Connecting with nature – Part 2

‘If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.’ Rainer Maria Rilke

Staying close to the small things hardly noticeable – this is one of the gifts of children, to be enraptured just as much by an ant cautiously making its way across a slippery leaf as by a magnificent sunset which lights up the sky. If we try to approach nature from an intellectual level, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Nature exists on scales which can be difficult for us to comprehend. There are the infinitesimal dimensions of the elements which make up a single cell, and then there is the vastness of space which we can’t really understand. Geological time moves over tens of millions of years, and some insects only live for a few hours. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than people on earth. For so many aspects of nature, the human scale is either too large or too small.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why as humans we sometimes want to place ourselves apart from nature, leading to a sense of disconnection.  Our education often encourages us to approach life intellectually, trying to make sense of the world through ongoing learning. Yet as Albert Einstein said,

‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.’

Mindfulness can help us to feel more connected by allowing ourselves to simply be present with the experience of being in nature. The Japanese call this shinrin yoku, forest bathing, and they have developed therapeutic ‘forest bathing’ centres where trained guides assist people to be more mindfully present in a forest. We can develop our own ways of ‘forest bathing’ by turning down the volume of our thinking mind, being aware of the vitality of our bodies through our senses, and engaging with our environment with openness and curiosity.

Even ten minutes of being in a natural environment such as a garden or a park can make a positive difference to our sense of wellbeing. Our mind and body will thank us for looking at flowers or trees instead of a screen. As Rabindranath Tagore said,

‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.’

Those moments of feeling connected with nature can also become our ‘time enough.’

Mindfulness practice:

For the next week, set the intention to connect every day with nature in a way you hadn’t done before. One day it could be taking notice of any trees in your area, the next listening for the birds, another time going for a walk at lunchtime. Notice each time how this feels.

Anja Tanhane

Curiosity

‘I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.’

Albert Einstein

Some of the best mindfulness teachers are young children – with their open, fresh approach to life, their ability to become deeply absorbed in what they’re doing, the way they seem to live mostly in the present moment. One of the most distinctive qualities of young children, which can drive their caregivers slightly insane, is their insatiable curiosity. A UK survey of 1000 mothers of children aged 2 – 10 years found that four year old girls ask about 390 questions a day – that’s one question every 2 minutes and 36 seconds, or a remarkable 105 120 questions a year.

It would probably be a little odd if, as adults, we continued to ask questions every 2 minutes and 36 seconds. On the other hand, we can often go to the other extreme, becoming surprisingly incurious about other people, strange symptoms in our bodies, what our government is up to, our emotional state, and what plants are flowering in our street right now. We might not even be aware which birds regularly visit our garden, that our colleague looks distracted and a little upset today, that we’re once again feeling irritable, or that we’re speaking in a breathless and anxious voice.

A common meditation instruction is to ask ourselves – what is actually happening right now? To simply be attentive to what’s going on, without immediately going into ‘fix-it’ or condemning or denial or ‘I want more of this, please’ mode. During a body scan, we might tune into different parts of our bodies, such as our toes, and simply be curious about any sensations there – are they feeling warm or cold, are there any tingling sensations, can we notice the contact with socks or the floor? As we practise this non-judgmental, accepting and curious state of mind, we can then also apply it to other areas of our lives, which will be the topic of next week’s reflection.

Weekly practice idea:

Be curious about the change of season, whether it’s spring or autumn in your part of the world, and notice its effect on the plants in your neighbourhood, the behaviour of animals, the length of daylight or quality of light. Also, notice the effect on your mood – do you like this time of the year, or dread it in some way?

Anja Tanhane