This post was written by Nicki Clark, a Sunski ambassador, outdoor enthusiast, mindfulness teacher, mom to two teenagers and the proud owner of Marin Outdoor Adventure.
What is Mindfulness in Nature? Why do it? Well, those are great questions which I find meaningful and important to reflect on.
To start, let's talk about mindfulness. I think when most people hear that word they imagine someone sitting cross-legged meditating. Yes, that is one way to be mindful. But the way I see it, it’s more of an informal practice of awareness. Any moment during the day that I remember to “wake up” to the present moment, take a breath, feel/re-inhabit my body, is a mindful moment. John Kabbot Zin defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” I feel like that is a great breakdown of what mindfulness is. It is any moment, whether sitting in meditation, driving in your car, or surfing on a wave, that one takes the seat of a watcher/ observer. I have found that embodiment, really inhabiting my body and all of my senses, is a wonderful and rich form of mindfulness- which I think of as embodied presence.
Tune In with Embodied Presence
One practice I have been enjoying is tuning into the sensations in my body (when I remember to… this is key) while doing the most basic of things. For example, while driving- really tuning into the feeling of sitting, holding the steering wheel, and all of the array of sensations that come with having a body. There is a vast array of sensations… and the more I practice tuning into them, the deeper my connection with embodied presence goes.
Become Aware of Your Thoughts
So, this is how I understand Mindfulness. It is an avenue into Reality. A moment of awareness of the expansive nature of being human… thoughts and all. It is not about NOT thinking, because thinking is part of being human and is extremely useful! It’s possible to be mindful of our thoughts, which is a very powerful practice in my opinion. When we begin to be able to observe what our minds are thinking….rather than being attached to the thoughts, well, that is when we can begin to experience discernment. We are able to recognize that we have a choice in which thoughts we choose to believe. We can recognize our recurring thought patterns, and determine if those thoughts are true, useful and kind. When we start to recognize that we actually have very little control over the thoughts that arise, we have more choice, and can choose which thoughts are worthy of our attention, and which ones are not… which from my experience leads to freedom. Eckhart Tolle says it well in a recent interview I listened to- “Awareness is what provides immunity from being infected by mental viruses.”
Why practice mindfulness in nature?
So I guess that goes a bit into WHY mindfulness. I think there is a huge misconception about meditation and mindfulness, and many people believe that they can't do it or they aren't good at it because they can't stop thinking. People believe that in order to “do it right” they have to be able to turn their minds off completely and achieve some blissful state. This is not the case. Being mindful is about bringing awareness to ALL of our states- including our monkey minds. The basic practice of noticing our thoughts, then returning to the sensation of the body or breath, is a way to begin to recognize the thoughts. I would say, there is no wrong way of being mindful. Another thing that is important for beginners to realize is that the fruits of the practice are subtle, and take time, but they are rich and rewarding. I know from experience. It can be thought of as a workout for the mind. Just like we workout/shred on our bikes, surfboards and at the gym, this is where we can do the same thing, but for our minds. Practice brings peace of mind. It helps us navigate relationships, business, and day to day life. It can also be looked at as an adventure. Human Consciousness is quite an incredible mystery… I mean think about it… our minds have the ability to create an infinite number of imaginary worlds. I find it quite exciting and adventurous to explore my own consciousness, and have discovered it to be a world filled with insight, wisdom and an endless depth.
OK, now onto Nature… Well, this part is easy… Nature is incredible! The thing is, many humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are creatures of this earth, just like the deer, seals, and Hawks. Nature is a place that automatically brings us into a state of being present. When we look out at the ocean and see a whale spout, the thoughts fade away and we are aware and often in awe of what we are seeing… the whale. While in nature, we may focus on the sensation of the sun on our skin, the breeze in our hair, the sounds of the birds. All of these things are pathways, doorways to present moment awareness. I have found that tuning into Nature as the doorway to presence not only helps build that muscle of awareness, but it also deepens my connection with Mother Nature, and that connection becomes even more intimate and sacred. Given the current climate crisis, the more people who reconnect with Mother Earth, and feel a deeper and more intimate connection with Her, perhaps more people will be inspired to act and make changes that will have a lasting impact on her well being. We take care of what we love, right? As Chief Seattle said, “Man belongs to the earth, the earth does not belong to man.”
Here's the thing… life happens, challenges arise, there is no way around them. The practice of sitting still, moving slowly with intention, mindfully, and noticing what's here- thoughts, sounds, sights, sensations, invites us into reality. What is here at this moment? My feet are on the ground, my fingers are typing, I can hear my kids getting ready upstairs, I can see an expansive view of hills and water outside. That's what's here. There is a certain refuge in that. There might be some physical or emotional pain, racing thoughts, restlessness, or a sense of calm. We simply notice what's here and allow it to be here, and recognize that it will not be here forever. Everything changes, thoughts come and go, sensations come and go, some stay a while, and so on. Mindfulness invites us to turn towards what's here, with self-compassion (non-judgmentally like Jon Kabbot Zin says) and get to know it. Doing this changes our brains, rewires them. Doing this builds resilience in us. And doing this, while outdoors, is a beautiful way to re-find our connection with who we are, creatures of this earth. What I have found is that when I am intentional with being mindful in nature, I connect with our earth in a whole new way. A deeper, more intimate connection, one that is there, and always has been, but that gets easily lost in our busy technology driven lives.
We are Nature. We are creatures OF this Earth, just like the birds, deer, dolphins and ladybugs. When we go outside, get still, listen to the sounds of the birds, breathe in the wind, and taste the salt water in the air, we are re-connecting with ourselves and our home. The Earth is our home. It’s a coming home to ourselves, as a part of Mother Earth. I have found, by doing exactly this, there is a peacefulness that I access. There is a sense of connection and Love that I access. There is a sense of belonging there. There is healing that happens. My nervous system calms and recalibrates. It is Medicine for the mind, body and spirit. When we connect in this way, we realize how precious this Earth is, and my hope and prayer is that by supporting others to connect in this way, we can all take better care of our communal home, Mother Earth.
Sports and Mindfulness
Same thing with sports actually, when we are engaged in a sport, say surfing or mountain biking, we are so laser focused on the wave, or the trail, that we go into a state of presence, which when maintained for a longer stretch and associated with a sport or hobby, becomes more of a flow state. I believe that is why many people find so much refuge and joy in outdoor activities like these. They are not only fun, and in nature, but they provide us an avenue through which we can access embodied presence, without having to sit still in meditation. However, there is a lot of benefit for athletes to practice embodied presence while being still, since typically athletes don’t like to sit still. It is, like I said above, a sort of training. A training in life, a training in building a capacity for challenges, a training in resilience.
Looking to practice mindfulness in nature yourself? Author, Nicki Clark, is hosting a retreat to help you connect with Mother Earth:
In this 1/2 day retreat you will have an opportunity to slow down, breathe deep and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. We will unplug from our devices and plug into the earth, the sky and the water. Above Muir Beach, with the vast expanse of the ocean below, Barbara Juniper and Nicki Clark will guide you in meditation practices designed to help you connect deeply with nature. Opening to a sense of spaciousness and the present moment, we will nourish our bodies, hearts and souls. We will also be following the lead of the new year and incorporate new year visioning practices.
What: Mindfulness in Nature 1/2 day retreat & New Year visioning
When: Sunday 1/22/23 from 10-2
Where: Private Residence in Muir Beach, CA
Price: $125.00 per person