*I write each new blog with the idea that you have read the previous blogs already, or at the very least, the ones in the Core Elements section. So, if you feel confused about certain terms, you might want to check out those fundamentals first.
For the first while after my accident I had no capacity to take in the idea of mindfulness. I just lay in my dark bedroom. Or on my couch. Or in the sun in my yard (with my eyes covered, of course). People would ask me if I was bored doing nothing all day and I would say no, not at all. I didn’t want any stimulation in my life. Even mindfulness seemed like too much cognitive effort.
My whole body was in such a mess, I instinctively gravitated to a form of mindfulness that didn’t include my body. I was unable at that time to be with the discombobulation of my body, but I could be present with the beauty of Spring. It turns out that the intuition of my British Columbia nature-loving body was just right.
So in this way, my mindful journey started with the flowers in my backyard. While chaos reigned inside, I could find some peace in knowing that outside it was still a calm, beautiful day. Eventually I felt ready to take short, slow walks in my neighbourhood. I felt lucky to have the time to enjoy flowers while others were at work. I was moving so slowly anyway, and I didn’t have a ‘to do’ list running through my head because I couldn’t really do much. So, I was able to engage with the flowers in a way I hadn’t in the past when I was more likely to walk quickly by.
I found that I could just stop at the flowers that called to me. I could just gaze at them. Just look at every part. And smell them. So sweet. And touch them. So smooth. So soft. So easy to be a flower, without the stress of being human. This was the first glimpse I had of the healing that comes from calming the mind.
Most days I spend nearly an hour enjoying nature in my neighbourhood, or further afield in gorgeous Vancouver. Whether it’s deep in the woods, or just looking out my window, making time for enjoying nature is a daily priority. It is what most calms me.
I used to feel like I was ‘cheating’ on meditation retreats when I chose to do nature meditation rather than traditional walking meditation (where the anchor is the sensations in the feet and legs while walking). Why would I want to place my attention on my feet, when there is so much aching beauty all around? I also find it easier to stay present when I use nature as my anchor of awareness, especially when I’m feeling emotionally overwhelmed (the Red Zone of my Merging Map of Nervous System Concepts).
Now I see that it is so important that I modify my mindfulness practice to meet my needs. To me the key is always: what can I do right now that will help me feel more settled? What will help me stay (or go back) to my Window of Tolerance? Instead of Window of Tolerance, I recently heard meditation teacher Fleet Maull call it the Zone of Resilience. I like that!
After I had been practicing mindfulness in nature in my own way for several years, I stumbled upon meditation teacher Mark Coleman’s book Awake in the Wild, and later I took his online course. It was such a thrill to discover a whole world of concrete mindfulness in nature practices!
Our approaches to mindfulness in nature are slightly different. I tend to focus on concentration (I move slowly from one object of nature to the next). Mark tends to invite open awareness (allowing the attention to flit from one anchor in nature to another more quickly). I find open awareness, especially in nature practice, often makes me feel rather dizzy. As I always say, no two concussions are alike. I hope you will try out both concentration and open awareness and see what works best for you.
Mark offers many words of beautiful wisdom throughout his work, but here are two favourite quotes from the Awake in the Wild course that particularly speak to me:
“Orienting towards stillness in our environment allows that quality to be evoked within us. And the more we learn to access that quality the easier it is we can evoke that still presence when necessary.”
“Nature is rarely stressed and often exudes a calm presence, a deep stillness, and a soothing quiet that is like medicine to our troubled nervous system.”
In this Mindfulness in Nature video I offer you some tips to get you going on mindfulness in nature so that you too can begin to touch into that deep, sweet, stillness:
I have included two videos for you to enjoy from my mindfulness in nature ‘meanderings’ (to borrow a term of Mark’s). See if you can relax into it, and allow your attention to land on these images. Sink in and savour!
A Magic Moment right as the sun was setting in the stunning Lighthouse Park
A lush moment in the wet of the BC rainforest with the rushing sound of the river to ease the soul
Here at the beginning of your journey, don’t get hung up on trying to figure out exactly what mindfulness is. Just go for a walk in your neighbourhood and enjoy the flowers and trees and plants. The rest will come in time.
Occasionally I run a Mindfulness in Nature Retreat here in Vancouver, so check out the Offerings page to see when the next one will be, or, better yet, sign up for my Newsletter to be the first in the know.