Recently I have become aware of activities that I do that become a complete immersion, away from my habitual, incessant thinking patterns. Anything that is powerful enough to enable me to become totally present and not drown in my ruminations about the past, worries about the future and self-criticism comes along like a sigh of relief.
Since the lockdown I have revisited painting and drawing activities, which I have noticed, with renewed awareness and curiosity, keeps me totally present. Hours can pass while I focus on present moment doings such as which colour paints to mix, which paintbrush to use, where to start, where the painting builds as I bring in more and more detail to the picture.
Another key activity has been my daily walk in nature. I consider myself very lucky that I have been able to spend the lockdown in a very beautiful location on the north Yorkshire coast. It cannot compensate for not having seen my daughters and grandson for 2 months or being able to visit friends or do what were ‘normal’ things. It has, however, become an important part of my daily practice of mindfulness. This is mindfulness in daily life. Living mindfulness is an important part of my practice.
When I am out in nature, whether it is mindfully walking the rugged coast path, where I have to be mindful of every step I take, or sitting watching the finer details of nature reveal itself to me, like a gift, I become very aware that I am totally immersed in the moment. My busy, tricky mind is having a rest.
I feel my body relax and yield to the landscape and I become part of it and take in how it makes me feel.
The sounds of birds singing brings me immense joy. It’s not deliberate. I just feel my heart opening and a feeling of joy tingling throughout my whole body. Before I know it, I am aware of a big smile happening on my face.
Over the course of the lockdown I have been watching the cycle of creation amongst a pair of lapwings. Their mating rituals of strange poses, flight dances and unusual noises, resulted in weeks of silence as these birds patiently sat on the nest nurturing their precious eggs. One evening it was with immense delight that I spotted the silhouette of a one-day old lapwing chick’s fluffy little head poking out from under its mother’s wing.
I became aware of how I held my breath, as my eyes streamed from looking so intensely, as fox cubs played in an old, disused quarry. This made me very inquisitive. Mindfulness practice has taught me how to be aware of my breath, and I have come to learn that the rhythm and quality of my breath is often associated with how I am feeling or what is going on. So here I am, holding my breath as I watch through binoculars and take photos with a heavy zoom lens. I suddenly gasp for air as I look away. I feel I don’t want to be seen or heard as I enter the world of these beautiful young animals, as I intrude on their secret world through a zoom lens. When I release – I am back in my world – back on the clifftop, back in my body and my mind. For the whole time I am watching I am utterly and mindfully immersed.
It was my ‘lockdown’ birthday this week. On my birthday I was able to take time to linger on a cliff top – I took the day off and I made it a real birthday treat complete with flask of tea and cake. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small movement in what is a very still landscape. Suddenly a stoat appeared. I have never seen one before. He might as well have had a ribbon, bow and gift tag around his neck, as his appearance certainly felt like a birthday gift. It felt such an amazing privilege to see this little creature, which I had only ever seen pictures of in books, scurry around at speed, before disappearing into the undergrowth.
The next surprise was the very quick flash of an appearance of a peregrine falcon zooming at rocket speed in an arc across the sky, at nearly 200 miles per hour. He had tucked his body into a tight bullet shape as he soared across the landscape. No photographs again this time, but sometimes it’s more about seeing and being immersed in the moment of these special events than faffing about behind a lens.
A barn owl makes a regular appearance on my evening walk. He circles the fields, sometimes coming in very close before quickly darting away and contorting his body into a projectile as he launches down to the ground after his prey. I am curious to notice that I feel love for him. I notice that I am disappointed if he isn’t there. On one particular appearance, I was able to get a close-up photograph of him and am still stunned by his wing formations and beauty. No man could ever craft something so beautiful that nature has created effortlessly.
Later, when I examine the photographs I have taken, I am in awe of the beauty of the creatures I have captured on film. I feel a softening of my body and a happy feeling pervade my being as I see the detail of the colours and patterns of fur and feathers, usually unnoticed or unseen at that detailed level. I love looking for details of eyes. Those windows to the very soul of these beautiful beings. I am curious about how they have adapted to their environments, often taking on the colours and patterns of the landscape that the is their home. I reflect on how they aren’t ruminating on the food they didn’t get or adverse weather, they are just busy being a fox, an owl, a stoat, a peregrine falcon or a lapwing spending days just sitting, doing nothing, on their precious eggs in a nest. If life turns against them, they just pick up and get on with the next thing.
Rick Hanson says how important it is for us to savour the positive experience, to help train our minds from habitually dwelling on negative thoughts. Unlike our fellow companions on this earth, we have to train to do this because our brains have evolved with a negativity bias.
Earlier this week Heather heard a cuckoo for the first time this Spring. These moments in nature cannot be contrived or created. They just happen, when we wait, patiently, with curiosity, mindfully immersed in the moment.
Together with my mindfulness practice, on the cushion, doing the practices from the Mindfulness Associations Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight Training, I am learning that mindfulness in life is increasingly important. As is savouring all the good moments as they arise. And, nature certainly seems to provide plenty of them. For free.
Do you have the opportunity to spend some time being mindful in nature? Wherever you are, even if you are unable to go outside, is it possible to open a window and look up at the sky, the birds and the trees and flowers in the landscape before you?
I invite you to spend a few moments totally immersing yourself in what you can see and hear and rest in that for a while. Then spend some time reflecting on how it makes you feel. Are you able to reflect on savouring the positive?
I’d love to know how you get on, so please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment after this post.
Wishing you to be well, safe and happy
Jacky is teaching the Level 1 Being Present course online starting 3rd June and is guiding sessions on the Members Free Weekend and Retreat. She will also be co-teaching on the Level 2 – Responding with Compassion with Heather Regan-Addis in the Summer.
We’d love to see you there.
You can also join her or other Mindfulness Association tutors on the free daily practice sessions at 10:30am and 7pm.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.