Meditating on the natural world around us is a wonderful way to settle and calm the mind.
I like to sit in a quiet corner of my garden to meditate and reflect. Here I have planted lavenders and brightly coloured flowers which attract bees, especially on sunny days. Few things are more peaceful than watching a bee visiting one flower after another, intent on its purpose. Its soft furry body and low humming sound intrigue and soothe me. My attention settles easily on the natural world around me.
Retreating into Nature
It is no accident that many retreat centres and monasteries are found in remote and beautiful locations. Humans have known for thousands of years that we can calm our minds when we escape the crowds and get close to nature. Deserts and wildernesses have long been spaces for prayer, meditation and discovery. The natural world helps us find our true selves[i].
What is Meditation?
There are plenty of definitions available, but I like to think of meditation as a way of calming mental chatter. Meditation helps us rest in the present moment. The ancient sage Patanjali taught in his Yoga Sutras that the purpose of Yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind[ii]. Many books have been written about precisely what this means, but we can all identify with the discomfort of a busy and distracted mind. Meditation aims to settle the mind. This can either be an end in itself, or for some people it is part of a pathway to union with a higher reality.
Meditation can be challenging because our minds are used to being busy. They don’t always want to settle down. It can be useful to find some simple sensory experience to focus on. This helps us remain mentally present. Immersing ourselves in nature is a great way to let go of distractions and enjoy here and now.
Nature involves all the Senses
The natural world offers experiences to involve all our senses. This makes it much easier to settle mindfully into each moment. Sounds, sights and sensations all invite us to let go of our mental chatter and simply be. Even a simple natural object like a leaf or a stone has the power to do this.
Inhaling and Tasting Nature
Nature’s perfumes engage our emotions. We have all smiled with satisfaction at the perfume of a rose. The wild tang of a salt marsh fills me with the sense of space and freedom. Crushing aromatic herbs like rosemary or mint between my fingers is a quick route to pleasure. And our noses are tightly tuned to the slightest scent of decay.
I wrote in a previous blog about the benefits of eating mindfully and relishing our food. Slow and conscious tasting can be a meditation in itself. Next time you eat a peach or an orange, try to focus on the sensory experience of the colours, textures and precise flavours. How does each mouthful feel inside your mouth? Nature is here to be experienced to the full.
The Sense of Wonder
Even a blade of grass is wonderful when we look at it carefully. The unique shades of green, fine lines and delicate shapes are remarkable. By challenging ourselves to pay more attention to the natural world we can begin to notice its beauty and intricacy. I am fascinated by spiralling shapes like sunflowers and seashells. Those with a mathematical turn of mind can meditate on the amazing ways in which the same number patterns repeat themselves throughout the natural universe. Beehives and flower petals, hurricanes and human faces all reflect the same fundamental ratio[iii].
Origins and Connections
Another way to meditate on nature is to think about origins and life cycles. Everything tells a story. That blade of grass began as a seed and will one day produce its own seeds. The peach grew on a tree, tended by a farmer, maybe in a distant country. It developed from a blossom, fertilised by bees and ripened by the sun. The fruit was harvested and travelled a long journey, by ship, lorry and maybe other means of transport until it finally arrived here in my hand and mouth. What will happen to its stone? Everything is connected to something else. Even a pebble on a beach has been tossed by the sea, moved and trodden on many times, maybe for thousands of years. What stories could it tell, if it could speak?
Shapes Around the Edges
Sometimes it is interesting to look at the spaces around the edges of things. This is a bit like a drawing exercise where you try to draw the shape of the background instead of focusing on the more obvious object or figure. Notice a line of trees silhouetted against the sky. Then look at the shapes of the sky as it outlines the trees. Instead of looking at the trees, concentrate instead on the gaps between them. What patterns do they make? This can be a different and refreshing way of seeing the world around you.
Sky and Clouds
The sky is full of opportunities for reflection. Why not spend a while lying down on soft grass and watching the clouds drift past? We all love a gorgeous sunset or a rainbow, but sometimes massive cloud formations can be just as fascinating. I am currently staying in Norfolk where the skies are enormous over endless beaches. Watching stars or walking at night is another brilliant way to enjoy the natural world.
Today’s Calming Practice – Meditate on Nature
Take a few minutes today to relax and enjoy a little part of the natural world. Sit quietly with a leaf, a stone, a shell or a flower, taking time to appreciate it closely. Use all of your senses to feel, smell, touch and if possible taste your chosen object. See if it makes a sound when held up to your ear. Does it feel warm or cold, rough or smooth? What happens when you hold it up to the light? What journey has it travelled to reach you here today? How does it make you feel?
Simply enjoy this piece of nature. Allow it to calm and settle your mind. Be present, here and now.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk