We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud
Science shows that we are happier we when we have contact with nature. In her new book, Mindfulness and the Natural World - Bringing Our Awareness Back to Nature (£8.99, Leaping Hare Press), Claire Thompson discusses how we can best have that contact.
“If you ever have days when you wonder what life is all about, try this,” she writes. “Sit beneath a big tree, lean back against its trunk and look up through its branches to the sky. Try to put aside for a moment any thoughts you are having.”
This is predominantly a book about the meditative technique known as ‘mindfulness’, which comes from the Buddhist tradition. To be mindful is to dwell in the present, just as a tree does. Thoughts are observed rather than entered into; we become our awareness.
Such peace means that we’re not plagued by negative memories or worries. It means also that we can paint and control constructive thoughts.
However being mindful is to have a clear mind and with it we can interact with nature. Our eyes can drink in the sweep of purple heather on the moor, our nostrils can suck up the scent of the night air and when the wind rushes through our hair on the hilltops, filling our ears with its roar, we can remember who we are.
As Jay Griffiths wrote in her book Wild: An Elemental Journey (£9.99, Penguin), “We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud.”
Claire Thompson (who works as a conservation officer for BirdLife International) eulogises about the many free pleasures nature offers us, such as walking barefoot on sand and gazing at starry skies, and refers to them as ‘tonics of wildness’.
Nature becomes a sensory feast when we pay attention to her: the damp forest smells of moss, rotting leaves, deer musk and sap, the autumn leaves rustle on the breeze and the sun sets in nurturing shades of caramel and pink. Such a sensory overload stills the mind, says Claire, making the meditative state easy.
She is saddened at the extent humans have distanced themselves from the natural world and that many view it as an entirely separate thing, to be used and controlled. But we are a part of that natural world. “We are an integral part of something much larger than ourselves,” she writes.
All the elements of the natural world form our bodies and flow through us constantly. We are water, protein and minerals. She quotes the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “We inter-breathe with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans. They are part of our own body.” The oxygen we are inhaling has been released by the trees and the water we’ve drunk has come from the sky.
Claire Thompson encourages us to get out into nature, where we belong; to walk in her, sit in her, exercise in her, meditate in her... all the time aware of everything. With a silent mind and a silent mouth, our inherent relationship with Mother Earth will reveal itself.
This is a book for people who are new to the idea of mindfulness and may not suit seasoned meditators. Although it does have some great ideas in it – for instance Claire uses images of nature to help mind control. She suggests seeing each thought as a wave upon the sea that rolls, passes and crashes.
Understanding that we are a part of nature is not only key to mastering this peaceful state of mindfulness, but gives us a simple fulfillment in life and the compassion to do our bit for the planet. As Claire writes:
“Bringing our awareness back to nature lies at the heart of our happiness and of the wellbeing of all life on Earth.”
Hazel Sillver is a freelance journalist and a contributor to the Ecologist Green Living section; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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