Tongass National Forest, Alaska, United States | Photograph: Wikipedia
Forests are our lifeline, for people and the planet. They are the lungs of Mother Earth. “They generate the oxygen we breathe, provide water to quench our thirst and livelihoods to some 1.6 billion people worldwide,” reports, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “Forests play a critical role for a healthy climate, and ultimately, for our survival.”
Plants and trees are a wonderful example of stillness. Physically, they’re centered in one location, immobile. They grow roots and learn to adapt to the environment around them. Intrinsically, they adjust and learn to thrive contingent on the resources available. They’re a metaphor for how we’re living our lives presently, in the Pandemic.
Stillness is nature’s best virtue. There is no better way to learn stillness but from nature itself. Staying still, paying attention to the unseen and unnoticed, listening to the sounds of nature, breathing the fresh air, it calms the mind and brings you in a state of tranquility and ultimately distresses the physical body. Joseph Cornell Founder and President of Sharing Nature Worldwide says, “Nature intensifies perception.” “The greater one’s calmness the more one feels connected to the environment.”
Human mind a wanderer
But unfortunately human mind is a wanderer. Psychologists suggest that a human mind generates about three hundred self-talk thoughts per minute. A study by two Harvard researchers, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, in 2010 discovered that 47 percent of the time adults think about something other than what they’re doing. In a simple but effective exercise Joseph Cornell asked a group of twenty-five educators in Canberra, Australia to focus on a beautiful tree as long as they were able to, and to raise a hand when their attention wandered from the tree to other thoughts. After six seconds, every hand was raised. The educators were amazed to see how restless their minds were.
“Over the coming century, the most vital human resource in need of conservation and protection is likely to be our own consciousness and mental space,” says, Tim Wu in his 2016 book The Attention Merchants.
As we continue to adjust to the new normal, life does feel cluttered and our minds a wandering battle field. We are spending more time on social media than ever before. With lesser human interactions and prolonged isolation the need to find solace in nature has never been so urgent and important.
Ironically, there is a silver lining to the situation. This is our chance to live a slower and more contained life. In many ways, we’re learning to be more still. To live in the here and now, in the moment. And to really enjoy the simple things in life.
Stillness is an opportunity to find sanctuary in a sea of change. A chance to discover new perspectives and get a respite from the race that was life before.
And there’s no better way to understand stillness than learning from nature itself. Spending time in nature is a chance to connect with its stillness. Human beings are inherently wired to connect with nature. A concept called biophilia, our undying love for the natural world.
When we spend time being still, we calm the noise in our mind and that, in turn, relaxes the body. Spending time being still helps relieve mental fatigue and thus reduces stress on the physical self.
Here are five ways to help you experience stillness in the company of nature:
Regional Parks Botanical Gardens, Berkeley, United States | Photograph: Unsplash
1. Forest Bathing: Stand still under a larger than life tree in the forest. Look up at the lush green branches and around you at the vast natural space. Notice how the sunlight filters through the dense trees, moving in dappled pattern on the ground before you. Feel the mixture of soil, dry leaves, fallen branches and green moss under your feet. Fill your lungs with the cool fresh air and feel your body and mind relaxing with each breath. Research shows inhaling nature’s aromas, released by the phytoncides in the trees, gives us a sense of openness and renewed energy. In the stillness you’re able to connect with nature at a deeper, spiritual level. As your thoughts slow down, you find yourself in a state of tranquility and quietude.
Touch the leaves of flowers, bushes, and tree trunks. In that moment of stillness you connect with nature both literally, and physically. The flow of energy between you and the plant creates a harmonious connection that’s grounding. This healing energy makes you feel balanced, centered, and strong- providing mental, emotional and emphatic clarity. You discover nature’s rhythm becomes your rhythm, slow, steady and still.
Sunset | Photograph: unsplash
2. Watching the sunset: Stand barefoot on grass, focus your gaze on the horizon, and watch the sunset. As you stand still, observe the myriad sunset colors brushed against the sky. Fill your lungs with the evening breeze and as you exhale feel your mind coming to a place of calm and serenity. As you connect with nature’s rhythm it allows you to regulate your nervous system more easily and access your parasympathetic nervous system. Holistic coach, Jade Dinsdale quotes, “It is much easier to access inner stillness when you are watching the natural rhythms outside.” Watching the sunset makes you happy. Research shows that sungazing, or watching the sun during dusk or dawn, cheers the brain on by releasing serotonin.
