These are strange times we are living in at the moment. Sudden confinement and social isolation may be very real issues for a number of people over the coming weeks. Many of us, who are used to travelling to our place of work, may now be faced with spending weeks at home, with little or no time outside our homes. These are uncharted waters. However, my personal experience is that taking some time outdoors and also finding ways to connect with others is vitally important for our mental health.
It can be hard to draw yourself away from indoor activities – especially when working or caring for others – and the distinction between home life and work can become blurred very easily when home working. The idea is that by committing to some time each day to step outside (or to the window) there is an opportunity to create a physical and mental break for yourself. It is the perfect antidote to continuous news cycles and time spent hunched over a screen (hopefully that is “hunched” in a metaphorical sense, not a physical sense!)
This is an invitation to spend time connecting with nature and practising some mindfulness. The intention is that investing in time outdoors helps to boost the immune system and lower stress levels. Obviously it is important to following any government guidance if you are going outdoors (for instance, by avoiding contact with others). Fortunately these activities can be done even with just an open window or in your garden or on a balcony. So, where I have said “get outside” or words to that effect, please feel free to adapt this to your circumstances and the latest advice for protecting yourself and others.
You will find below details of a practice and some prompts for making journal entries.
Practice: Weather Station
As a teenager, I spent quite a lot of time helping out on farms. I clearly remember being utterly amazed by the ability of one of the people I worked with to accurately forecast the weather just by observing the clouds and by feel. At the time it seemed like magic, but in fact we have the ability to read the world around us in many ways that we have lost touch with. It is likely that people who invest lots of time outdoors are more connected with their senses and the patterns of nature. One of the wonderful things about building nature connection is that it puts you back in touch with your own “superpowers.”
This activity can be done anywhere (you can even try it indoors). You can stand or sit, but try to find a spot where you will be comfortable and uninterrupted for a few minutes. You might like to close your eyes or lower your gaze if you are in a place where this feels safe.
I always like to start out by taking two or three deep breaths, just to get my focus and signal my intention to do just this one activity and not get caught up thinking about other things.
Then I take a moment to feel the ground supporting my feet on the floor. I notice that I am here in this place, at this unique moment and I start to get a general sense of how it feels to be here right now – I ask “what do I notice in my direct experience (maybe certain sounds or a breeze – whatever happens to be there)?”
Next I start to tune in to the feeling on my skin – maybe I can feel the breeze, so I know how windy it is. I can notice the air temperature. I can also feel the humidity (does the air feel damp or dry)? I might also be able to sense the air pressure – sometimes we can feel a thunderstorm is approaching, for example.
We are practising a skill here, so we might find it hard at first to connect the feelings with the weather, but the first step is to bring an awareness to how it feels, so we can take some time here to notice the feelings on our skin without the analysis – how does our skin feel when it is warm, where on our bodies do we notice the wind the most? This exercise might also tell you whether you are appropriately dressed for the occasion!
If it is raining or snowing, this will be quite obvious and may dominate your senses, but you can sense it in more detail and see what this particular rain or snow feels like, what it sounds like, how warm or cold it is. Not all rain and not all snow is the same – we have different words like “drizzle” or “downpour.” So we can pay closer attention to the rain/snow and notice new things about it. What smells are present? The rain often brings out aromas we are unable to detect when it is dry, like petrichor, which is the smell of the earth after the first rain in a while. If it is snowing you might like to catch some on your hand and take a closer look (with your eyes open).
Listening to the sounds around us, we can become aware of the wind and how it travels – is it everywhere all at once or in different places at different times? How does it make itself known – is it rustling leaves on particular trees or maybe swinging a gate? What is telling you that the wind is blowing? Alternatively, the air may be still. How does that feel? This is a good time to check in with yourself – how does this weather make you feel? Maybe it feels oppressive or perhaps uplifting? Do you feel an urge to head for shelter? You could also notice what you are paying attention to? Are the answers coming from your thoughts or from your felt experience? It is good to just notice this – most of us will get caught up with how we think we should feel or thoughts about what might happen – this is natural. One of the aims of this practice is to try to connect a little more with the felt experience instead of our thoughts about what is or might be here.
Moving on to what you can see – if your eyes have been shut, you can open them and take in the sky – are there any clouds? What are they like? Are they moving? How fast and in what direction? Are there different layers and different types of cloud? What colour are they? Can you see what the weather is doing in the distance? Perhaps there are darker clouds or streaks of rain.
Now you have built up a picture of the weather as it is now, do you have a sense of what it might be like over the next hour? As we draw this practice to a close, it’s nice to reflect on how you feel in relation to the world around you – how connected you feel to your environment compared with the start of our practice.
Daily Nature Connection and Journal
The suggested “prescription” is to get outside (or experience the outside through an open window – this is surprisingly refreshing in the rain) for 5 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunchtime and 5 minutes at night each day. However, you can adapt this to suit your circumstances, but scheduling short but regular breaks is good practice for anyone spending lots of time at a computer.
As to what you might do for your sessions, here are a few suggestions:
Have a go at the weather station practice for a few minutes each day
Get out at sunrise and listen to the dawn chorus, watch the sun come up
Get out at sunset and watch the sun go down, listen to the birds
Watch the moon and stars (on a clear night or possibly the clouds if they are visible)
Notice the smells and sounds at different times of day
What is the weather like?
Can you see the stars tonight?
What phase is the moon in? What colour is the moon? How big is it?
What time is sunrise and sunset?
How do you feel as you are taking this time outdoors?
What signs are there of the season you are in – could you tell the season if you didn’t already know? What nature is about? Are there different animals at different times of day?