The days of soaking up the beauty of a natural landmark in solitude are limited. Crowds of people jockeying for the same photo-op make it difficult to attain a truly mindful connection with the outdoors.
Adding to the challenge is the motivation behind our visits to these places. Too many of us, within seconds of arriving at a lookout, snap a few photos, hop straight back into the car, and speed off to the next lookout.
But with a few simple strategies, we can tweak our behavior in ways that can help us achieve mindfulness in nature.
Take time to reflect
Being mindful involves an awareness of what’s going on around us and within us in the present moment. To achieve mindfulness in nature, it’s worth first reflecting on our current behaviors. Consider your last nature outing.
- Did you take notice of the sounds and smells around you?
- Was your mind focused on the present, the past, or the future?
- Was your phone a source of distraction?
Avoid the crowds
Steer clear of the biggest crowds by heading out for sunrise. Save for a few hardcore nature lovers, you’re not likely to find too many people out at this time of day. Not only is it wonderful to watch the world awaken, but it’s also often a better time to spot wildlife.
Don’t do it for the ’gram
The benefits of spending time in nature aren’t only found at the most Instagram-worthy spots. Find peace and quiet outdoors by finding your own, never-before-Instagrammed location. When posting an image to social media, take a moment to consider why you’re posting it. Consider sharing an image of a blissful moment where you were fully present and appreciative.
Look first, snap later
Before taking your lens cap off or your phone out of your pocket, be still for a few minutes, taking in your surroundings lens-free. Slow your photography down further by considering the intention of each shot. Could there be a story to tell or a different perspective to capture?
Try forest bathing
Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku) is the Japanese practice of spending time in nature with the intention of making a mindful connection. A typical session involves a slow, contemplative walk while absorbing nature with all the senses. The purpose is not physical exertion, such as on a hike.
Trained guides can help you tune in to your surroundings, encouraging the opening of your senses and bringing your awareness to the present. When a forest is not close by, parks, gardens, and wilderness areas are also great places to forest bathe.
Being in nature doesn’t automatically equate to being mindful, and the same applies to spending time alone. When we put the two together, however, there’s great mindfulness potential. But keep in mind that it takes practice to become good at quieting your mind. When traveling with a group, find moments to explore on your own, or to sit quietly and reflect—whichever brings you peace of mind.
Plan an outdoor adventure
On holidays, we’re often guilty of trying to cram too much into a short period of time. A great way to slow ourselves down is to skip the checklists and schedule longer-duration activities. By committing to a longer activity, especially one we find physically or mentally challenging, we’re forced to pay close attention from moment to moment, limiting our minds from wandering to avoid unpleasant consequences.
For your next outdoor adventure, play with leaving parts of your trip unplanned. Consider how arriving with fewer expectations can stimulate your natural curiosity for exploration, leading to a more conscious experience.
The exception? Always familiarize yourself with directions and any pertinent safety issues before you depart. That way, you can also limit the amount of plugged-in time once you’re at your destination.
Bring a pen and paper
Journalling can be a valuable tool for achieving mindfulness. Take along a notebook the next time you head out. Pause for a few minutes every so often to reflect on what you’re seeing or feeling in that moment. Feel free to throw punctuation and grammar down the mountain, and don’t be afraid to use pictures instead of words.
Look, listen, and feel
Here are a few other mindful actions that you can do to connect yourself with nature:
- Listen to the sound of your footsteps, or the strength of the wind.
- Observe the movement of the clouds.
- Notice the quality of light around you.
- Touch the smooth surface of a rock, or the soft blades of grass with your feet.
- Feel the moisture of the earth, or the thickness of the air.
- Smell the pine-filled forest, or the saltiness of the ocean.