Man’s greatest fallacy, in my opinion, is viewing humanity as existing outside of nature. Taking animals and putting them in the “other” category. No! That’s us, too! Industry and consumerism and ego have taught us that we are not enough, that we need to self-improve all the time with gadgets and expensive lifestyles. What if I told you that all you needed to do was sit? When you choose to just sit, even your own backyard, is a gateway to a whole new understanding of self..
Have you ever just sat? Have you ever done absolutely nothing? No phone. Not thinking about what else you could be doing. Just sitting in your backyard or a park, watching the shadows pass across the yard, your mind, body, and soul resting in one place.
I guarantee you’ll learn a lot more about your neighbors.
But if you can get past the screaming of their kids, past the noise of the roadway, past the hum of the AC unit, you’ll discover the much subtler neighbors. The ones that were here before the highways.
Once you’ve sat long enough, the birds, the trees and the grass accept you as one of their own. They’ll start being themselves around you. The squirrels will show you their hiding spots, the wind will tell you what’s coming. And you know what? I guarantee you’ll breathe easy.
There’s a very tangible magic in nature. One that transcends any religion or lifetime worth of problems. Every day it grows and flows regardless of who’s president, or if the stocks are up, or who won on Sunday. It lives in earnest, diligently and honestly.
We can learn a lot by listening. We start to step outside of ourselves, our egos, our interpersonal concerns. We find the peace and joy of just being in the moment. Accept your backyard as it is. Accept yourself as you are. Let go of your desires for change, the fear of your past.
The Buddhists teach meditation as curious awareness, starting from the breath. The thought is that if you can focus your attention on the subtleties of something so simple yet important as your breath, your senses become more attuned. That curious awareness will spill over into your mind, your body, and the way you feel inside and out. Eventually this clears the clouds and leads to what some may call the soul.
Here are four exercises you can do to meet your backyard – or any outdoor space — and enjoy listening to nature and become more in tune with yourself.
- Five senses. One at a time, use your senses to discover all that nature expresses.
- Find 5 things you can see: A leaf falling from a tree. A vine starting to climb the side of your house. A roly poly making its way through the underbrush. WOW!
- Find 4 things you can hear: Maybe it’s the wind rustles the leaves above you? Maybe it’s the sound of the cars on a nearby street. Invite these sounds and smile at the life around you!
- Find 3 things you can feel: The weight of your chair pressed against your bottom. Your right hand gently holding your left one. The way a twig breaks between your fingers. Your hands are endlessly curious; explore with them.
- Find 2 things you can smell: This one may be harder, but the payoff is worth it. A sweetness in the wind can remind you of springtimes long gone. The scent of soft soil is a welcome reminder of the life it holds.
- Find 1 thing you can taste: Your morning tea or coffee could be your accompaniment to your backyard sit.
- Breathing exercises. The breath fuels your heart, the literal provider of your lifeblood. Keeping in touch with your breath (especially in your backyard on a beautiful day!) will help you keep in touch with your heart.
- Breathe in for four counts through your nose, filling your lungs completely. Then exhale through your mouth for eight counts, releasing every bit of air. Focus the totality of your awareness on the base of your nostrils where the air comes in, then on the inside of your lips as the air passes out. It may help you keep your awareness by making ocean noises, breathing loudly. You can also remind yourself “This is my in-breath” then “this is my out-breath.”
- Imagine the origins. Each plant has grown from a seed just as each animal has a mother. Take a stroll around your backyard and imagine the origins of each item you find yourself looking at. This could lead to greater questions and curiosities! The trees have been growing for 40 years; I’m sure they’ll tell you stories if you pay them enough attention.
- Texture photography. Okay, now I’ll ask you to pull out your phone. Find the absolute coolest textures you can find. Nature shows its beauty in its ability to create patterns, like the bark on a tree or the repeating leaves of a fern. Get as close as you can and take pictures of your favorite textures. Then look at each photo with thoughtful intention. What do you see?
Further Reading and Resources
- Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh
- Be Here Now, Ram Dass
- The Art of Noticing, Rob Walker
- How to Be Interesting Chapter 1, Jessica Hagy
- Arlington Yoga Center, Yoga/Meditation Center
- Insight Timer, Meditation App
- Headspace, Meditation App