7 Days of Mindfulness in Nature
Monday 1 August, 2022
It’s been a tough few years. In all the upheaval, it can be easy to feel anxious, stressed, and worried about the future. But even small actions can help ground us back into the here and now – especially when we turn to the healing power of nature.
Mindfulness is a simple form of meditation that focuses on the present moment through paying attention, in a non-judgmental manner, to your senses and surroundings. Practicing mindfulness in nature is a great way to achieve a sense of balance and peace, and to connect with the places that are most meaningful to us.
Kinglake National Park ranger Tony Fitzgerald has decades of practice in the field of meditation in nature. “There’s so much stress around at the moment,” says Tony. “Mindfulness has never been more needed.”
He helped us put together a seven-day program for developing mindfulness in nature. Keeping a journal is a great way to get the most out of this program. So why not give it a try - you might be surprised by how much you change in just a week.
Day 1: Breath
When Tony holds his mindfulness walks, he likes to start with focusing on the breath. Air connects us all - plants and animals breathe just like we do, and we’re all moved by the wind around us.
“Breath awareness is a really good first thing to do. When people arrive at the park, I invite them: let’s just take a deep breath. Become aware of your breathing. Is it rapid, is it deep, is it slow?”
Today, focus on your breath. Put your hands on your stomach; don’t force your breathing – just become aware of how your body breathes. Gradually relax into a slower, deeper belly breath.
Using our imagination, picture and feel the inhaled air filling every part of our lungs, every corner, then let the exhalation go, repeating a few times.
It sounds such a simple practice. The challenge is to remember to do this through our busy days! Some people use apps on the phone to buzz on the hour, others attempt an “on the hour” discipline. “Me,” says Tony “I like to have a little stone in my pocket that is my breathing reminder.”
To just insert a minute of mindful breathing is a simple but surprisingly challenging practice that builds into our next mindful day’s focus.
Day 2: Sound
“A really convenient key to unlocking being present is sound” says Tony. “I also describe it as a fingerprint of a moment: this sound that we’re in, it’s unique, it can’t be repeated – especially if you’re in nature, whether it’s the sound of wind in the trees or the birdsong.”
When you’re focusing on sound, try not to be too specific in your identification. Instead, says Tony, “just be aware of the soundscape around you.”
It can be comparable to seeing the shadow of an object – listen for the “holes” of silence, for when the sound is absent, and also the textures of sound around you.
A challenge can be to do this non-judgmentally or without labelling everything! Tony finds that an exploring approach is helpful. At times, you may find yourself feeling immersed, or bathed, in a sea of sound.
Try spending 5-10minutes immersed in your soundscape today.
Day 3: Sight
A mindful gaze can be a remarkably different way to see the world. Just like with sounds, you can learn to be softly aware of your visual surroundings.
“I like to suggest to people to move out of their normal frame of reference in terms of seeing things,” says Tony. “Loosen the gaze, so it’s a softer look.”
“We can find ourselves looking with hard eyes-on the lookout, like a hunter scanning and searching and identifying. To soften the vision: less of a squint, more of a gaze, less of the hunter more of the artist, can be lots of fun to play with.”
“Looking mindfully can also contribute to a sense of safety and calm”, says Tony.
“If people feel that their whole peripheral view is within their awareness, they can feel a bit safer. I think it just helps people to be where they are and relax.”
Explore different ways of looking at your surroundings today.
Day 4: Place
Today, try to find your spot: a park bench, a creek bank, a grassy patch – anywhere you can come back to, so you can appreciate the changes of the natural world over time. Select a spot that calls to you (and a place that’s comfortable to journal in, if you’re keeping a journal of your mindfulness week!).
“This idea comes from Earth Education,” says Tony. “It gives you that sense of continuity: you can see changes in the season, even changes in the day.”
As you come back to your spot, see what’s changed. Have leaves fallen? Have new plants or flowers sprung up? If you’re by a body of water, how high is the tide or the river level, are there different sounds at different times?
Interestingly, when we become more aware of our surroundings especially from such a regular reference point, it also allows us to become aware of the changes within ourselves.
This can be a really powerful balancer in times of change or upheaval.
Challenge yourself to sit in place for 10 minutes today.
Day 5: Creativity
Being creative in nature is an excellent way to get into the present moment. And, as Tony says, there’s no wrong way to do it.
“Just go for it. Whatever your inkling is, whether it’s building a little ephemeral sculpture out of twigs and sticks, or whether you’ve got a notebook and you’re doing sketches, or writing a poem - just give yourself license to create in nature.”
And there’s no need to abandon your high-tech comforts if that’s where your creativity blossoms.
“What’s to say you can’t create something with your phone?” says Tony. It might be video, sound recording, or editing images – follow your impulses and be open to whatever works in terms of tapping into your creative side.
Day 6: Practicing Patience
Patience and acceptance can be easier said than done. But being in nature is a great way to help us along the path to patience.
“Nature can show us these so beautifully,” says Tony. “The snail patiently moving house, the tree growing in an impossible crack. When we look we can’t help but connect with these feelings and qualities in ourselves.”
Think about the techniques you’ve practiced in the last five days. If you’ve been journaling, have a look at how your entries have changed, and see what new things you’ve noticed in the natural world and in yourself. And see what revelations nature might have to offer you. It might come at an unexpected moment.
“People don’t even have to tell you - you’ll see it in their eyes,” says Tony. “Or they’ll say, ‘Seeing all those trees swaying in the wind made me realise that I can bend - I don’t have to break.’ I’m going to bend with this one, whatever it might be.”
Day 7: Walking – Lyrebird’s Step
On your last day of mindfulness in nature, take a walk - but not as you know it.
Tony mentions a Native American technique called fox walking, popularised by the author Tom Brown. But for a walk through a Victorian bush setting, why not call it the lyrebird’s step?
This slow and sensitive walking technique is similar to a Buddhist meditation walk, says Tony.
“It’s really quiet walking, when you’re really aware of each step when you’re stepping. You’re putting the heel down, then rolling to the side of the foot, then the ball of your foot and then the toes. It’s a really mindful step. Then you take a breath, and the next foot comes out.”
Walk through your natural surroundings – maybe to the spot you chose on day four – with a lyrebird’s step. Let your gaze absorb what’s around you. Listen to the soundscape – appreciate the fingerprint of the moment you’re in. And when you’re at your spot, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned, how you feel, and how you might carry these techniques with you into the future.