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Moving Beyond Observation into Participation

Meditation in Nature

by Mark Coleman

In this mediation you’ll have the opportunity to experience nature with the full range of your being, allowing you to move beyond observation into participation with nature, through practicing deep listening and sensing and through cultivating receptivity.

Begin by finding a quiet place in nature where you can connect with the earth, whether it’s in an open meadow, alongside a quiet stream, on a windy lane through a farmer’s fields, or on a long stretch of sandy beach. At first, just walk around this place in the way you normally might be in nature when you are not being mindful, which might include listening to music on your headphones, thinking about or planning your life, or just looking at your environment casually without much depth or interest. Notice what it feels like in your body to be in a place while only casually connecting to it.

Now remove your shoes and socks and stand, feeling your connection with the ground beneath you. Feel the weight of your body through your feet and toes, and feel the different places of pressure and density on the soles of your feet. Notice if the ground is cool, damp, hard, or yielding. Let your feet sink into connecting with the earth, and pay attention to how it feels in each foot. Begin walking barefoot in the earth, and with each step, feel the tickling grasses warmed in the sun, or the cool, refreshing waters of puddles tingling your skin, or the grainy sand shifting beneath you. After some time of connecting your feet to the earth, reach down and dig your hands into the earth. Feel the texture of the earth in your forgers—is it gritty, muddy, silky, or some other texture? Notice how it smells. Allow yourself to play with the earth, grasses, and stones, as a child might play in a mud puddle or a sand box. Make shapes and figures with the soil, perhaps even rubbing it on your skin. Observe how it feels to engage or participate through the sense of touch, and how that changes your relationship to this place.

Once you feel deeply connected to this land, continue your slow walk, exploring the plant life around you. Try rubbing fragrant bay leaves or lavender or other flowers and leaves in the palm of your hands and inhaling their fragrance. Feel the roughness of the bark of an old tree trunk with your hands, fingers, and arms. Taste some wild berries, feeling the bittersweetness burst onto your tongue, or try some fragrant wild herbs, such as sage, rosemary, or oregano. Notice how using your sense of taste further engages and connects you.

In the same way, sit and open your awareness to sounds, letting your mind expand to the furthest sound, so your attention is receptive and open. You don’t need to search for sounds; simply receive what comes and observe what happens when you open yourself in this way. Similarly, take some time to absorb this place with your eyes—not looking for anything in particular, just allowing whatever you see to touch you, letting yourself become engaged with whatever draws your attention.

Then take some time to sit quietly under a tree or bask in warm sunlight. Let your senses drift open and outward. Breathe through every pore of your skin and soak up the ambience, the cadence, and the spirit of this place. Notice if anything gets communicated to you here through words, images, or intuition; for instance, you may get a sudden sense that it’s okay to let go of whatever is burdening you, or a realization that whatever problem you have is not actually a problem once you fully come into the moment. Try to drop below the ordinary level of observing, in which you hope to have a specific experience, and simply “sense” into being here without an agenda. Feel into the fact that you are a part of this living, breathing ecosystem, even if you can only sense this truth for moments at a time.

While you are feeling open in this place, be aware that you are in relationship with all kinds of life forms—whether that includes the grasses and insects around where you lay, or the birds above you in the treetops, or all the other animals that sense your presence but remain invisible. As you feel, engage, and participate in a relationship with this place, be aware of any shifts in your body. your breath, your heart, and your mind. When you get closer to the sensual experience of participating, when you are not removed or just looking at nature from a distance, be mindful of a simple joy or sense of aliveness that may come with this intimate contact. Notice how it can deepen your sense of connectedness, intimacy, and interest.

© Mark Coleman from the book Awake in the Wild, 2006, New World Library
Please do not distribute without consent of the author