic meditation as we flow and move outdoors.
After all, mindfulness in Nature isn’t just about sitting still…We can cultivate greater presence, observation, and attunement as we move through the environment, too.
The Power of Slowing Down
The first step towards mindful motion is to shift our mindset around how we move, and what our goals are. Often when we hike or even just take a walk outside, we are pre-conditioned to think of getting from point A to point B, or to walk a certain distance within a certain amount of time. This is great for exercise purposes, or if we really need to get somewhere.
But, if we are interested in enjoying a mindful relationship with Nature, this style of movement and intention can make it harder to savor the moment. To really get into the moment, we may benefit from slowing down and releasing our agenda, at least for a period of time, because Nature’s patterns aren’t necessarily linear. This way, we meet the natural world in an open way, ready to discover what is there in the moment. During the practice today, I’ll be inviting you to slow down in this way for a bit.
Savoring as a Doorway to Presence
Before we get into the practice, let’s define this idea of savoring and how it can help our connection with Nature. “Savoring” is a term used in positive psychology, a branch of psychology dedicated to helping people flourish. When we mindfully tune into the moment and appreciate what’s there, we can more intentionally savor what is happening and make the most of each moment.
We can savor past events by calling them up in our memory, such as recalling a beautiful sunset from the evening before, and we can also savor the future by anticipating and looking forward to our goals. Savoring builds our relationship with our sensory experiences and reinforces the neural pathways related to our senses and memory. When we are outside, we have a great chance to enhance our experience by savoring what’s happening right now, at the moment, and enjoying the good feelings that our senses are tuning into.
Applying Savoring to Mindful Movement in Nature
If you have a favorite hike that you do each week or a walking path that you take every day, it’s an opportunity to bring savoring with your senses into your walk. However, it helps to shift from the mindset of getting from point A to point B, and into a mindset of presence and openness. One helpful way to do this is to devote an intentional part of your walk to savoring and simply being present to Nature.
For instance, if you have a 20-minute walk through the park after work, pick a five-minute section of the trail that you can enjoy by fully being in your senses, without distraction. If you know this walk well, pick a start point and an endpoint on the landscape for your mindfulness section.
During this time, walk quietly, slow your pace, and allow your senses to marvel at the textures and feelings of Nature. Enjoy this time and invite Nature to recharge your mind and enliven your senses. Then, get back to your regular walking rhythm for the remainder of your walk. This is a great practice to help shift your mind from its usual patterns, by expanding and refreshing in Nature’s rhythms.
Another perk is that researchers have found that it’s easiest to begin a new habit by layering it onto an existing one. So, adding a sensory savoring routine into your regular walk is an effective way to easily jumpstart your outdoor mindfulness practice. In meditation today, I’ll guide you through some examples of savoring with the senses, in ways you can apply outdoors or even in the office or wherever you happen to be.
Walking Meditation: The Art of Savoring with the Senses
We’ll start here with a mindful sensory meditation that can be added to an existing outdoor walking circuit to enhance your outdoor experience. You can also use variations of this practice with your senses indoors, to enjoy the benefits of mindful savoring wherever you are. I’ll also guide you through a way of placing your feet that can free up your awareness to notice more around you.
To begin with, as you walk, pause and note the quality of light that fills the area. Is it strong and bright, more relaxed? Take a moment to appreciate how this particular light affects what you see… does it make colors and details pop out? Does it create deep shadows or dappled patches of shadow and light under the trees? Savor the light as you sense into what it reveals about the environment at this, recognizing that the Sun is ever moving and that this place will appear differently at other times of day or night. Continue walking on your path, attuned now to this more subtle level of visual appreciation for the world around you. As you walk, allow any other observations about what you see to guide your attention. You may wish to pause this recording for a bit as you do this and then move into the next phase of the meditation.
Welcome back. Now, I invite you to pause and savor the soundscape around you. Simply allow your ears to take in the various sounds in the environment… appreciate for a moment the variety of frequencies in the soundscape… What are the lowest-pitched sounds, such as rumbling motors? What is their rhythm? Next, what are the mid-range sounds, such as a pigeon’s call, a car horn, the trickle of water, or the flutter of leaves in the breeze? Finally, what kinds of high-pitched sounds, if any, are happening around you, such as a robin’s song or the whistle of the wind? Tune into this range of sound for a moment. Note how these sounds all layer together, into one larger texture of sound and feel. You may wish to pause this recording for a moment to savor the sounds around you.
Next, as you continue walking, notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet. Perhaps you are walking on a lawn or beach, or somewhere else you feel comfortable being barefoot. If you have shoes on, you can still sense the ground to some degree through your shoes. Pay attention to each step, and simply notice what you can sense about the ground—does it have some give to it, like in mud or sand, or is it hard like concrete? If it’s harder ground, are there any bits of sand or grit on top that you can sense? How does your foot feel as it contacts and grips the ground? Is the ground even, or does your body need to adjust its balance to compensate for any unevenness? Simply walk for a bit and notice the sensation registered by your feet, which can have over 200,000 nerve endings in each sole. As you walk, I invite you to sense and marvel at the intricate mechanism of muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones that work together to help you feel the ground with each step. Again, pause the recording and spend some time savoring the sensation of moving in this way.
Now, if you are in a place that is convenient to do so, I will invite you to slow down your movement a bit. For this part of the practice, I’d recommend starting with nice easy terrain, like a flat stretch of lawn or beach. Later, you can graduate to more varied terrain.
Start by taking shorter and slower steps. Allow your foot to gently sense the ground before you commit your weight. Once your foot is fully and comfortably in contact with the ground, allow your weight to gently glide forward onto it. Then, slowly lift up your rear foot, and let it slowly move forward, continuing your walking in this manner.
Often, our eyes are drawn to the ground to help avoid obstacles. By learning to sense the ground with our feet, we can begin to free up our vision to look further ahead in the distance. This helps us spot wildlife and other cues in our greater surroundings.
As you experiment with this style of walking, allow your movement to be gentle and fluid. Take your time as you feel each phase, from touching the ground to shifting the weight forward, to lifting the back foot and placing the next step.
The short steps allow the foot to more easily sense the ground. This also helps your body to transfer its weight smoothly from step to step. Instead of the slight bounce or spring that happens with a typical walk, you may find this pattern feels as if you are gliding like the breeze across the ground.
Because you are moving more slowly and with fluidity, you may also notice that birds and animals are less disturbed by your presence. We will continue building on this movement pattern in future lessons, but for now, take some time now to be in your senses as you savor moving mindfully across the landscape.
Desk or tree bark, visual details and appreciate qualities and sources. Run fingers over the surface and hear the sound it makes, how does the sound feel? And appreciate how the texture, temperature, and solidness feel. Is there a scent? Now, look at the bigger picture at how this fits into the space and composition around it. Tree, noting how the trees, plants, landscape fits around it. Or on the desk, how it fits into the room, and other items. How does it feel to you to explore this tree or object? Grounding? Relaxing, Energizing? Something else? If you were made of this material, how would you feel—heavy, solid, flowing, rooted, or what?
Barefoot, sole 200k+ nerve endings, benefit for proprioception and balance adjustment
Suggestions for nourishing ways to engage your senses on your mindful walking circuit will be given.