Meditation doesn’t usually come naturally, especially for beginners. Lack of familiarity with the practice can lead to frustration or feelings of failure. One way to overcome these hurdles to meditating is to practice a nature-based meditation.
People are familiar with nature, and they can visualize it readily without working too hard. And for many of us, nature evokes a sense of calm relaxation. A nature-based meditation (instead of a meditation that requires them to focus on a mantra or a chakra, for example) brings a comfort and familiarity that can reduce concerns about “Am I doing this right?” And perhaps even more so than other forms of meditation, it also helps to develop awareness or mindfulness because there are so many unique and beautiful sensations to be mindful of, even as increased opportunities for distraction inherent in visualizing a living and breathing ecosystem arise.
This meditation is suitable for a teacher to use with a class or for an individual to practice at home. If using it at home, read over the script a few times to get a feel for some of the cues, and then follow your own nature-based meditation. Alternatively, you can record the script and play it back for yourself. Teachers can either use it as written, or develop their own script from the ideas offered here, creating a guided nature-based meditation that resonates with their students.
Begin the meditation by finding a comfortable position where you can breathe easily but are not likely to fall asleep. Sitting on the floor or in a chair is preferable to lying down—but meditating lying down is surely better than not meditating at all. Start with a breath in which the inhale is equal to the exhale. Then take a few breaths in which the length of your exhale is double that of your inhale. You could begin by breathing in for two and out for four. Then you can gradually increase this count to in for three and out for six, or in for four and out for eight. Above all, you want to avoid feeling out of breath or panicky about when the next breath is coming, as that’s not relaxing for anyone.
Once you have practiced about ten breaths with the 2:1 ratio, let your breath come and go naturally as you begin the visualization.
Imagine yourself standing in a lush green field at the start of a trail that winds a path into a forest. Take a step onto the trail and head off into the forest. As you walk down the path, you notice how the sun kisses your face, and you hear the birdsong echoing in the trees. You smell the scent of pine needles and the cool, fresh air. You feel how a breeze lightly ruffles your hair. You notice the fallen pine needles carpeting the path, making a soft and cushioned surface on which you walk. You feel a deep sense of peace and connection to the forest and all of your surroundings.
Gradually you begin to hear the sound of rushing water. Just up ahead you see the sunlight glinting off water, and your path takes you in that direction. You come to the bank of a babbling brook, with the rushing water cascading over rocks, revealing a sandy bottom. You sit and rest for awhile. You take off your shoes and socks and let your toes and feet dip into the cool water, noticing how good it feels on hot and tired toes. You see wildflowers and grass growing by the banks, and you become aware of the many different colors in the flowers that contrast and complement each other. You observe how the water has worn smooth the river rocks. You can smell the fresh water intermingled with the smell of the grass and the wildflowers that surround you.
From where you sit, you notice that the middle of the brook is where the water flows fastest, obscuring the bottom as well as anything in the river. But by the side of the bank are protected pools where the water is still, and you can see very clearly their contents, from the sandy bottom to the frogs and fish that reside there. Those still pools are similar to your mind while you are meditating—slowing down and stilling the mind allows you to examine what it contains, mindfully noting what it reveals, and pondering it without judgment. The fast-moving water is like our mind on some days—with our thoughts moving so quickly that we cannot see what lies beneath. We cannot sit with our emotions, nor can we be mindful of them.
You turn your head to look upstream and can see all the water that soon will flow past you, just like all the breaths you still will take, adventures still to be experienced, and days yet to be lived. As you look downstream, you see all of the water that has already flowed by this spot, similar to the breaths you have already taken, memories already experienced, days that have been lived. Just as you cannot control the water upstream that will flow past you, you also cannot call back the water that has already passed. All you can do is live in the present moment, noting what it holds. You cannot live in the past, though some might dwell on it. Similarly you can’t speed up the future, though oftentimes you might try to control or manipulate it. It is best to embrace the scene just in front of you—the water and sensations that appear at your particular point on the riverbank, noting and appreciating these present moments for what they offer.
Taking in one more breath of the fresh river air, you put on your shoes and socks, stand up, and head back down the path the way that you came. As you head back into the forest you note the play of light piercing through the forest canopy. You observe the different shades of green in the pine needles, the plant leaves, and the moss growing on rocks and trees. You note the texture of different rocks, leaves, and bark under your fingers.
Now you are back at the trailhead, and you step again into the field of your daily life. Note how mindful you were in the transitions from field to forest to brook and back again, and resolve to be that aware in your everyday transitions. Take a few moments in the field to begin bringing awareness back into the body, wiggling fingers and toes and moving your hands and feet. You know that you can return to the river or the forest in your mind anytime you need to drop into peace, tranquility, and comfort.
Take a few mindful breaths, and open your eyes to conclude the meditation.
Sometimes using the familiar can be a great way to ease into a peaceful meditation. When you offer a story for the mind to follow, peace and clarity are likely to arise.