By Cynthia Gran
During the summer when days are long and warm, many people enjoy spending time outside. Whether walking, biking or doing yoga, being in Nature is a rich experience, and with a little conscious effort, it becomes even richer. Here’s how you can bring your practice of meditation and mindfulness outside to experience Nature more fully, and awaken your senses.
“Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher…
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.”
The Table Turned, William Wordsworth
We respond to the world through our senses. We understand the senses are tools through which we gain information when seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, and hearing. Yoga explains that this information from the senses can either cloud our consciousness, or bring us wisdom. The term used for the incoming senses is jnanendriyas, which means “wisdom or knowing senses.”
In order to activate your wisdom senses it’s important to witness perceptions objectively, without coloring awareness with your opinions. Analyzing sensations with your emotions or thoughts from the mind cloud perceptions. Try to just purely and simply experience them. This way, you watch the world objectively, having no judgment. We gain information unconsciously. We gain wisdom consciously.
“…All natural objects make a kindred impression,
when the mind is open to their influence.
…The lover of Nature is he whose inward and outward senses
Are still truly adjusted to each other.”
Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
By awakening our senses outdoors, fully experiencing Nature while watching the breath, we experience the oneness of all. We can directly experience that true beauty without is the same true beauty that lies within; and this leads to wisdom.
“…Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign…
In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”
The word “nature” derives from the Latin word for “natura,” meaning “birth.” I certainly feel a rebirth when spending time in Nature! My backyard is my favorite place to commune with it. I also love formal gardens, forested and pastoral settings. In southern France, extensive olive groves are considered Nature’s cathedrals, equally sacred as the Gothic cathedrals of northern France with their tall, interior tree-like columns.
When I’m outside with my dog, he reveals how incredibly in tune he is with Nature. He’s ever attentive, with his senses fully engaged. His nose wiggles as he picks up scents off the breeze. His ears turn in opposite directions to hear people, birds, and cars all at once. I’m far more easily distracted than he is, not paying as much attention to my senses. However, I’m rewarded when I carefully embrace them. To fully experience Nature through my senses I try to internalize the beauty, seeing it as part of myself, not separate.
The greatest treasure is found within the human heart, and the goal of life is to find this treasure, according to the Katha Upanishad, written circa 500 BCE. The process involves having good intentions, observing sensations, and opening to receive grace. It also involves learning to experience without likes, dislikes, and without judgment, and having a pure, untainted, clear experience. That’s mindfulness.
When was the last time you walked barefoot on the earth? How about lying on the grass? Gazing at the stars, sunrise, or sunset? Make the most of our precious summer, and go outside!
“…And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Woodstock, Joni Mitchell
Here’s a suggestion to commune deeply with Nature:
Find a comfortable place outside. Think of neither past, nor future, rather, be in the present moment. Now connect to your breath, deepen it, and let it become very slow. Continue to keep your body still and relaxed, while breathing slowly.
Look out at the sky and the long view. Observe the horizon, buildings, and trees. Notice if anything is moving. Watch the clouds. See the various textures and shapes of plants. Study tree leaves against the blue sky.
Listen to bird songs as never before, distinguishing blue jay from robin; seagull from sparrow. Do you hear cicadas, crickets, or other animals? People? Water?
Lightly caress a flower petal. Hug a tree! Relish the feeling of the wind blowing across your skin. Rub a leaf or tree bark between your fingers to release its scent. Smell several flowers, and notice how they differ. As you breathe, notice any other scent in the air.
Taste an herb, or an edible flower. At your next meal, taste a little food on the tip of your tongue only. Then take your first few bites, and chew very, very slowly with your eyes closed.
Consider trying a walking meditation. Set your intention and begin very slowly.
“…Walk not in order to arrive, but just for walking.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Move with full attention, your feet stepping one at a time, carefully onto the ground. Feel each one touch down, then gently release up. Be still between each step. Follow your breath. Become one with the Earth. Open your heart and mind to the influence of Nature! Merge your little self into the greater Self of All. Feel the harmony of Nature without, and let it settle within.
“…When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there,
And the time will come when you see we're all one,
And life flows on within you and without you.”
Within You and Without You, George Harrison/The Beatles
Cynthia Gran enjoys walking or sitting still outside as much as possible, and wrote this column in her garden. She teaches yoga and meditation, and she can explain your Ayurvedic constitution, if you email her at: email@example.com.