When it comes to getting away from the stresses of a hectic modern day life, I can’t think of anything better to do than go for a walk in the woods.
Reconnecting with nature for even a few minutes has a wonderful restorative effect on the body. Sunlight warming the skin. Fresh air filling the lungs. All those happy hormones being released.
Even without walking consciously (practicing mindfulness), you still become aware of your footsteps. The uneven ground brings you to pinpoint focus. The sounds of birds tweeting or a twig snapping enliven the senses and draw your attention.
Slowly………no more cars. No more Excel spreadsheets. No more rude coworkers. No laundry. Just feel it all melt away.
Did I say already? How wonderful.
Now if you add mindfulness to the mix, then nature will fill your body with sensations that you can become fiercely aware of. The gentle breeze on your skin. A fly landing on the back of your neck. The flash of a colorful butterfly.
If you allow yourself to be fully immersed and absorbed into your surroundings, your mind doesn’t even have time to start forming sentences.
Occasionally it might jump in to remind you about your overdue library book, or what you need to get from the store on the way home. But if you are paying attention and are fully present, your mind will calm down and you may arrive at a very intense silence.
Wow, this all sounds great.
But should you meditate in nature?
In my experience, NO.
“But why not”, I hear you gasp? You just said all those wonderful things about nature and how your mind can reach some states of stillness.
Well, remember the part about the fly landing on your neck? I live in NJ which is a fairly humid part of the planet with four distinct seasons.
Winter is just too darn cold to meditate outside. I would need 20 layers of ski clothes that would all rustle with each breath. It would be like trying to meditate inside a chip packet (crisps for our European readers).
Summer is the opposite. Way too hot. The dripping sweat would be a constant distraction.
Spring and Fall offer the best opportunities. We have about 2 weeks of really nice temperatures in the spring while the humidity is still low. Where it’s comfortable to sit for long periods. But after those two weeks. The bugs and mosquitoes become relentless.
The Fall is similar. But the leaves constantly falling all around you can be a distraction. Squirrels, frantic to stock their pantries for winter, are crashing through the sticks sounding like mini bears approaching. Even a cute chipmunk sounds like a ferocious tiger stalking you.
I’m sure there are parts of the world where the weather, flora and fauna will all cooperate to create a wonderful meditation experience, but certainly not the part of the world I currently live in.
Maybe that’s why the masters of old retreated to the calm of the mountains to hide from the mosquitoes.
I do enjoy sitting in nature and becoming fully absorbed in it. But I just don’t find it provides the right space for a deep meditation. Just a surface meditation punctuated by the odd ant crawling over your leg, or a curious squirrel climbing on you to see if you’re still alive.
I’ve had birds land on me and snakes slither under my thigh. Both of which snatch you away from serenity at an alarming rate that is jarring to say the least.
Depending where you live, ticks can be a huge problem too.
Using one of my world famous analogies. It would be like an Olympic athlete practicing for the 100 meter sprint by running across a construction site.
Sure, it’s still running, but one of them fine tunes the specific muscles required for sprinting down a track and allows the mind to focus by removing every other distraction. The other training method is inconsistent, uses lots of extra muscles, runs the risk of serious injury, and doesn’t allow the mind to focus because it’s trying to avoid rubble, bulldozers, steel rebar and construction workers.
If you’ve seen my “Meditation Boot Camp“, you’ll know that the first part of the process is to set up the environment to remove as many physical distractions as possible.
Nature is full of distractions. So to me, trying to meditate in nature becomes very difficult. Especially if you’re just starting out.
Enjoying nature. Being with nature. Becoming one with nature. Being mindful in nature are absolutely amazing and I do that as often as I can and I encourage everyone to do the same.
But those romantic notions of gazing off into the sunset while sitting on soft fluffy grass, surrounded by Bambi and some rabbits, are more likely to be replaced by the reality of being stalked by curious chipmunks and swatting wasps away while your legs slowly go to sleep because of the twig sticking into your thigh.
Hit me up in comments if you live in great area for meditating in nature, or have any tips for making the experience a little more pleasant.