I interviewed therapeutic workers recently and uncovered what I think is a serious oversight in our modern psyche. The conversations went something like this:
Erica to therapeutic workers (several) – “Do you incorporate nature in some way into all your clients wellbeing plans?”
Therapeutic workers to Erica – “no, individual wellbeing plans are linked to individual goals, interests and values”
Erica to therapeutic workers : “But humans actually need nature for survival and for their wellbeing, do you think this is overlooked in the context of your wellbeing plans? “
Therapeutic workers to Erica- “yes you have a point……”
Nature isn’t an optional extra we need nature for our physical survival.
From the trees that provide the clean fresh air we breathe, the environmental systems that create the water we drink, the bees that pollinate the flowers to provide the vegetables we eat, the bacteria in the soil that colanise our body and stimulate healthy immune systems, the sunshine on our skin …. its simple, if the rest of nature is not well then humans can not live. Whats more, who on this earth wants only to survive, we all want to thrive don’t we?! There is now mountains of objective evidence as well as what we know in our hearts from everyday experience that tells us that we are happier when we can see nature even a plant on our desk, we feel a greater sense of contribution and purpose when garden or take care of a pet, our creative imagination is sparked when we marvel at a shooting star, we feel refreshed when we walk out in the breeze, we feel expansive when we look out at the ocean …..the list of reasons to notice nature is endless and necessary. Why is this so? because we are part of the natural world that is why our brains, our physical body and our ‘gut feeling’ responds and reacts to our experiences with the rest of nature.
Nature is not just a recreational option that we can take or leave if we feel bothered or not. We must all take responsibility and find the way that we can notice nature more and contribute to the wellbeing of the system that includes humans!
How do we notice nature and keep it in our consciousness after we go inside and shut the door ? In the next 4 weeks I will write 4 posts with 4 solutions that are all forms of contemplative practice. The first solution, in the spirit of Mindful in May is this:
Cultivate mindful awareness in and/of nature
Mindfulness can be described in several ways, here is one definition:
This kind of mindfulness is often cultivated through mindful meditation, a kind of mental training that gently brings back the wandering mind to the moment. A common experience of this involves closing your eyes and focusing your attention slowly to each part of your body from your toes to your head and noticing how it feels.
You can learn and experience more about that from modern mindfulness guru John Kabat -Zinn. The reported benefits are staggering:
- Structural changes in the brain associated with enhanced mental performance
- Reduced stress and its negative impact on the body and mind
- Improved physical and mental well being
- Reduced genetic ageing through its protective impact on gene expression and degeneration
- Increased happiness
- Enhanced immune function
Why not do this outside and get a double dose of wellbeing from the powerful effects of mindfulness and the powerful wellbeing effects of being in nature.
Here is a simple mindful activity to do outside:
For a few minutes, close your eyes or lower your eyes and for every new bird sound you hear raise one finger. Notice how your that sound makes you feel. To explore this more, draw the sounds that you hear, what shape do they have? what colour are they? or if you are feeling really brave, try and mimic the sound.
Outdoors based mindful practice does not need be restricted to passive activities. in the outdoor adventure activity world it is called ‘flow’.
For me on my mountain bike there is no mind in this at all it is pure fleeting ‘being’ as I become whole with the bike, whole with the contours of the earth beneath me, the very second I am aware of it is the second it ends.
Don’t be confused, the word mindfulness is not the same as awareness and a good simple description of the difference is provided by Wildmind Buddhist Centre:
“Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully”.
In saying that I have found that the enduring quality of mindful practice outside is a heightened ‘mindful awareness’ of the nature that is around and this opens up the opportunity to experience awe in the every day and to cultivate empathy, connection and care for nature.
So, seize this moment: Go outside now, look up, look around, take a deep breathe and feel the air in your lungs. . That’s all it takes to start!