Meditating with Nature
Build your day around the rhythms of the day. Forget clock-time, and make time to respond to what the day presents you. The greatest symphony in the world happens as the pre-dawn light rises into day and the sun comes up to the songs of birds. Make time for it, often.
Nature’s rhythms, because they are our own deepest rhythms, can be the greatest healer.
Consider this prescription for whatever ails you: Sunrise and sunset, each day, in silence and stillness, for two weeks.
Repeat as needed.
At least once, get up in the middle of the night, somewhere around 4 in the morning. Carefully go out to the edge of the known, the lighted world, or as far as you know to be safe for you, and tune in to the deepest hours of the night, the hours of greatest stillness, the huge hollow hours before dawn.
Listen to what your heart tells you then. (It is the traditional time worldwide for meditation.)
Listen to the life of those creatures who make this hour their busiest noon — cicadas, singing crickets, the twitter of flying squirrels, solitary bats, echoing owls, nocturnal animals like raccoons, cautious deer easing down to the water’s edge, ghost crabs scuttling along the beach . . . . .
Being out in nature brings a chance to realign yourself with some of the deepest roots of being. Since it is not always easy to make the transition from civilized life to the natural world, here are some exercises you may find helpful. Use them for twenty minutes now and then, for as long as they help you feel more sane.
Go on a nature walk alone.
Attune your attention so that it is generous, appreciative, receptive, celebratory, and open-ended. Receive into awareness everything that is around you.
Any time you find yourself thinking about something else, simply bring your awareness back to the natural world around you and breathe easily.
Breathe your thoughts away
If, like me, you often get to a quiet place only to find your mind noisy, try this.
Sit or walk quietly. Breathe in an easy, deep rhythm.
After a few minutes, imagine that your thoughts collect during the inhale, become concentrated as you hold your breath for an instant, then flow completely out of your mind as you exhale in a natural, unforced manner.
Repeat this till you have cleared some mental space.
Then, as you allow your breath to flow back into you in an easy, natural inhale, allow the natural world around you to come in with the breath, filling your mind and your senses and flowing into the space left empty by your departing thoughts.
Let the sounds of nature reverberate in the mental space where you normally talk to yourself, while that voice for a time is silent.
As long as you need to, gather up loose thoughts and breathe them away, till your mind is clear enough to appreciate what is around you.
While you are walking slowly through a natural area, imagine that everything you see can be felt along the corresponding side of your body, so that, when you pass a nearby tree, it seems to caress you as you go by.
Allow the surface of your body to feel everything you can see.
Map each detail onto your skin.
Feel as if you are swimming and each object sends out waves that touch you.
Find a place in nature where you can sit undisturbed.
Recall how, when you drive, you can stay conscious of the road, the steering wheel, the radio, the speedometer, and the rear-view mirror, all at once.
As each detail in the natural setting comes into awareness, add it to what you are already conscious of.
Add the next.
And the next, so that you become aware of each new detail without losing consciousness of the others.
Slowly, softly widen the range of your focus. Let nature in.
Find one object you would like to spend some time with, preferably one you can sit close to.
Place your entire attention on this one flower, leaf, tree root, spider web, or whatever.
Any time your mind wanders, simply return to seeing.
Without any effort to think, analyze, or understand, simply see what is before you.
As you visit a natural area, shift your perception so that you see the objects around you as processes.
See a tree, for example, as just one moment in the life-cycle of a process that changes continuously, every season, every day, from seed to tree to rotting log.
See a mayfly not as a thing, but as a point in a changing cycle that, at this moment, has wings and flutters before you.
If you see a boardwalk, realize that at one time it was not there, and someday it will be gone.
At sunrise, imaginatively perceive that the sun is at a particular moment in the immense life-cycle of a star — changing.
Think how many of our fundamental ways of understanding reality — such as scientific theories — have changed over the centuries, and are changing now.
Know how you yourself have changed.
Realize that nothing you see before you has ever occurred in quite the same way. The moment that is happening is new. It is your moment. It is now.
Feel what a privilege, what a mystery, what a miracle it is, to be here, on this earth, under these slowly-changing stars, with these dear people — now.
From the introduction to Gerald Grow’s book, Florida Parks: A Guide to Camping In Nature (7th ed). Tallahassee: Longleaf Publications. Copyright 2002. Used with permission. This book is out of print and no longer available.
Gerald Grow is a retired professor of journalism. More at www.longleaf.net. Photo by the author.