Nature and mindfulness

An old friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page yesterday:

“When is the last time you listened to the earth and where were you? By this I mean physically attending to the sounds of nature without human/mechanical disruption.”

If this is not the kind of post you expect from your Facebook friends, let me give you some context here.

Zach is a pastor. For my regular readers, don’t jump to conclusions based on his occupation. He’s a thoughtful, compassionate person and we are consistently on the same side of most political issues. So, even though he has an underlying theological motive, we share a lot of the same humanistic goals.

And as you can see from the above post, Zach doesn’t post platitudes. He’s not the pastor who says silly, banal things like, “God’s got your back,” or “When it makes sense, God’s in control. When it doesn’t make sense, God’s in control.” Those pastors are far more popular. (Sorry Zach, but it’s true). They cater to what I might characterize as the lowest common denominator congregation; those folks in the pews looking for some kind of divine security blanket, who don’t really want to think too much.

Although I bet he’d take issue with some of these descriptions, Zach is more of a thinking person’s pastor. Which brings me back to Exhibit A, his Facebook post.

And mindfulness.

I tried to answer his question honestly and the best I could come up with was an admission of just how difficult it is to do what he was asking. “Attending to the sounds of nature” is a very challenging task. I love listening to nature when I run the trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park or when I meditate outside, but if I’m honest, it takes mere seconds before I find myself completely lost in thought.

This is not an admission of failure. In fact, this is the very essence of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the realization that the mind is a teeming, swirling, cacophony of thoughts, fears, worries, and emotions. The moment you come to terms with this realization, you begin to loosen the stranglehold these thoughts and emotions have on how you feel in the present moment.

If you don’t believe me, try it the next time you’re walking in nature trying to be attentive to a bird’s song or to the wind in the trees or to sounds of waves softly breaking on the beach. Notice the sound, but also pay attention to your thoughts. Are you suddenly thinking about work? Or bills? Or your kids? Or your spouse? If so, that’s perfectly normal. That’s how our minds work.

But just the simple act of noticing that you’re lost in thought, allows you to turn your attention back to that beautiful sound in nature. Mindfulness gives you the assurance that your place in the universe at that present moment, is right where you are. Despite where your worries are trying to take you, reality is you attending to that sound in nature.

Congratulations, you’re practicing mindfulness.

Thanks to Rev. Zack, for the wonderful prompt. For more of Zach’s musings, his blog is here.




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