As you watch the sunset you allow yourself to connect with the natural light. It in turn helps you meditate in peace, allowing you to connect with your inner-self and with the natural surroundings. Notice the stillness around you at dusk. How calm the trees and plants are, birds ready to rest until dawn arrives. It’s time for you to wind down your mind and have a restful sleep to take on tomorrow refreshed and wise.
Silhouette of a woman meditating at Manhattan beach, United States | Photograph: unsplash
3. Meditate on the beach: Summer days are beach days. NBC news reports, “Staring at the ocean actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state.” Furthermore, “The color blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm and peace,” says, Richard Shuster, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist and host of The Daily Helping Podcast. “A study published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal found blue is associated with a boost of creativity.”
Find your spot on the beach. Sit comfortably with your gaze at the blue ocean. Rest your hands on your side and feel the warm sand. Focus on your breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply while you let any distractions in your head float away. Listen in all directions, focusing on the chirping of the seagulls and the sea breeze blowing past your ears. Discover new sounds in this stillness that you weren’t aware of before.
As your mind comes to a state of tranquility imagine the still, calm ocean water underneath the crashing waves ebbing and flowing. Now imagine your mind as the calm ocean water underneath the crashing waves, unaffected by its surroundings. Feel the peace and clarity of your thoughts in that moment. As you breathe the ocean breez you feel an instant discharge of unwanted energies. Being still rejuvenates your field of energy giving your life a sense of meaning and purpose.
Flowers glow under the sunlight | Photograph: unsplash
4. Find stillness in your home garden: Sometimes one doesn’t have to go too far to experience stillness. It can be found in your backyard or in your garden. “Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillnes,” says, Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and best-selling author.
Choose your favorite plant and observe its details. Research shows when you focus in on something, you become mindful in the moment. You become present and see only what’s in front of you, which clears all distractions in your head. Being still with a plant allows you to discover the intricacies of its being in a moment of time. It’s a chance to gain new perspectives and find things you may have in common. You might notice or discover new aspects of the plant. This in turn will make you feel happy and joy.
Lie down on the ground and stare up at a tree. Focus your gaze on the patterns in the leaves and branches. These are fractals in nature that humans are drawn to, and looking at them has been scientifically proven to relax us. In fact, it’s been found that looking at them can reduce our stress by as much as 60%.
Research shows spending time in nature reduces our stress levels significantly. It not only alters our mood making us feel happy and positive but also improves the working of our nervous system, endocrine and immune response.
A person looking up at the trees in a forest in Alabama | Photograph: Blake Cheek, unsplash
5. Find stillness in motion: Sometimes, one finds stillness in movement rather than in presumably reduced activity. Research shows walking is a non frenzied motion, and most times it’s unconscious. It’s repetitive, ritualized, and deliberate. Often, bringing peace to the self.
Choose a natural surrounding for your walk. As you walk, be present and open to the experience. Observe your environment: the path you’re walking, feel the ground pressing under your feet. Notice the natural light, the blue sky, the green trees, or perhaps the colorful flowers. In summer, you’ll find honeybees and migratory butterflies whizzing around them. Smell the lingering sents in the air. Listen to the sound of the wind in the leaves, or the cars passing. Make eye contact with and greet others you meet on your walk.
* Be mindful, bring awareness to the repetitive, ritualized motion of your footsteps.
* Tune into your breath. Repeat a positive affirmation or mantra.
* Go slow. Get lost. Be unreachable.
When you feel the tug of your responsibilities or the desire to check in with the outside world, push yourself a bit further.
Walking is an affordable luxury available to us all. It’s not about burning calories or getting the heart rate up. It’s just an embodiment of the concepts of presence, of detachment, of emptying the mind, of slowing down, noticing, and appreciating the beauty of the world around you.
Choose your path wisely, befriend nature to instill stillness in your everyday life. It’s the best path towards a sound body and mind that inturn will help you live a positive and fulfilling life.
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