An American Zen Buddhist training center in the Mountains and Rivers Order, offering Sunday programs, weekend retreats and month-long residencies.
Seven Meditations for Connecting with Nature
Spend a period of time in a quiet place in nature to experience silence. Can you connect with the silence that is there even when there are sounds? What interrupts the experience of silence? Does being in silence create any sense of discomfort? Do you want to distract yourself from it? Does the silence allow your mind and body to rest more in stillness and quiet?
Working with Thoughts
Take some time to sit or walk in nature. Simply be as present as you can, Notice when your attention is lost in thought, and how thinking makes you less present to your environment. For a period of time, practice letting go of your thoughts as soon as they arise and returning your attention to what is happening in the physical environment. How does that affect your experience?
Letting Go of Our Stories
When you are lost or caught up in an emotional storm or contracted in self-centeredness or plagued by obsessive thoughts, notice what happens when you step outside or go for a walk and pay attention to the sky, the air, the light, the movement of wind, the feel of grass under your feet. Be aware of how the spaciousness that can arise allows a natural dis-identification with inner turmoil and a regaining of perspective.
Knowing Your Backyard
Take some time to investigate the source of your water, food, lumber, firewood. Where do your waste products go? Is the food that you eat grown locally? What are the indigenous animals, birds, plants and trees in your local area? What are their habitats, where do they nest, eat? What species, what land is currently under threat in your region? Since you are part of this chain of interrelated life, what are you doing that supports or threatens the health of that which may be in danger?
Take time to be with something you love in nature that brings out your natural curiosity and delight, It may be a wild iris, the shimmering luminescence of water in a stream, the patrerns and colors ofa butterfly's wing. Let yourself be drawn to it. Engage your senses. Are you touched by the sense of wonder? Practice daily or weekly, spending time in nature with what most allows your heart to open. How does such love feel in the mind, body, and heart? What effect does it have on your sense of connection with the web of life?
A Day in Nature
Take a day to be alone in nature. Select a location where you are not likely to be interrupted by many people, You can divide the time between periods of contemplative sitting and gentle walks. In sitting meditation, cultivate an open attentiveness toward the present moment. You can focus on the inner experience of breathing and the sensations of the body. Or you can pay attention to the experience that arises from sitting outside—the touch of the breeze on your skin, the physical connection with the earth, the sounds of birds, animals, and the wind, and the fragrances in the air. Try meditating with the eyes open, allowing the eyes to be soft and receptive with a wide field of vision while maintaining awareness of the other senses, especially hearing.
While walking, let go of any goal-orientation. Simply let yourself walk slowly, carefully, with full awareness of the space you are walking in. Let go of any intention to get anywhere. Listen to whatever draws you in the landscape—a particular tree, rock, stream, or a vast open vista. Or perhaps a lizard or beetle draws you into a conversation. Let your senses be wide open and receptive. Give little attention to your thoughts and instead keep turning to your inner and outer environment. If you begin to feel spacey or unfocused, resume sitting meditation, centering attention upon the breath. The less you do outwardly, the more will open to you.
Mark Coleman teaches Vipassana meditation at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. He is currently writing a book on meditation and nature for Inner Ocean Publishing. His website is awakeinthewild.com.
Image 1: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Avery Brundage Collection, B65D4, used with permission.