Hi there, this is your guide, Josh Lane. Welcome back for today’s lesson in the Mindfulness In Nature course.
In this lesson, we’ll be exploring a way to deepen your connection with your Meditation Spot, through cultivating awareness of the cardinal directions.
Typically with the cardinal directions, we think of the four directions of East, South, West, and North, which help us define our location on the landscape in relation to other places. As we navigate the world, we must constantly stretch our senses out into these directions to find our way.
Even without a compass, there is much we can tell through our senses about detecting direction. We can observe the sun rising generally from the eastern direction, and setting towards the west. At midday, those in equatorial regions can look straight up to see the sun above, whereas, in the Northern hemisphere, we look to the southern sky to see its zenith or highest point. Southern hemisphere observers must look north towards the equator to behold the sun at its midday peak. The moon, too, follows this basic pattern, rising generally in the east, peaking in the south, and setting in the West (from a Northern hemisphere point of view).
From a general awareness perspective, we can also consider the directions of Above and Below, as well as the seventh direction, the center point in the midst of the others. These last three directions define a vertical element in which we engage our senses.
Traditional navigators, for instance, have long used the relative positions and height of the stars from the horizon in different seasons to help determine latitude on their ocean journeys. Ancient societies also gazed at the moon, stars, and planets from the central point of their celestial observatories—such as those found at Stonehenge or Gobekli Tepe—to determine the proper times for agricultural activities and ceremonies. Architects of the past even constructed pyramids and other structures to align on the ground in patterns mirroring the layout of the stars, recognizing the patterns of Nature in their designs and in their societies.
As we tune in to the direction Below, we find a pathway towards exploring our sense of grounding and connection with the Earth beneath our feet. Tai Chi masters even send their awareness downwards into the ground, enabling them to sink their roots down further to maintain powerful equilibrium. Even simple activities like gardening and laying on the grass can help us to feel more grounded and relaxed because we are attuning to the downwards pull of the Earth beneath us.
The directions invite us to consider the question, what does it mean to maintain one’s center? As you move through your day, you are always in the midst of the directions, whether you are conscious of it or not. Whether you are at rest, walking, running, sitting, driving in a car, or flying in an airplane, your body is always to be found in the center point, since the six other directions surround you wherever you go.
But, what about your mind and perception? Where does your awareness go when you are projecting your consciousness into the past or future?
We might say that the one time for sure when your mind is inhabiting the central point is when you are fully immersed at the moment. To be mindful means to be present, and to be present is to recognize one’s centered presence, which is found right here, right now.
This is the central point that ties together past and future, that connects our perception of the directions around and within us. As we’ve been exploring throughout this course, your senses are your bridge into the moment and to inhabiting this central point.
Practice: Connecting with the Directions at Your Meditation Spot
When we attune to the spatial relationships around us through the directions, we engage different areas of the brain that awaken new aspects of connection and awareness. We can awaken into a deeper sense of the places we inhabit, and the patterns that happen there.
A fun practice is to find landmarks in the four directions around your Meditation Spot. Since most smartphones have a built-in compass app, you can use this to help you find the four cardinal directions. From where you sit, get a sense of where East, South, West, and North are.
Then, observe the landscape around you. Look into the distance for something in each of the four directions to help you mark that direction, such as a tall tree, a building, a distant mountain, or anything else that jumps out at you. Pick a unique marker as far away into each direction as you can observe. So, you should end up with a distant marker in the East, another for the South, one for the West, and one for the North.
Next, pick four markers that are closer by, within a stone’s throw of your spot. Once you have defined both your distant markers and nearby markers, go and stand in the center, right at or near your Meditation Spot.
As you stand there, mindfully extend your awareness into each direction, one at a time. Do this by expanding your senses gradually from your center point and out to your nearby marker. For example, start at the center and face the East. Gradually what’s around you and work your senses towards the nearby East marker. Then, continue observing beyond it to the distant East marker point. Then scan your way back to your center. Then, turn your body to the south and repeat the process. Do this in turn with each direction, first East, then South, then West, and then North.
Take your time observing each direction. Allow your senses to savor what’s there to be discovered. Notice whatever catches your attention. Use all of your senses in this process, inviting each direction to help you access more of the moment and all of its wonder. Realize that as you do this practice, your neural networks are forming a map of your Meditation Spot and the patterns of the natural world around you.
Enjoy this practice, and discover how connecting with the directions can deepen your connection with the landscape. In the next lesson, we’ll continue with a set of techniques that are designed to help you carry your natural awareness forward throughout your day, whether at home or at work, or anywhere you happen to be.