Hi, this is Josh Lane, author of Conscious Nature, welcoming you back for today’s lesson in the Mindfulness In Nature series.
In the last few lessons, we discovered how there is a natural rhythm around your Meditation Spot that you can observe when the animals are feeding, singing, and going about their usual behaviors. We also explored how our presence can create an energetic splash that ripples out and shifts the usual rhythm of the animals. We’ve also started noticing the splash we make, and I shared some practices that can help you begin to blend and flow more mindfully with the patterns of Nature around you. Every visit to your Meditation Spot is a chance to continue deepening these skills, as you discover more about the life and patterns of your place.
Today, I’m going to guide you further into an exploration of the natural rhythms within you, and the gifts of finding this inner state of harmony. We’ll also touch on the way Nature’s rhythm shifts throughout the day and year, and why this changing rhythm is important to be aware of as you attune to the language of Nature.
Finding Your Inner Rhythm
As you go through your day, your mindset and inner rhythms constantly shift and move across different levels of activity. In fact, there are five primary brain rhythms that ebb and flow behind the scenes at all times, each supporting different aspects of your life. Going from slow to fast, these brain waves are called delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. The five rhythms run simultaneously as your brain goes about its tasks, although one of these typically dominates at any given time. Let’s start by looking at how the five brain rhythms take turns leading during your day.
The first and fastest rhythm is the gamma brain wave level. Gamma most often runs in the background of your perception, helping the different areas of the brain to tie together the different sensory streams and memories into one cohesive whole. For this reason, gamma is often called “the binding agent of consciousness,” because, without it, perception would be disjointed and lack a unified sense of self to experience.
Gamma also appears in higher amplitudes during certain forms of deep meditation, and in peak consciousness experiences. The ability to sustain higher levels of gamma waves can be trained over time through meditation practices, but again, this inner rhythm is typically running more in the background as a binding agent for your awareness.
Now, let’s switch to the other end of the scale, to the slowest brain rhythm. Before the alarm pulls you out of bed, you may be enjoying a deep slumber, oblivious to the world as slow-moving delta waves course through your brain. Delta is great for supporting the restfulness of sleep, and that’s the primary time you’ll experience this rhythm, unless you have mastered the deepest states of meditation, such as Yoga Nidra.
Or, before that alarm goes off, you may be experiencing a REM state as vivid dreams flit by in the theta brain rhythm. Theta waves consolidate long-term memory, helping sensory areas of the brain communicate with the hippocampus, an area involved in memory formation. They’re also involved in processing emotional memory content. This fairly slow rhythm also appears in highly creative states of visioning and deep reverie.
While you are working and attending to the day’s tasks, as your mind is busy making decisions and assessing needs, your awareness narrows. The tempo of electrical impulses increases and you become wrapped in the faster rhythm of beta waves, the 13-Hz rhythms that power your critical thinking mode. Beta waves help you to get your work accomplished, especially for tasks involving the prefrontal cortex and mental focus. This mode also powers the inner dialogue, that little inner voice that often names and narrates your experiences. The beta mode can be sustained for a long period of time, but like jogging or running, it is energy-intensive. At some point, the brain needs to slow down and move into a more relaxed rhythm.
If you close your eyes for a rest, slower-moving alpha waves take over, allowing your mental chalkboard to clear and reset for a moment. Taking a walk in Nature also propagates these nourishing waves, helping to restore your attention and clear your head. These waves can be further synchronized to reach large areas of the brain through meditation, deepening the relaxation response.
The inner rhythm of alpha is a helpful state for blending into Nature’s larger rhythms. When we are in alpha, we tend to be more relaxed in our presence and posture. This relaxation helps us to reduce the energetic splash we make through our motion and body language. Animals can be very adept at picking up on how we carry ourselves, and whether we’re carrying tension, or if we’re not present to our surroundings.
People also intuitively sense the quality of each other’s presence, even if this is often unconscious. This is because the mirror neurons in the cortex are simulating the mood of those around us. Thus, cultivating alpha not only helps us relax, but it can also help others around us to relax, too.
Accessing the Alpha State
The Expanded Vision practice from Lesson Five is a simple way to achieve this state. As a refresher, this simply means becoming consciously aware of your entire field of view all at once as you gaze into the distance. If you’ve been practicing this skill a bit, you’ll begin to notice that it gets easier to maintain this state of awareness for longer periods of time.
Start with two minutes, then work up to five, then gradually increase your duration of conscious awareness up to as much as 15 minutes. I also recommend working in moments of Expanded Vision throughout your day. This resets your awareness as you tap into this powerful mode of consciousness.
As you build your capacity up to about ten minutes, you’ll experience an even deeper level of the alpha state. Simply sit quietly and still for about ten minutes or so. During this time, just be in your practice of Expanded Vision. Simply be present to your senses. Be aware of your body as a whole, as you sit with your eyes towards the horizon, taking in the big picture around you.
Anytime you get distracted by a thought, just smile and return to your body’s sensations as you observe with your expanded field of view. Of course, let your eyes move around and blink whenever you need. Use your breath as an additional focal point any time you need extra support in returning to the moment. Simply be.. breathing and sensing, as you allow yourself to relax into the rhythm of Nature within yourself. Notice the response from the Nature around you as you make this inner shift.
It is possible to then learn to carry this relaxed rhythm into your mindful movement practices and then into other activities in your day. With practice, you can learn to enter this relaxed state at will. I invite you today to find a time to quietly sit and be in your Expanded Vision for however long is comfortable, simply breathing and being. Allow yourself to relax into this meditation and discover how it can help you shift into a deeper place within yourself, yet connected to the world around you.
The Rhythms of Place
Before we wrap today’s lesson, I want to point out that the rhythm at your Meditation Spot changes, too. Just like your brain changes its rhythm throughout the day and night, a similar change in tempo occurs on the landscape.
If you were to sit for a whole 24 hours and observe the changes, you’d notice a tremendous spike in bird song and animal motion as night turns to day. This is the point of highest activity. At this time, the night shift of nocturnal animals goes to sleep, as diurnal animals begin stirring. Even before the first rays of light touch the trees, the dawn chorus awakens as birds erupt into a wave of the song.
As the morning proceeds, animals turn from song towards foraging. By the afternoon, movement hits a lull as many animals rest and slow down. Then again as the end of the day approaches, another spike in activity arises, as daytime animals prepare for bed, and others awaken. The night, too, has its own rhythms, as does each season and place.
Through this lesson today, we’ve explored how our internal rhythms constantly shift and flow, and how we can consciously access the alpha state to relax and blend with Nature’s rhythm.
We also touched on how the rhythms of a place ebb and flow throughout the day. By sensing and observing these changes, we can begin relaxing further into Nature within. Cultivating this relaxation and presence allows us to open our range of awareness so that we can discover more about the Nature around us, and vice versa.
In the next lesson, we’ll explore how intention and mindset support our mindful connection with Nature, through the power of gratitude.
Meditation: Becoming a Tree
The rhythm of day and seasons shifting
Finding our own baseline, the interplay of inner and outer feelings/ripples on the surface.
Finding stillness is a powerful way to shed stress and sink further into the natural rhythm of the outdoor environment around our Meditation Spot.
Our internal rhythms mirror the larger dynamics of Nature in our environment.