[This DrP article was first published on The Huffington Post]
Sometimes I sit by the fierce Brighton sea, feeling the waves lap up and listening to the wind howl, in the thick of winter. I’m not alone in getting nourishment from nature, as this article from The Atlantic suggests. It tells me I’m not the only professional prescribing spending time in nature either . My favourite biologist E.O. Wilson says that we’re hardwired to “affiliate with other forms of life” and that we suffer if we don’t.
So many of us practise meditation, and I wonder if you’ve heard of levelling it up by combining it with the energy of nature. Or what I personally call, “ecotherapeutic meditation”. Here are three of my favourite methods that I’ve learned from different traditions. May it bring you joy, freedom and bliss.
1. Following your own life force
The Zen monk from Plum Village said, “We forget we have a body”. Indeed, we live in our minds too much, the place where catastrophe has infinite space to play out, and deceive us that it’s real. We become disconnected from our bodies and the real lifeforce that pumps through us and sustains us— our blood and pulse. I learned this Apache meditation from Martha Beck’s Finding Your Way In a Wild New World.
- Take a few deep, full breaths. Notice the space between inhaling and exhaling.
- Before you breathe in, focus on your attention on your heart, until you can feel it beating (be patient with this step). Exhale.
- Take another breath in, and exhale. Along with your heartbeat, find the sensation of your pulse moving through your hands, feet, scalp and entire body.
- Stay focused on the feeling of your entire circulatory system as it channels your lifeblood to your head and extremities. Feel it moving through your organs and cells.
- Stand up and walk, or perform some simple tasks, while continuing to feel your heartbeat and pulse.
My favourite place to do this: By the sea or ocean
2. One with ancient wisdom
Have you ever walked past a big sturdy tree and marvelled at how centered it is— connected to the sky and the earth— soaking in its energy and wisdom? The word that leaps out to be in my mind is ‘rooted’, and indeed, this meditation makes me precisely that. A shaman taught me this one when I was in the midst of healing from trauma, back when I was in a dangerous situation. My mind was frenetic and my body felt shattered, and this connected me back with my ability to draw healing from the present moment.
- Find a tree that you are drawn to. Sit with your back aligned to its trunk, and your legs crossed.
- As you breathe in deeply, feel yourself inhale from the same sky that the tree draws air from.
- As you exhale, feel yourself feeding the tree with the carbon dioxide leaving your lungs.
- Do this several times, and then focus on energy between the tree trunk and your back.
- Feel the energy circulating between you both, as you draw nourishment from the tree— its leaves, branches, roots, fruits.
- Send this energy circulating through your body, feeling it infuse love and healing into every organ and cell.
My favourite place to do this: In a park or forest.
3. “I am infinite”
When my friends and spiritual teachers Tay & Val introduced me to this one, I was sold. Breathing in through the soles of our feet, we create a sense of grounding with earth energy; and breathing in through the crown of our heads, we connect to the expansive energy of the sky. Or, as some may prefer to think— Mother Earth and Father Sky (/God/Source) respectively. To me, it is the perfect embodiment of the spiritual teaching, “As above, so below”. Tay & Val explain that “seedlings need to plant their roots deep into the ground, before they go up into the sky”. Or, in urban speak, “the taller your building, the deeper your foundations need to drive”. This meditation also nourishes the heart center— the part of our body that pumps nutrients and removes toxins.
- Take a deep breath, drawing air in from the soles of your feet, channeling support from the earth. As you exhale, use your breath to create a golden bubble of energy around you.
- Inhale deeply, drawing in air and light through the crown of your head from the sky. Exhale out a golden bubble of light energy around you.
- Take a third deep breath in, drawing in love and air from around you, via your heart. Exhale through your heart, filling the space around you with love and protection.
- This golden bubble is a visual and energetic representation of your boundaries. Imagine a flush button, and push it, allowing everybody else’s thoughts, expectations and stories to fade away.
My favourite place to do this: Anywhere where I need a break, with a piece of nature of next to me. It could be as simple as a fruit or a leaf, or a potted plant.
What’s your favourite meditation exercise that you do in nature? Leave a comment and share your experiences.