Why walk mindfully in nature?

Mindfulness takes practice and a degree of patience. So why would you invest your time and effort?

Some might argue that, if you are putting your attention on your breath rather than the wonderful natural surroundings, you are missing all the good stuff. To the mind, the breath is rather boring in comparison to watching the birds and the trees. Yet, if you do not ever pay attention to your body, mind and emotions, how can you skilfully relate to the world?

Animals and children are fantastic for helping us to learn this lesson. A young child will tend to rush at an animal, their body language and general demeanour tending to scare the animal away. I love watching Monty Roberts (www.montyroberts.com) at work with horses. The first thing you notice is his way of being in general – he has a very calm and gentle, but very assured, presence. It is not hard to see how horses, as herd and prey animals, would find him an easier companion. He then uses his body language in a very careful way that allows a connection and communication with the horses. He is clearly very conscious of what he is doing and how he is presenting himself at all times when working with them and this requires quite a lot of awareness and, I am sure, many years of patience and careful observation.

Right, so lesson one: careful and patient practice of basic mindfulness is key to the way we relate to ourselves, each other and the natural world. The good news is that you may already have practised mindfulness without realising it and spending time observing nature is a great place to be mindful without intending to.

The idea of mindfulness allowing us to be more skilful in our relationships is captured in the concept of responding, not reacting. This is where we consciously choose to respond in a certain way rather than resorting to a habitual or patterned reaction (for example, getting angry when someone appears to cut across our path in the car). If we go for a walk in nature, we might very often get lost in thought before too long and not notice what is going on around us (so much for the breath being a distraction!) So one of the habitual patterns we could change through mindful practice would be this prolonged disappearance into our own heads.

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