Sometimes, after the eighth hour of staring at the same work desktop, perched upon the same desk, nestled in the same dinky office, located in the same dull building for the fifth day in the row, I experience an interesting phenomenon.
Or rather, I experience an uninteresting one. Or, closer still—I stop experiencing. Like… at all.
So, what am I experiencing, or, you know, not experiencing?
I’ve most closely surmised that I have—for at least that moment—completely shut down my ability to be present in a given moment. The bits of my mind that are capable of observing—of absorbing—the world around me has simply gone into “sleep” mode, awaiting a proper stimulus to awaken them. My mind is shielding itself from the harm that physical, emotional, and mental stagnation can cause it—it is locked, but waiting for a key.
The question is: where to find it?
Why Nature Calls
It’s a well-known fact that nature has always held sway over the human soul: just ask anyone who’s taken the time to read Thoreau’s Walden. I’ve found that simply putting myself in the way of wilderness has helped me to “unlock” my sleeping mind. Nature calls me to transform; to connect with my deepest, most authentic self, and to free myself from the distractions and addictions of everyday life. For me, time spent camping and communing with nature is time spent—or rather, invested—in my truest self.
Small Steps Forward
Unfortunately, many non-campers believe that, in order to “commune with nature,” they’ll be required to explore a very specific kind of nature and invest a prohibitive amount of money in costly equipment in order to do so. I’m happy to report that this is a common misconception. Before I had the wherewithal to explore the faraway bits of nature that had always drawn me in, I found that I could explore my proverbial backyard, and still achieve a measure of peace and mindfulness. I discovered tranquility and elegance of my local duck pond; We felt the pangs of natural beauty at a local scenic overlook, not a ten-minute bike ride from my apartment. I didn’t trick myself into believing that nature was too distant, or too good for me even. We told ourself that we were just as earnestly deserving of the power of nature as John Muir—even if I could only get my slice of it at my local park. A tree is a tree, after all.
Here Comes the Sun
The following are some of my tips for mindfulness in nature of the easiest kind:
- Take a break. Sit outside on your front steps. Walk into your office courtyard. Notice a park bench. Sit, and notice your breathing coming in and out of your body. Feel the breeze on your face.
- Visit a park. Nap under a stand of trees, and take in their shape, their colors, shapes. Breathe in the tree for a solid five minutes, and see what that air does for you.
- Find an outdoor space with water (a park with a stream, pond, or fountain) and sit quietly for several minutes in a “listening” meditation. Allow the sounds of the water to trickle into your soul, and let the distractions of the day drift away. Wake up to you, and stay present.
Invest in the Call
Granted, as I spent more and more time at the local parks—discovering every secret alcove and enclave they could afford me—I genuinely felt the desire to seek out spaces farther and farther away from me. I eventually decided to invest in a lightweight trailer that I could sleep in for quick overnight trips, and haul with just my everyday commuter; the camper was the most efficient way for me to “escape” and set up a base camp, even with limited time.
However, before that investment, a well-planned “day trip” was all I needed in order to explore the farther reaches of my environment. Just by having the fortitude to wake up before dawn to drive for an hour (or four), I was able to see sights that I might have otherwise thought barred to me. The mindfulness that I developed at my local parks taught me discipline, and trained me to hunt for bluer skies, pinker sunrises, and redder sunsets.
Nature was my teacher and my mentor. I hope to someday make her my closest friend.