If you have not already done so, start by reading the introduction to the course here.
This week we will:
- Take the first few steps in mindfulness
- Sow the seeds (physical and metaphorical) that we will try to grow over the next 4 weeks
- Optionally start a journal and daily nature connection practice
Why Practice Nature Connection
There are a growing number of studies that show that nature connection can have a host of benefits including:
- Improved physical health e.g. reduced hypertension
- Improved mental health e.g. reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved recovery from illness
- Increased goodwill towards others
- Improved concentration and creativity
What Constitutes Nature Connection?
A great deal of research has been done at the University of Derby. There is a blog and lots of interesting information and details of the research
In particular, they have identified five “pathways to nature connectedness.” These align very closely with the practices and activities in this course and with other suggested resources. The five pathways are:
More in-depth descriptions of these are given in the Finding Nature blog
Activity 1: Sowing the seeds
This activity has two elements to it – a practical element, which is about tending to a plant and observing it over the coming weeks, and also a contemplative element, which is about setting an intention for the course.
You will need to choose either:
- Suitable seeds for the time of year, the space you have available, your gardening skill level and general environment (kitchen herbs can be an ideal choice)
- Some suitable compost for growing your seed
- Suitable pots for your seeds and for later when they grow
Or, if this really is not an option for your situation
- A pot plant (cut flowers can also work if there is no alternative)
You will need to consult the instructions for growing your seeds or pot plant and make sure that you have considered how big they will grow, what level of sunlight and water and general care they will need and whether they can be grown indoors or if they need an outdoor space. It is strongly recommended that you choose a plant that you like!
When you have your seeds or pot plant, take a moment to consider it. You may be looking at seeds and some compost or at a full-grown plant, but just take a moment to inspect and appreciate them and the soil that they will grow in, which will provide them with essential nutrients and support. Looking really closely, what do you notice about them? What are the textures like? What size are they? Are they hard or soft? Dry? Shiny? What colours can you see? Also notice any smells – how would you describe these? If your plant is safe to touch (hopefully it is, but some plants can irritate the skin, so please do check), maybe examine what your plant or seed feels like. You may need to be very gentle to avoid damaging delicate seeds or leaves. What do you notice about this? How does it feel to be taking this time to explore your plant? Are you able to commit to looking after your plant and watering it and ensuring it has all it needs? Take a moment to really feel that as a promise to your plant (you could even go as far as saying something in your head or out loud to your plant if you wanted).
Once you have completed the practical part, it is time to reflect a little.
As well as sowing physical seeds, we are at the start of our course and planting metaphorical seeds. Maybe we do not know exactly what we will be growing over the next few weeks and it will be slightly different for each of us, based on our own unique experiences. However, we will need to gift ourselves a bit of time and care too – maybe setting up a space to do the practices and time in our days. What do you think you will need for this course (e.g. some quiet time to yourself, a dedicated space (maybe near a window), somewhere comfortable to sit etc). Again, it is worth taking a moment to confirm your commitment and consider what attitude and approach you want to take – maybe some kindness to yourself and patience (accepting that it might be challenging at times or that you may feel you have not done things “perfectly” – please do not worry about this – there is no perfect way to do this). You might possibly want to commit to giving it your full attention (removing any distractions e.g. phone notifications). You might also like to think about any possible obstacles you might encounter (family interruptions, being short of time etc) and how you could avoid them or overcome them.
Suggested journal or Facebook share: You are invited to write a few words about your experience of the seed/pot plant activity – maybe answering a few of the questions about what you noticed or generally reflecting on what it is like to notice your plant or seeds in this kind of detail. Is it different to the way you would normally do this kind of thing? You can also write about the metaphorical seed sowing and what you felt, what you identified as challenges and what your intention may be for the coming weeks.
Mindful Practice for week 1
There is an introduction video to the mindful practices here.
You are invited to do try this each day if you would like. The practice is available as a YouTube video. This session introduces you to the mindfulness of breath practice. The breath is a reminder that we are nature – we are not separate from nature. The processes that go on in our bodies are incredible and take care of us without us having to even think about them. So in observing the breath, we are witnessing nature in action. Do not worry if you mind wanders – this is completely normal. When you spot that you are no longer focusing on the breath, just bring your attention back in a kind way. I have explained a bit more about this in the next section.
Thoughts and butterflies analogy
Mindfulness is not about getting rid of thoughts. You may have noticed that your mind is quite active and easily distracted. This is perfectly normal. The idea is to notice that this is happening and gently return your attention to the exercise. This business of your mind wandering and you bringing it back in a way that is kind to yourself (i.e. not critical or frustrated) is very much a key part of becoming more mindful. I like to think of it like watching flowers being visited by butterflies. When we are focused, this is like a butterfly coming to rest on a flower while we watch it. The butterfly is our mind – we are asking our mind to rest on just one focus, but we are not trying to control it – we just gently invite our mind (butterfly) to come back to the thing we are paying attention to. Every so often the butterfly flutters off (the mind wanders). We might be tempted to chase after it or forget that our intention is to watch the flower – this is like us getting caught up in our thoughts or possibly even fighting with our mind, trying to stop thoughts occurring. However, in mindfulness what we want to do is to just gently come back to watching the flowers.
Facebook share or journal: As for the seed activity, you are invited to share your experiences of the breathing practice in your journal or in the Facebook group. What did you notice during the practice? Did your mind wander? How often? You might find that there was something you liked or did not like or that you felt bored. This is all perfectly fine and it is OK not to like parts of the practice or to feel bored or impatient. Your mind may well want to be busy with other things and it is worth noting this and treating this time as an opportunity to get to know your mind better and how it operates.
Do try to practice a little every day for this week and see how things develop over the week.