We are coming to the end of mental health awareness week here in the UK and whilst I have been out walking in nature this week myself I realise how important it is for everyone to connect with nature. When we connect with nature in a mindful way there are definite shifts that happen within the body and mind that can support our overall wellbeing, not just our mental health.
What I mean by connecting with nature is not just going outside with your friends and loved ones and enjoying the outside world, which is still enjoyable and beneficial, but if you want even greater benefits then we have to every now and then go solo.
There is nothing more peaceful than being alone in a park and listening to the trees sway in the gentle wind or watching some ducks float around a pond or listening to some birdsong. Of course if you are suffering for example from depression people would say that being alone is not at all helpful if that person is feeling lonely but if you set the intention of being alone instead of being lonely, this can create a positive shift within ourselves.
‘The key to connecting with nature in an authentic manner is through the power of silence, the silence of the mind.’
I would invite you as soon as you can to get out, get some fresh air and clear the cob webs of your mind. A good way to do this is to go to a place of nature by yourself whether that be a park, or wood or a natural place of beauty where there is also wildlife, even if there are only birds around. You can practice mindfulness walking or if you’re unable to walk, you can be mindful whilst sitting.
When you are in nature, you might not feel it or know it to begin with, but your body and mind will almost immediately begin responding to the natural environment that you are visiting. This response can be felt as peace, a subtle happiness or joy, a contentedness. The more you get out in nature you may also start to feel the energy around you and your body responds to this energy in a number of ways such as feeling a tingling sensation or feeling like your in an vibrational field where the very place you are standing or sitting is actually alive. Well, in truth, it is alive. These are just one of many natural more subtle experiences that can occur. It is just that we are so often wrapped up and cut off from our own natural way of being, our own inner peace because our attention at the time may be absorbed in some negative thinking or emotion that we miss the world around us and the beauty that it has to offer us in our daily lives.
You don’t have to be in a secluded place to have these experiences or to be mindful obviously but the difference is, when you go to a natural place of beauty of even a man made one like a park where there are trees and water and lots of beautiful flowers. When you become more connected to these peaceful spaces how we perceive and know the natural world becomes a reflection of our own internal state.
‘The more you connect mindfully in nature, the more you discover her secrets.’
So how do we become mindful you may ask? You may find this next exercise of some help.
As you begin to explore being in nature, whatever thoughts are troubling you, if any at all, and whatever strong emotions are arising in your body, if any, I invite you, just for a moment to concentrate on the world around you. You can even stand or sit for this exercise. It’s really easy and you may like to close your eyes at first. All you have to do is listen. Listen to hear if there are any birds singing. Can you also hear the wind or if it’s not windy can you hear any other sound? As soon as you shift your attention from what your thoughts and emotions are doing, even if it’s only for a second, you will experience a small gap of silence within your mind. Of course those thoughts will come rolling back into your awareness and that’s okay. You are now beginning to learn with these first simple steps of mindfulness that you don’t always have to pay attention to the sometimes noisy inner environment of our thoughts and emotions.
So keep listening to the world around you for a moment. Be like an explorer on the verge of a new discovery-have no expectations to what should or shouldn’t be happening. Be in a state of allowing everything to be as it is and if certain judgements come into your mind, just in that moment, just observe them in your mind like watching a movie on a screen. Watch them come and watch them go, then when you remember, go back to listening to the sounds of nature.
‘One day you will come to understand that you are more than just your mind and emotions and you no longer have to be controlled by them. You will soon learn that you are the master of your inner worlds, not a slave to them.’
Now shift your attention to what you can feel.
Is the sun out, can you feel it’s warmth? If the sun isn’t out maybe it’s raining, can you feel the rain instead? What else can you feel? What does the ground beneath your feet feel like? Can you feel the wind against your skin? Allow your intuition to guide you in these matters. It does not have to be robotic, just begin to discover the world around you in a way that you might not have done before.
‘The key is not to think to yourself, “Can I feel the sun?”, it is the ability to just feel the sun without having to think about it.’
I would now invite you to turn a little more inwards. Remember even if your mind and emotions are busy one way or another let us now focus on the breath. So as you stand or sit and you’re listening and feeling the natural world around you, start to incorporate breathing mindfully. So as you breathe you experience the whole breath. Breathe in nice and deeply on this first breath and as you breathe out really relax. Feel like your feet are melting into the ground below you. It’s as if you and the world are becoming one.
Then with a couple of more deep, slow breaths you can feel the cold air entering your nose and then as you breathe out, you can focus on the warmth of the breath. As you then begin to breathe more to a natural rhythm just bring your attention to this exercise of breathing and as you breathe start to look around, listen to the sounds of nature and also feel. You are now incorporating the original exercises with your breath. Almost allow this to happen organically. Remember, you don’t need to think about these actions, simply do them, be them without thinking to yourself internally, “Okay, I will breathe now and then next I will feel the wind”. Try to just do these things naturally through feeling.
