By Kay Peterson
As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide. It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.
The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet. Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them. When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance. We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.
We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle. As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity. Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence. In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day. Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out. We’ve forgotten how to simply live.
We all possess a basic goodness. It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute. It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good. When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society. Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.
From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease. I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do. I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life. I feel kind of “off” and I know I’m not alone. We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.
Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy. It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside. Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room. Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are? This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.
We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild. Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face. I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is. It really is that simple. Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.
Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in. Bring a family member or friend. Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.
Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14. To learn more and to register, please click here and here.