Connecting with how you feel in nature is a powerful part of nature connection. It is very simple, but possibly not easy if you are not used to getting in touch with your emotions. However, I believe it offers a safe space to build the capacity to do this – we are not talking about getting in touch with difficult feelings about the past or anxiety about the future in this activity.
This is about the feelings that arise from the nature around us. It is worth noting that they may not always be pleasant feelings. This is important, because it gives us the chance to practice acceptance with relatively low level discomfort, which we might then be able to apply to bigger things with practice. As always, it is important to be self-compassionate. If you are having a tough time with emotions, consider what you need and whether this activity is right for you right now. I find that just walking and allowing is really helpful when things are mentally turbulent. I do not get too deeply involved in exploring the emotions at these times. I just walk as though I was with a friend, just listening and not trying to fix, knowing that it will pass and that a sympathetic ear can work wonders.
So, what is the practice? The basic idea is that when you next take a walk in nature, check in with how you feel at various points along your journey. It can be really reinforce the experience to journal or draw the emotions map after the walk.
The main trick to this is not to overthink it! In fact, thinking, trying or striving are unhelpful here. Thoughts may arise and that is absolutely normal and not a problem, but we are not using thinking as the tool for this exercise.
To give an example, I regularly walk the same route with my dog. I walk from home along a pavement. This is usually a good time to start checking in with myself – to see what the mood might be and to set an intention to let go of any focusing on to-do lists or thinking about the news or work. Obviously these thoughts will pop up and I don’t fight them, but as soon as I become aware that I am thinking about these things I make a conscious effort to come back to something in my present moment experience. Very often this will be listening to bird song. Sometimes it will be noticing my breath or my footsteps. These are all useful things to bring me back to the here and now and they are guaranteed to be available to me as a focus.
I reach the park at a bridge where multiple paths converge. To put this into context, my emotions map is from walks during the Covid-19 lockdown, where we have been trying to distance ourselves from others by at least 2 metres. In reality, I have tried to distance us as much as possible. So the bridge is a bit of a bottleneck and invariably the place where the dog chooses to go to the toilet! I have mixed feelings in this place. First there is a feeling of hurry, a slight anxiety. There is also anticipation and a sense of arriving at a party. The birds are always in full song. There is so much chatter it is almost hard to pick out individuals. There is also a sense that this is a human place – traffic cones hurled into the water, a single moorhen who always appears to be looking for the tiniest scrap, mud and litter and people rushing, running, oblivious to the surrounding beauty. I move away from the busyness and down a track.
Now there is a real slowing down. It is quieter so I can open my senses a bit more and breathe. My question at this point is “what is my lesson today?” There are familiar birds who have their territories in this – a few wrens and, further on, chiffchaff. There are the blackbirds, who drop to the path and then fly up into the scrub before we reach them. There is still a sense of people in this area. It is open with paths criss-crossing, bordered by trees. There is a slight striving and straining here. I often have to stop and gather myself, remind myself to just connect with my senses. I pass a familiar wren and often a blackcap before reaching a bank covered in teasel and wildflowers. Wren number two is in full song. I navigate by these birds. The feeling here is like being welcomed home. The bank has new delights as the year progresses. It finds my inner child – the joy of climbing up and seeing the world from a different perspective . The dog and my daughter feel the same, I can tell. Curiosity, adventure and that feeling of almost flying as the game between gravity and feet plays out running down the slopes of the bank.
The next section is quieter, spiritual almost. I feel like something hear whispers to me. I cannot hear it yet. There’s no obvious sit spot, but it seems like somewhere I should stay a while and just listen.
This is just about 15 minutes of walking – there is more, but it would be a very long blog and hopefully it is enough for you to get the idea. Recording the experience in a way that works for you – it could be talking to someone about it, writing it down as I have done or drawing a map – is really worthwhile. It is perhaps something to experiment with and see what works for you.