‘Learn how to breathe properly in harmony with your actions, the world is a magical place, you just have to open your heart to experience it.“
Obviously mindfulness is a practice that can be done in every aspect of your life but when we go into nature and practice there is an organic connection that you have quite naturally once you start being mindful in this type of environment.
You wont need to listen to a nature cd to relax for you will have the music of life, of reality, right at your very fingertips.
When you go out into nature and shift your focus, shift your attention away from your personal problems that you may be thinking about and just for that short period of time focus on the world around you in an observational way you will find that those problems, for a time, with mindfulness, will drift away.
This is not about ignoring those problems or challenges in your life, pretending they are not there. It’s about creating a space in your life just for a short time and not focusing on what is troubling you and what you usually find when the mind starts to settle and the aliveness around you in the natural world begins to intensify you begin to feel naturally more peaceful.
Believe it or not, if you begin to practice observing like this, as your mind and emotions settle a little you then begin to tap into an innate wisdom and one day you will suddenly start to discern with an intelligent discrimination whether the negative thoughts and emotions that keep arising within you hold any truth for you any longer or in the least, you will recognise they no longer serve you. You usually find that the thoughts you have that cause you to be anxious, depressed or stressful are actually blown way out of proportion or are not even real to what is actually happening or has happened in your life.
How many times do we create stories in our minds and then continue to talk to ourselves about them throughout the day escalating the problem through incessantly thinking about them only to find what we have been thinking about, whether that be a person or event, turns out nothing like the way we were thinking about it, or it simply does not happen at all.
There is only the present moment, the past can not touch you any longer just like your thoughts about anything that was traumatic for you in your life. For these are just thoughts and dreams that arise in your mind which at the time seem so real, but with simple mindful observation of these thoughts you see them disappear right before your eyes to realise they can no longer harm you. They are just thoughts and the painful event that you keep remembering is not happening now. You don’t need to cling onto these thoughts anymore. That is not to belittle what experiences you have gone through, no, do not forget them as such for they made you the person you are today.
It is learning to gain wisdom and compassion through the tragedy of our lives so that then we can help others who have suffered the same and show them a way out. This is a way for ourselves to heal knowing that all we have experienced and overcome can be used to help those who are struggling just like you were once.
And this is where nature can be of service to you. By shifting your focus onto the natural world you actually gain insight into your own inner world. When you observe nature your attention is no longer focused on the problems of your life and then when you do eventually begin to see any thoughts and emotions that have been troubling you, from your new way of perceiving and seeing the world, you feel the peace that arises when being out in nature. You soon realise that even in the turmoil of your daily life that you might be experiencing at the time, there is hope because the peace that arises by connecting with nature shows you that no matter how hard your life may seem at the moment, there is actually always a peace that you can allow to arise within you and connect with.
When you connect with nature in such a way you are able to cope with life far better than if you just stay inside and dwell on all your problems. You have lots of time to dwell on the sadness of your life so why not for a short period of time connect with nature and dispel these blues for a while. Then with this newfound sense of peace, even if it is only a glimpse at first, it will still touch your life in a powerful way and once it catches you, your life will start to shift in unprecedented ways.
When you simply observe peace and stillness in nature you will begin to experience peace and stillness within and that is the magic of life. But what if you are in a state of mind where you simply cannot face the outside world? Well, for now, try opening a window and find that the natural world is still there around you. Not in the same abundance as a natural place of beauty but it’s still there and you can connect to it in the same way. You can listen to the wind flowing through your window, feel the heat from the sun shining through. You will most likely hear birdsong still and if you close your eyes this is beautiful no matter where you are. There may even be a beautiful tree you can focus your awareness on or you may be able to see some other natural beauty like a flower bed from your window. Another beautiful experience is if it is raining. You don’t have to be outside, again you can just listen mindfully, observing the falling rain and listening to relaxing sound of it falling to the ground.
‘Peace is your natural way of being, you just need to be quiet for long enough to experience this, even if it’s just five minutes each day when you can fit it in.’
So to round everything up, you can connect to nature wherever you are and experience the positive benefits this brings to your mental and emotional health and wellbeing. The most important thing is to take the first step and that might be something as simple as only opening a bedroom window but I promise you that if you even begin only like this and start to invite nature into your life connecting in a mindful way it won’t be long before peace enters your life and when this happens you will find that the magic of life begins to appear and affect you in the most unexpected and beautiful ways.
I hope this week you find a little peace, a little stillness and in that stillness, if there is any pain and suffering, that even for a second, you may find some peace in your life by connecting with nature. Even if you don’t see results straight away, stick with it and sooner, rather than later, you will begin to notice those changes.
Sending you love and wishing you a wonderful week.