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Nature's present

Blog post by: Hannah

Ancient woodlands carpet themselves in quilts of vivid blue patchwork. Orange-tips dance fleetingly through sun-filled glades. The first daffodils of the year unwillingly lay down their trumpets to let us know that yes, spring has arrived.

And even though we miss it desperately - like an ex that moved on too quickly - nature seems to be doing just fine without us.

No longer able to venture to my favourite wild places, I've spent many hours of lock-down so far, unashamedly staring out the window.

Having reluctantly returned from an unfinished trip to India in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic I decided I should probably use this time to do something productive. Get a new hobby, re-assess my priorities in life, tidy the sock drawer, that sort of thing. And so it is that, even though it alluded me in the Himalayas, I am now stuck in my house and on the search for...*dramatic voice*... spiritual enlightenment.

I'm pretty sure I've got everything I need: time, space, audiobooks. A solid reason to do very little. Plenty of colouring pencils and an Enya CD.

How hard can it be? Perhaps I should start with some meditation...

Try it with me.

Just take a moment and stop.

Banish all thoughts from your mind.

Notice the sounds around you.

Notice how your body feels.

Deep breath in...

… and out.

Good...

What's for dinner?

Ok so it turns out that the classic approach to meditation is hard. Like, really hard! To sit super still and actively think about nothing. If you managed it just now, you're doing better than me!

Even when many of us have been specifically told to 'save lives: do nothing' (ok, i've read slightly between the lines there, but still) I'm constantly scanning around for 'useful' things to do. It seems impossible for me to switch off the to-do list, let alone mute my incessant daydreaming. I'm going nowhere, and still I feel exhausted.

'I think, therefore I am!' said someone wise, once.

We have gotten used to the idea that we are an advanced species because we think so much. But there is plenty of scientific evidence that meditation is good for us. Giving us the tools to silence our minds, to focus only on what's going on right here, right now.

Suddenly, it dawns on me. There is a time when I am this controlled, and I realise: watching wildlife is my mediation. (Good news! It's probably yours, too.)

Consider a walk along a familiar footpath. There's a delicate rustling of leaves from somewhere, just out of view. Our awareness instantly heightens. We notice the tiniest of movements and our focus becomes absolutely deliberate. Suddenly we are still, we are measured and we are listening... really listening.

“If you long to experience being so centered in present-moment awareness that nothing else exists, become a bird-watcher”Peggy Kornegger, The Zen of Bird-Watching

Of course, the connection between nature and wellbeing is well documented, and I am fully on board. But the great outdoors is a place from which I am constantly learning. When I step outside my senses are overwhelmed, with unlimited tangents for my mind to explore. So I automatically attach thoughts and feelings to these wild spaces. What can I learn from this? How best can I share it with others? Can I do more to protect this?

But when wildlife crosses my path it all changes in an instant.

Perched at my favourite window spot, I am staring out onto yet another glorious spring day in the Suffolk countryside. My gaze falls to the scruffy bird house I spent a noisy hour bringing to life during National Nest Box Week 2017. It now sits half way up a pear tree and, despite what I would consider to be a pretty lavish location, the total resident count has disappointingly been a solid zero. Until last week.

Since I first caught a glimpse of a small, scruffy-looking winged thing pelting out of the rounded doorway, I have been engrossed. Everyday I watch, captivated, as a pair of coal tits work relentlessly around the clock to deliver hundreds of squishy snacks to their very squeaky and demanding brood. I realise I've been watching for about 25 minutes, and my mind is utterly focussed.

I'm doing it!

Doing what?

Not thinking about anything!

Ugh, the spell is broken.

When are watching wildlife living totally in the present, we are right there with them. Just accepting the situation as it is with no external pressures or idle worrying. I'm no wildlife psychologist but I'm assuming most species don't go about their day feeling weighed down with genuine regrets that they forgot to hang the washing out.

“What shall we have for dinner tonight darling? Oh, maybe the same as yesterday, a few dozen caterpillars?”

“Watch any plant or animal and let it teach you acceptance of what is, surrender to the Now” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Let's be honest, enlightenment is probably a bit of a way off. I love hatching plans, and it's one of the things keeping me going at the moment. But if you're like me, we need to learn not to beat ourselves up when plans don’t come to fruition.

It's tricky to predict what the world will look like will look like post-pandemic. So maybe this time nature can teach us to just... stop. Stop with the constant lists, all the things we can or cannot accomplish in this, what is simply, the most bizzarre of situations.

Not thinking completely? Perhaps not.

But being present in the moment?

Learning how and when to make our thoughts a little quieter? I'm in.

Namaste, nature.

“I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

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