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Mindful Observation through Skillful Questions

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.

One of the constants in Life and in Nature is change. Nature’s energy is constantly transforming as the seasons turn and the wheel of life ebbs and flows.

Warmed by the Sun’s fire, ocean water turns to steam and lifts up to the sky, forming clouds and then falling back to the ground, trickling down from distant mountaintops and finding its way back to the sea. Meanwhile, the mountains themselves gradually erode as they face the forces of wind, sun, water, and gravity. The elements interplay in their constant dance of change, as the Earth’s flora and fauna move ceaselessly amidst the earth, water, and air of our global biosphere.

Just as no two snowflakes are exactly the same, so too is each moment in Nature unique. Each moment offers its own meditative experience, unlike any that has come before, or that will come later.

How Questions Focus Awareness

One way to focus the mind and tap into the power of the moment is to ask, “What is happening right here, right now? What is unique about this moment? What are the gift and the teaching of this moment?”

By asking this question, you’ll actively engage the sensory areas of the brain. Because questions naturally come before answers, these kinds of questions cause the brain’s attention network to focus, by stimulating a desire to find an answer. This causes you to come more fully into the moment, into a state of presence and awareness.

Asking questions is a powerful way to consciously redirect your internal dialogue. Instead of being distracted by thoughts that arise during your meditations, you can harness this quality of the mind to focus your awareness. Then, your inner dialogue becomes your ally in connecting with the gifts of each moment.

Should you find yourself “drifting” into thoughts or daydreaming during a meditation period, simply smile and ask yourself, “What is happening right now? What is the gift and teaching of this moment?” Then, simply allow your senses to extend within and around you to discover whatever insights are ready to arise.

A short form of this question is just to mentally ask, “What Now?” and then sense for a bit. Then again ask, “And now?” and sense a bit more. Ask each question with keenness and thought and follow it with attention to your senses. After a while, again ask, “And now?” Find your own rhythm.

I find it helpful when thinking the question to space each word out a bit, for instance: “What… now?” Allow about two seconds between each word. This gap stimulates the awareness to expand and sense into the moment. It helps the perception to become more subtle in its detection. So that’s the first piece about timing—the time between each word in the sentence.

There is also a sweet spot to the amount of observation space you allow yourself in between asking each question. You may find over a few minutes of practice that the space between each question becomes longer, as your brain arrives into a new inner rhythm. You might start with ten or 15-second gaps, and work towards one-minute gaps. Anytime you catch yourself lost in thought about the past or future, simply ask the question and return to your senses. With a little experimentation, you’ll quickly discover how directing the inner dialogue in this way can really add to your awareness.

Practice: Presencing through Questions

So, let’s try this now for a moment. I will speak about each question, and I invite you to then think about the question in your mind. After each question, I’ll provide a space for you to come to your senses and be with the moment.

Ok, let’s get started. “What’s happening right now?” Ask that now, in your mind…

Now, release your awareness into your breath and your senses… notice your body… notice the sounds around you… notice the scent in the air… notice the taste in your mouth… allow your eyes to take in the patterns around you…

Now, again, mentally ask “What’s happening right now?”. Ask it again, with a quiet but fiery intensity… “What’s happening right now?” and take a deep breath… and release your awareness into your senses, breathing and sensing, breathing and feeling, soaking in the gifts of the moment…

Now, one last time, ask “What is happening right now? What is the gift and teaching of this moment?” and relax into your Being, simply allowing yourself to be present and attentive to any insights that arise.

When you are ready, move forward into the next part of your day, carrying this fresh perspective and wisdom of the moment with you.

I’ll catch you in the next lesson, where we’ll learn how the animals become our teachers and guides into the deeper mysteries of Nature.

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Josh Lane