Welcome back to the Mindfulness In Nature course.
In the last lesson, we explored the tendency of the brain to project onto the moment what it expects based on past experience. We recognized the double-edged nature of this tendency; first, how this helps us be better prepared for what might happen, but also, how we may make untrue assumptions based on these projections. We also experienced the power of adopting the Beginner’s Mind, to help us perceive more accurately what is happening at the moment.
Today, we’ll be exploring another aspect of projection—in this case, how our presence projects into our environment. We’ll explore the dynamics of this projection, and what impact this has on the patterns of Nature around us.
When we understand this principle, we gain a key insight that brings us to a place of greater awareness and choice. We can then more consciously choose how we will broadcast our presence. We can bring a quality of intention to how we participate—not only in the flow of the natural landscape but in every aspect of our life. This gives us a chance to blend and flow with Nature’s rhythms so that we can better relate to the usual patterns of the land.
This understanding of how we carry our presence helps us not only to observe our surroundings more effectively while realizing more connection with our place, but it also teaches us something about the rhythm of our Inner Nature, too. We’ll be exploring this theme over the next couple of lessons, going deeper each step of the way. Let’s start by exploring “the Splash.”
Understanding the Splash
When you step foot onto the forest path, and even when you park and get out of the car at the trailhead parking lot, your presence is immediately noticed by the birds and other animals that live there. The animals must pay keen attention in order to survive. Generally, their daily priority is to get enough food and water and to rest whenever possible, at least when they are not busy feeding, mating, or maintaining their territory. In between all of this, they must be wary of any danger approaching.
An animal doesn’t want to shift away from its normal pattern if it doesn’t have to. Thus, birds and other animals are keen observers. What do they take notice of? Several big indicators that animals pay attention to include: scent, sound, motion, and posture. We’ll be focusing on the last three today.
When you step onto the trail, imagine that you are stepping into a big swimming pool. Whenever something moves in the pool, it makes a ripple that waves across the surface. If the movement is big enough—like if a friend does a cannonball in the deep end—you might be standing all the way across the pool in the shallow end, but still, feel the waves. Versus somebody who slowly walks down the steps into the pool, pausing to sense and acclimate to the water, barely making a ripple.
In the same way, your presence has an impact on your surroundings. When you step on the trail, what kind of presence are you projecting? Consider the sound, motion, and posture you are displaying to the wildlife in the area. Like the cannonball into the pool, are you making a big, loud, sudden splash? Just like you could feel your friend’s waves from all the way across the pool, realize that your own waves are propagating out across the landscape. Who’s out there on the other side of the pool, sensing them?
Of course, elusive animals like the fox, bobcat, and deer are listening and sensing for indications that tell them to hide. But these animals also have a secret way to get an early warning, an alarm system that warns them of your approach, even if they are far away and out of sight from you. What exactly are the animals listening to? They’re listening to the voices of the birds.
The Alarm System of the Wilderness
In his book What the Robin Knows, my friend and longtime mentor Jon Young illustrate how “bird language” is the early warning system of the wilderness. When a bird gets scared up or pushed from its normal routine, its alarm calls, and flight causes other birds to take notice. Researchers have found that birds constantly eavesdrop on each other, to glean advanced warnings of potential threats. In turn, mammals like the fox and bobcat may also tune into these alarms, disappearing long before they see you coming down the trail.
Fortunately, like the swimmer stepping gradually into the pool, we can learn to reduce our splash, and instead, blend into the natural rhythms of the environment. Then, we’ll discover the normally hidden secrets of Nature, and experience things that people often miss when they hurry through a place. The next couple of lessons will detail more about how to do this. For today, the first essential step is to begin observing what kind of splash we tend to make, to begin with. This process starts with some mindful observation.
So, I’m going to invite you to take a walk today, if possible, somewhere where you might encounter some birds, squirrels, or other wildlife.
Now, I’m going to offer a few particular things to take note of when you are walking, that will help you perceive deeper into your own presence and projection, so we can begin understanding how to track the splash or ripple that you generate. For today, don’t try to change anything about what you are doing or how you are moving—just be natural and move at your normal pace.
I’m going to be sharing quite a few things to consider here. Don’t worry about trying to get all of this today. Even just observing a couple of these aspects today is plenty. But I want to give you a larger roadmap you can practice with over time. So keep that in mind, and just implement this a bit at a time. There’s no need for overwhelm, just have fun with this and take it one piece at a time, and know you can return to this and keep growing your practice.
First, take notice of your movement. How fast you are walking in your average gait—are you walking slowly, briskly, or somewhere in between? As you walk, what does the impact of each footstep feel like as your feet touch the ground and then push off? Just feel this.
Then, notice your posture as you walk. Are you holding yourself straight up, or leaning forward to some degree? How much? Where do you tend to look as you walk—straight ahead, or with eyes more to the ground, or some combination? Do your arms swing?
Next, notice your mental and emotional focus. Of course, these can shift throughout the day, but as you are walking right now, are you present to the moment, or do you find yourself tending to get lost in thought? What are you thinking about? How are you feeling right now? How do you think your mental and emotional focus might impact your presence?
Finally, after you have taken stock of yourself to some degree, I invite you to notice your surroundings. As you walk, imagine you are walking in that swimming pool. What kind of ripples do you imagine yourself making? How far and with what intensity are they rippling out? As you listen or see any birds or animals around you, how do they seem to respond to your presence? At what distance do they take note of you?
So have some fun with this today. See what you can learn. We’ll keep building on your discoveries in the next couple of lessons. Enjoy!