Day 2 Breathing with Trees Nature connection is not just about your outer experience. It is also about recognising that you are nature through your inner experience – both within your body and through your consciousness.
Breathing is the most fundamental process of nature which occurs within our bodies – from the instant we take our first breath and every moment of our lives afterwards. It is part of a whole host of processes – electrical signals from the brain and the movement of muscles, which feed into all sorts of activity within your body, through your blood and heart to virtually every cell. You do not need to understand it or control it – it is all taken care of for you.
It also connects you with the outer world. So the invitation today is to breathe with a tree – it can be standing next to a tree or plant or by simply visualising a tree or plant (or the ocean plankton if that has more meaning for you – you can even experiment with this and see how it is to connect with each – real tree vs visualised tree and land plants vs plankton)! Every breath you take in contains oxygen, provided by trees, plants and plankton in the ocean. Every time you exhale, you breathe out carbon dioxide, which the trees and plankton need to complete their cycle of photosynthesis.
As you breathe in, connect with the sensations of the breath – perhaps visualising drawing the gift of oxygen from nature into your body and spreading to every cell. As you breathe out, noticing again the sensations of the body and perhaps imagining it as a gift back to the tree (or other life form that you are connecting with). The video for today’s practice is here
Day 3 Radio Dials
For this practice we will use a visualisation. The idea is to imagine a radio with two dials – one corresponding to your mind and thoughts and the other dial corresponding to your senses (you could notice sounds, your bodily sensations etc). In any given moment, you have a choice of what you tune into. Thoughts will come and go just as sounds and other sensations come and go – you have no control over either of these, but you do have control over where you are focusing your attention moment by moment. The practice can be done anywhere and might even be useful during your daily life – just checking in and asking yourself which dial is turned up and which is in the background. This is absolutely not about fighting with your thoughts and trying to get the mind dial down to zero! If you have ever tried this, you may well find that it has the opposite effect as one set of thoughts appears to fight another. It is more a case of allowing the thoughts to be there but to see if you can allow them to drift more to the background in your attention. If the thoughts are quite persistent and dominating, don’t worry about this – just notice it and see if you can accept it as the way things are in this moment. You are not doing it wrong if your thoughts are noisy. It’s really useful to just observe what happens over time – does it become easier to focus on the senses if you just allow the mental noise to be there? The video for this practice is here.
Day 4 The Compass
This activity builds on noticing the senses and on connecting with your local patch. You will need to find a space where you can stand and turn in a circle (ideally with your eyes closed – but you can lower your gaze or take a soft focus if this feels safer). Starting facing in one direction bring your awareness to what you can hear, to the air temperature, the lighting, the wind direction – what do your senses tell you about this direction? You can also check in with the character or quality – what feeling do you get from this direction? You could also ask yourself “if it had a personality, what would that be?” Then simply turn through 90 degrees and explore the next direction in the same way, slowly repeating the process until you have turned to each direction. At the end, if your eyes have been closed, you might like to take in the view to see how this compares with your felt experience. This practice is an opportunity to connect with the part of yourself which is more intuitive. Other animals live by this way of processing the world (through their senses and instincts) so it is a beautiful to connect with this side of our nature and with the rest of the animal kingdom. Modern society can be rather dismissive of gut reaction or intuition, but it is incredibly useful – helping with navigation, staying safe and living by our values. The video for today’s practice is here.
Day 5 Bat Ears
This one is very simple and lots of fun. It is a good one to do with children. It involves carefully listening by cupping your hands behind your ears to make them like a bat’s. The invitation is to experiment with this and see what you can here. You can combine it with the compass practice from yesterday to detect the sounds from every direction. You can also experiment with moving your hands slightly away and back again and see what changes. Then, if you were like, you can imagine what it would be like to be a bat, finding your way around the world by echolocation. By imagining for a moment that you are a bat (or another animal with sensitive hearing that you are perhaps familiar with) can you get a sense of what it might be like to live this way? Possibly one to imagine rather than try, but could you find your way around trees and obstacles with just your senses without your vision? The video for today’s practice is here.
