Seven Keys to Being More Mindful in Nature
Published in Elephant Journal, April 2019
Venturing out for a hike or nature experience? Do you have everything you need?
Water, snacks, sunscreen… check!
Presence, awareness, and mindfulness… check again!
Hey, did anyone bring mindfulness?
It’s spring, and many of us are getting out into nature more. We know these outings are not only fun and relaxing, but also some of the best medicine for frazzled minds, weary bodies, and depleted spirits. What most of us don’t know is that bringing more mindfulness into our nature time could dramatically enhance the experience and multiply the benefits. It’s easier than we think—a few simple shifts in awareness and actions can make a world of difference.
So, the next time you’re out in a natural setting (perhaps even in your own back yard), try one or more of these tips. You might be surprised to discover how far a little mindfulness can take you.
When you go into nature, you have a precious opportunity to unhook from the endless distractions of the virtual world and nourish mind, body, and spirit. Unplugging from electronic devices will help you release stress, attune to the rhythms of nature, and be more fully present with the peace and beauty around you. See what it’s like to leave your phone behind and experience the natural world without an electronic filter. If you do bring a device along, turn it off or silence it, stow it away, and use it as little as possible.
2. Be present.
When you’re truly present in nature, you’re more available to receive the abundant gifts that await you. As you enter a natural setting, take a few moments to notice where you are and give yourself a chance to arrive. Sit or stand quietly. Open your awareness to your surroundings. Enjoy a few deep breaths. Feel your feet on the Earth, and sense yourself in your body and in that place.
As you hike or move through that setting, practice bringing mindful awareness to the sights and sounds around you and your experience in the moment. Notice what draws your attention. Pause to breathe it in, or lean in for a closer look. See how fully present you can be with a single leaf, a flowing creek, or the warmth of sun on your skin. Know that simply being in nature is healing, and that the more present you are, the more you will receive.
3. Open your senses.
Your senses are gateways to the natural world, and when they are open you can experience it more fully. Practice tuning into your senses one at time. Savor the delicious sights, sounds, scents, and textures of nature—perhaps even flavors if you have the knowledge to do that safely. Try exploring a tree, flower, or small patch of Earth with all your senses, drinking it in as you might an exquisite performance or healing touch. Or close your eyes, open your ears, and enjoy the gentle music of birdsong, moving water, or leaves whispering in the wind. Literally get in touch with nature by mindfully exploring the varied textures of tree bark, water, stone, and more. Use your hands, bare feet, or your whole body. Bring your full awareness to what you are touching—and what is touching you!
4. Slow down.
If you’re constantly on the move, you’ll cover a lot of ground, but also miss a lot of what’s happening around you. But if you slow down or stop, new worlds will open up to you. Try gently exploring an intriguing spot at a very leisurely pace, and see how much beauty and wonder you can encounter in one small area. When you’re out for a hike, discover the power of the pause—stop, look, and listen, for a moment, a minute, or more. If you’re ready for a deeper dive into stillness, sit quietly and enjoy simply being present in one place, bathing in the sights and sounds of nature. Or find a peaceful spot to lie down, let your mind and body release into the support of the Earth, and practice the quietly radical art of resting. Discover how much can come to you when you hold still.
Listening is a powerful act, essential to any kind of relationship—including with the natural world. When you’re quiet, you’re more available to listen. Walk or sit in silence for a while, tuning into the sounds of nature. Practice being quiet inside and out, and allow the natural world to speak to you. See if you can engage without a specific agenda and let the land lead you—or you can hold a question or intention and see what comes to you. Notice what draws your attention and where you feel called to go or stop. Or sit still with a pen and journal, opening yourself to natural inspiration, and discover what wants to come through. (You may want to have a special journal dedicated to your nature experiences and reflections.) See if you can listen not just with your ears, but also at a more subtle level with your body, heart, and spirit. Nature holds abundant wisdom for those who listen deeply.
6. Go solo.
Humans are fascinating creatures who tend to absorb a lot of attention when they are near. Going solo allows us to see, hear, and feel more of the natural world, including birds and other creatures. Alone, we discover wonders we would have missed if we were with other people, especially talkative ones. Solitude in nature allows us to cultivate deeper connections with more-than-human beings, and with ourselves.
Try a solo walk or sit in a place where you feel comfortable. Or if you prefer to go out with others, try going “solo-ish”—sit or walk a short distance apart for a while, and then reconnect with your companions to share about your experiences. When you’re out in nature, you’re never truly alone.
7. Give thanks.
When we’re out in nature, we receive many gifts—both tangible ones like beauty, shade, and berries, and less tangible ones like peace, healing, and inspiration. Expressing gratitude helps us enjoy and appreciate these gifts more fully and deepens our connection with nature. Try saying “thank you” to some of the beings and elements that give to you—naming names is good! (“Thank you, lake, sun, oak trees…”) Developing simple customs like giving thanks as you get up from a lunch spot or complete a hike will help you make a habit of gratitude. You also might consider giving back to a special place by removing trash or volunteering.
Connecting mindfully with nature is not just about reducing stress, feeling better, or staying healthy, as important as those things are. It also impacts how we treat others and the Earth, making us more creative, more cooperative, and more motivated to protect our precious planet. If each of us spent a little more time with our feet on the dirt and our faces in the breeze, we could create a more peaceful and thriving world for all beings.