Our human nature and modern culture can be very useful in getting things done, but how do we balance this with a more mindful approach. Here are some things I have learned from nature. Many of these are about mindfulness, but some are about a wider way of living.
1. Living in the moment
I live in a beautiful part of the world where deer are close neighbours. We share our space with dog walkers and, whilst these deer are usually not too bothered by humans, they are often very nervous of dogs and with some justification. Occasionally a dog will chase the deer.
If you cast your mind to a time when you had a fright, I am going to guess that you may have reacted in any of a number of different ways, however afterwards the chances are that you talked to someone about it or at least turned it over in your mind and maybe thought about all sorts of things that could have happened and you may have continued to experience anxiety about the situation every time you revisited it in your head for some time.
What I noticed with the deer was that they would run from the dog, clearly very frightened, but when the danger had gone, they would go back to eating again as though nothing had happened. Their survival is very much dependent on them being aware of what is going on around them – tuned to their senses rather than lost in thought.
There is nothing wrong with our amazing ability to analyse and learn, but very often we spend almost all of our time in this state and this can lead to issues like chronic stress.
2. Acceptance of change
Whether it is the changing seasons or the cycles of life and death, nature shows us that nothing is permanent. There is beauty in every stage if we choose to find it, but if we resist the change and hold onto regrets about how things used to be, it can be a very painful experience indeed. Life itself depends on these changes and cycles. If a deciduous tree held on to its dead leaves, the whole tree would die in the cold winter and no new leaves could grow in the spring.
3. Slow down and pay attention sometimes
Timescales in nature are generally much slower. Changes happen slowly and systems have time to adapt. A seed or bulb planted many months or sometimes even years ago will emerge at just the right moment, no sooner, no later. We often live our lives rushing from one engagement or experience to the next without savouring our present moment experience or giving ourselves time to take stock. Very often we do not make conscious decisions purely because we are not checking in with ourselves – we are living huge portions of our lives on autopilot.
4. Life’s more interesting when progress is not always a straight path
Enjoy the journey, don’t get caught up on getting to the destination in the shortest time possible. The lessons along the way are far more valuable than a single intended outcome.
Maybe this should be “don’t dismiss the river because you want to get to the ocean.”
5. Playful curiosity
It doesn’t all have to be serious and goal-driven. In fact, this can be counter-productive. By allowing an attitude of playful curiosity we can allow things to be as they are so we can truly see them and learn from them, rather than changing our perception with a pre-formed sense or idea of what will emerge.
Many of the things we see as imperfections are what Nature might call variations and those same variations are why the Earth is populated with such a diverse range of species. Without imperfections, there would be no humans or other animals. Some imperfections are part of life’s journey. A favourite oak tree near me was struck by lightning. You can still see the scar running down the length of the trunk, but this gives the tree its character and just makes it all the more impressive.
Obviously I cannot exactly read the minds of horses or cats or dogs, but I am willing to venture that they care not one jot how much money is in your bank account, whether you have designer clothes on or how well you did academically. They don’t care if you are the Queen of England, cats will treat you with the same contempt regardless! Half-jokes aside, nature doesn’t judge. Lightning, earthquakes, floods – none of them care how good a person you have been or how old you are if you are in their path.
8. Everything has a role
In nature everything is interconnected and provides a function for other organisms. Whether it is a predator controlling population size or decomposers recycling dead plants and animals so that new life can begin, everything fits together. There is also no sense of waste in the natural environment – things get recycled and re-used. This fits with lesson 9.
9. Not taking more than you need
I am not aware of obesity in nature except in humans and our domesticated animals. When things get out of balance in nature, it generally cycles back the next year. There is a clear sense that excess leads to disease and unhealthy populations.