Day 6 The Weather Station Part 1
The inspiration for today’s practice came from working with people who spent most of their time outdoors. I was amazed by their ability to read the clues and signs of the world around them, predicting the weather with incredible accuracy. It turns out that most of us have this ability, but we have lost our connection to our senses and the world around us. The good news is that we can rediscover it. So, the idea for today is to tune in to your body and your senses (possibly more than the 5 common ones – it might even be interesting to explore what senses you use and whether you find new ones you did not know about). It is always a good idea to start with a few moments just arriving -letting go of to-do lists etc and bringing your awareness to your breath and your body – possibly just noticing the stillness in your body for a minute or two. Then, I like to tune in to the sensations on my body of the air temperature, noticing if it feels the same everywhere or if different parts of the body feel warmer or cooler. You could then notice if there is any movement of the air around you and whether this is changeable. Are you able to detect the humidity of the air? Perhaps it is raining – if so, you might like to take note of any judgement and feelings you have around this and possibly experiment with releasing the judgements, just seeing how rain is before you attach any labels or thoughts about it. There are lots of different types of rain, so perhaps you could explore what kind of rain it is and any sounds or other effects it makes (bubbles and ripples in the puddles perhaps). Next you might notice the quality of the light. Are you able to tell what time of day it is? Finally, noticing any clouds. What are these like? Are they moving? What do you think the weather will be like in the next hour or the next day? The video for this practice is here.
Day 7 Tree Connection
I was first inspired to do this practice after I leant against a large conifer to cool down after a run. I noticed that I felt supported by the tree and got curious about this. More recently, during lockdown, I would lean against a tree in the garden and share (mentally) that I was finding things hard. It really helped to feel held, accepted and supported at a time I couldn’t be with loved ones. So you may like to try this for yourself. Another approach is to perhaps take a woodland walk and ask yourself “if this tree had a character or personality, what would it be?” Then just allow the answers to come from your felt experience. It is a genuinely lovely way to connect with nature. The video is here.
Day 8 Fox Walk
This is a variation of mindful walking. Starting from standing, bring your attention to your feet on the floor. Before you take the first step, notice which foot you are inclined to put forwards first. You can either move this foot or the other one for a change of habit, but do so very slowly and mindfully, noticing which part of your foot touches the ground first and how the weight is distributed through each foot as you move. Notice the muscles and any micro-adjustments that your body makes to keep your balance. Experiment with this and the sensations of walking for a bit. When you are ready, you are invited to imagine that you are a fox (or you could choose another appropriate animal). The fox often needs to move stealthily, very much in tune with the environment and using all available senses, but moving in a way so as not to be detected. This involves feeling with the feet and moving carefully to avoid snapping twigs, rustling leaves and making any sudden, jerky movements. How does it feel to embody the characteristics of a fox? The video is here.
Day 9 Touch and Textures
Today is about exploring with your hands and eyes. Simply feel different textures – really paying attention to the sensations in your hands rather than analysing. Perhaps there is an emotional quality associated with the texture – warm and inviting, bold, protective etc. Obviously not all textures like to be touched – stinging nettles for example so be careful not to touch anything that might be an irritant. However you can explore these textures using your eyes to look and see what they might feel like. The video is here.
Day 10 Tree Symphony
Trees are like musical instruments, played by the wind. Each tree has its own characteristic sound – the beech tree is different from the aspen and so on. Trees also sound different depending on the landscape and how they are spaced. So today’s invitation is to explore this for yourself, whether you can find a single tree or a whole woodland – just get curious with the sounds. The video is here.
Day 11 Lark or Owl?
The purpose of today’s practice is to introduce you to two magical times of day for nature connection. You can choose to get out at dawn or dusk or both. Hopefully you will be able to see the sunrise or sunset, but it’s still great even when you can’t. Notice the scents, sounds and general feel. Somehow connection at these times of day seems easier to me – possibly it is quieter and more like the experience of our ancestors. The video is here.
Day 12 Sky Watching
Looking at the sky can be very therapeutic. You are invited to watch the clouds, the stars, birds, insects or other airborne nature! If it’s appropriate, you might like to lie on the ground on your back and look up (you may need something waterproof underneath you and a blanket to make this feasible). It is lovely to feel the earth beneath you and the sky above and you get a very different perspective from the one you might normally have. It is, of course, fine to do this standing or sitting too. The video is here.
