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Cultivating Awareness through Gratitude

Hi there, this is your guide Josh Lane, author of the book Conscious Nature. Welcome back for today’s lesson in the Mindfulness In Nature course.

We’ve been exploring practices for discovering our own inner rhythms, and how accessing relaxation and awareness allows us to blend further with the rhythms of the nature around us.

One of the most essential factors that support this practice is cultivating our mindset. In fact, every lesson of this course touches on mindset, in how we focus our attention and intention to attune with more of Nature’s patterns.

One of the most powerful ways to attune our mindset is through the consistent practice of gratitude. When we express gratitude, we are shifting our minds to recognize the gifts and wonders inherent in the world around us. Researchers have found that a daily gratitude practice is shown to boost mood and increase optimism, both of which support overall well-being.

Although gratitude can be a general practice that helps us appreciate many parts of our lives, we can also intentionally focus our gratitude towards appreciating our connections in nature. In doing this, we enhance our relationship with nature by recognizing the beauty, wonder, awe, and many levels of interconnections that support all of life.

What we focus our minds on, and what we focus our senses on consistently, becomes important to us. Creating a routine centered on a daily moment of gratitude for Nature means that we are choosing to make our connections with Nature an integral part of our worldview.

Because we tend to protect what is important to us, by tending our personal relationship with Nature in this way, we also become more likely to care for and protect the natural environment we are part of.

Another benefit to cultivating gratitude is that it helps us overcome the brain’s negativity bias. We are adapted to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones. This adaptive natural inclination helps us to note the dangers around us. But, worrying and focusing on the negative can also get us out of balance. This may prevent us from focusing on the positive outcomes that we want to achieve. So, cultivating a gratitude practice helps boost our mood and overall mindset so that we can shift towards the positive.

Let’s also, for a moment, consider the deeper neural implications of gratitude. Focusing attention on something in a quality way is what builds stronger neural connections around it in the brain. Further, adding positive emotion to this focus makes these connections even stronger.

So, if you want to build a strong neural network around Nature in your neighborhood, you can do this by focusing your senses on aspects of Nature that you want to get to know more deeply. For instance, perhaps there is an oak tree outside your door. Simply by taking a moment each day to observe and connect with the tree, you will start to notice new things about it—the shape of the bark, the growth of the leaves, and much more. If you use multiple senses, you will engage more neural pathways.

To build even stronger connections, and access the positive emotional power of gratitude, you might also, as a practice, imagine how this tree is supporting the larger web of life in your neighborhood. As you do this, feel a sense of gratitude and wonder for the tree and what it gifts to the world through its unique presence.

First, imagine all the birds that take shelter in the tree’s branches. Imagine the squirrels that feast on the tree’s abundant acorns and the insects that live amongst the leaves. Imagine all the way down into the roots and the way the tree transforms the nutrients in the soil to make leaves that offer shade in the sun and cover in the rain. Sense how the tree is converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, as you take a deep breath with an appreciation for this tree’s role in the web of life. Offer a silent moment of gratitude as you commune with the tree, with all of your senses and imaginative capacity.

This is just one example, but it shows how you might approach bringing the practice of gratitude into your daily nature connection experience. This process doesn’t have to take long; it’s the quality of the experience that counts over the duration.

If you don’t have time during the day to explore outside much, you can also enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature in this way through the power of memory. Make a routine of imagining a favorite place in Nature, and going through the gratitude and appreciation process with what you remember from that place. Bring the place alive in your imagination with all of your inner senses.

Because neural network development depends on repetition, I invite you to try a daily gratitude practice for the next 30 days. This only requires a minute or two a day. Each time you flex this muscle, you’ll be building a stronger capacity to access this positive emotional state. And, by combining gratitude with nature observation, you’ll also be deepening your brain’s neural connections with nature in your neighborhood.

I’ll catch you soon for the next lesson, where we’ll explore creating a deeper sense of place through awareness of the four directions.

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Josh Lane