Day 13 Scent Hunt
This is a bit like a scavenger hunt but without the list. The idea is to get out and find as many different scents as you can. You can go for scents you know to find – e.g. herbs etc. as well as exploring whether other things have a smell that perhaps you hadn’t noticed before. The video is here.
Day 14 Getting Creative
You can really have fun with today’s practice. It’s a great one to involve kids in too. I like to keep a journal and have made pictures in it from natural materials – mud, leaves etc. How you get creative is entirely up to you – you can draw, paint, write, sing, dance – whatever inspires you. Simply notice the beauty and allow yourself to be moved to create. It really doesn’t matter whether you think your finished creation is worthy of public display – this is not about creating something technically brilliant, but it would be lovely to see/hear your creations nonetheless. The video is here.
Day 15 Looking Closely
Today’s practice is just about looking at things in nature very closely – you can even do this indoors with a pot plant or pine cone, for example. Using the idea we introduced at the start of the challenge of Beginner’s Brain, can you look at your object as though you had never seen it before? What patterns or textures, colours, reflections etc can you see? You might even like to get close to the ground and look amongst the grass and plants as though you were a small animal. Explore in a way that is new to you. The video is here.
Day 16 Giving Back
This is a particularly powerful form of nature connection. In short, it is about doing something for nature. This could be anything from simply expressing gratitude through to litter-picking or feeding the birds or hedgehogs (carefully chosen non-harmful food, of course)! Every time I spend time outdoors, I like to wish the plants, birds, people etc. well – simply thinking thoughts like “may you thrive, may you be healthy, may you have everything you need.” What amazes me is the sense that I am bathing in those same sentiments – I seem to benefit as much from them as their intended recipients. Experiment with it – it may be a little different to what you are used to or you may recognise it as a loving kindness practice. The video is here.
Day 17 Birdwatching
Very simply, watching or listening for birds – see what new things you can notice even with very familiar feathered visitors. This is one you can do from a window if you wish. The video is here.
Day 18 Weather Station Part 2
Today we revisit the practice from day 6, but this time as you are using your body to sense the weather, seeing if you can get a sense of what season of the year it feels like. You could possibly explore other questions too – whatever you are inspired to work with. The video is here.
Day 19 Connecting with the Earth
Today is a grounding practice – literally! This is about noticing the sensations in your body of the points of contact with the Earth (or the surface you are resting on) and also the emotional quality of this connection. The video for this is here.
Day 20 Enquiry
You may have noticed during the course of the past 20 days that I like to drop questions while outdoors and have the answers come from my felt experience (i.e. not from logic or knowledge from my mind). Sometimes it will be around something specific like “what season does this feel like?” but at other times it might be more general. Recently I guided a woodland walk and we started the walk with our enquiry questions – each stating the question that we could like answered. We had things like “Can the woodland help me to feel better?” and “What is my lesson for today?” Other questions can include more philosophical topics (e.g. “who am I?”) or more practical things (e.g. “what are trees like at this time of year?”) It is entirely up to you to explore. The trick is to put the question out there and practice deep listening using the skills we have built so far – tuning in to your senses and to the places beyond your thoughts. Then just see where it takes you. There are different levels of engaging with this – either as a spiritual practice if you are up for exploring that or simply using the time outdoors to operate in the default mode of our brains (where we can access creativity etc.) and give the executive mode (the logical, analysing bit) a break. The video for this is here.
Day 21 You As Nature
Today is about exploring the many examples that show that we are also nature. You might choose to focus on the breath as we did earlier in the challenge or to notice your pulse or the sensations in your body (perhaps tingling or heat or a sense of energy in your hand, for example). Alternatively you might use the elements we introduced before of Beginner’s Brain or looking closely – perhaps to look at your fingerprints or other patterns on your skin, noticing the unique physical attributes encoded in your DNA. The video for this is here.
Day 22 Meaning from Nature
Finding meaning in nature often happens by accident. However, you can explore folktales, cultural or spiritual beliefs or contemplate the stars – possibly even some of the stories around some of the constellations or thinking about how it takes so long for the light from stars to travel to you that you are seeing back into the past – sometimes even looking at objects in the sky that have since changed or disappeared altogether. Other times you might simply be with nature and just see what arises. Metaphor, analogy and lessons from nature pop up when you least expect them. The video is here
and includes an example of a lesson I learned from observing deer. The video was shot on a cloudy night – you don’t have to wait for a sunny day for nature connection. Nighttime has its own magic to offer!
Day 23 Nature Poems/Songs/Stories
Back to getting creative today. Once again, this is about connecting with something in nature and allowing yourself to be inspired to write a few words. You might like to write something humorous or not – you could write a story about the constellations in the night sky or a poem about a particular animal. I wrote a poem about a tree – it really doesn’t need to be technically brilliant – the key thing here is the connection. The video is here.
The Tree Beneath the Leaves
Standing here bare, unafraid
Accepting of the winter days
Take me in my current state
A resting place for crow’s announcements
Grieve not for what has gone
Not swift nor swallow nor autumn’s fire
Proudly set against the greys
Rejoicing in my silent dance
Here I’ll stay, while all things change
Singing to your hopeful heart.
Day 24 Compassion Today’s practice builds on the one from day 16. It is also known as loving kindness. It is very simple – you just send heartfelt well wishes. Most often people do this by bringing to mind the being (a tree, animal or the whole planet, for example) that you want to send compassionate wishes to. Then they would think of a series of sentiments like “may you be well, may you be healthy, may you have all you need, may we live in harmony together.” It works really well if you can visualise those gifts travelling from you to your intended recipient. Some people imagine this as balls of light. The really key thing here is the connection with nature and with the feelings of compassion. You can also include yourself – sending well wishes to yourself. I like to also express gratitude as part of this practice. The video for this is here.
Day 25 Emotional Connection Arguably, all connection happens from our hearts. Today’s practice can actually be done indoors if you prefer. The suggestion is to call to mind an encounter with nature that had an emotional impact on you. It might be a sense of awe or wonder from visiting the mountains or watching the ocean. It may be something more specific, like the time I encountered a stag in the forest and, although we were quite a long way apart, there was a moment where we were just frozen in time looking at each other. Time stood still and I felt deeply seen and connected with this beautiful animal. It really doesn’t have to be a particularly extraordinary event. The other possibility is to go for a walk in nature and just notice your emotions as you walk. You may also notice lots of mental chatter, which draws in feelings from past or future events. This is completely normal, but see if you can dial up the experience of the present moment as we did in the Radio Dials practice. The video for today is here.
Day 27 Tree Visualisation
As with a number of these practices, this one can be done indoors. In fact, it is a particularly nice one to do when you have limited outdoors access. Simply bring to mind a tree – possibly one you are familiar with, but it can be a tree entirely from your imagination. I like to do this imagining that I am the tree and, starting with the roots, noticing the sensations in my body as though I was a tree. So first noticing the connection with the ground. Trees are connected to one another by mycelial networks, where they can communicate and pass food to other trees over surprisingly large distances. So you might like to explore any sense of being connected through the earth in this way. Then moving to the trunk of the tree, where there is a stillness and strength but also all the life processes taking place, much like in your own body with breathing and digestion etc. Then moving to the branches and leaves where there may be more movement. I look on the comings and goings of animals and the wind as being like the mental chatter. The tree is still there, accepting underneath as all these events arise. The video for this is here.
Day 29 Putting It All Together
We are nearing the end of the challenge so today we are looking at how to put the things that you have learned together. Nature connection is not linear. Although we cannot truly multitask, in any moment it is likely that there are many different layers of experience present – there will be sounds, sights, maybe some thoughts or emotions. We introduced the radio dials where you can choose to tune in more to your senses than your thoughts, but this tool can be used for all of your experiences – so you can allow visual elements to drift to the background and focus more on the sounds, for example. This can take a little practice because vision tends to be such a dominant sense. It can be interesting to get curious about this and notice what your tendency is. You can choose which of the practices we have explored you would like to put together. An example was when we put the bat ears practice together with the compass exercise. You could also put the creative activities together with any of the practices – maybe drawing from your visualisation in the ocean breath or tree visualisation days. The video for this is here.