Recently I went on a meditation retreat. When I came home my husband asked me what my three main takeaways from the retreat were. I started to reflect on my experience and a few things jumped out at me. One of them seemed so obvious and yet so profound. I feel better when I am connected with nature.
I started to tell him about how this might seem silly but one of my reflections is just remembering how much better I feel when I’m outside. He told me that did not seem silly at all, but like an important insight to remember. In fact, there is research to suggest that we do feel better when in nature. It can help with depression, anxiety, and even memory. I thought I would share some of my thoughts about this sense of connection.
Learning to Love Birds
Just to start, I never hated birds or anything like that. Of course I found things like little chicks adorable and have held them before. However, in general I did not really like birds very much. I grew up in New York City so it is possible that I didn’t like them because I was used to pigeons being around all the time. Whatever the reason, I never had an experience where I felt connected with them.
While I was on this meditation retreat I started to open my heart to all of the birds that were around. The retreat was at Spirit Rock meditation center which has a beautiful property and tons of wildlife. There were wild turkeys walking around, roadrunners, humming birds and these cute little brown and white birds.
One day I was meditating on a bench outside. It was a pretty and quiet spot under a big tree. About ten minutes into the meditation I opened my eyes and looked up. I realized that there were hundreds of little brown and white birds in every branch of this tree. As I watched them I started to feel a profound sense of connection.
I began to think about how these are little living beings. It seemed totally miraculous that they have these tiny bodies with everything they need for life inside. I just stood there for more than five minutes with my head tilted back looking straight up into this tree.
The Power of Plants
On this retreat I also noticed the power of seeing plants every day. I currently live in a pretty rural area and I have a small backyard with some potted plants. One thing I know about myself is that I enjoy walking outside every so often when I am home to look at them. On this retreat I realized how much better I actually felt outside.
I started to become aware of how peaceful it felt to look out over the rolling hills and see green forest trees for miles. These did not seem like they were separate from me but rather I got the feeling that I was a part of this whole system.
In Buddhism there is a teaching about interconnectedness. It is that idea that we are not separate from anything or anyone else. If you are interested in reading more about it, I really like Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem “call me by my true names” as an illustration of the concept.
The simplest way to think about this is that we are all literally made of the same stuff. Another way to feel into the interconnected feeling is to spend some time in nature like I did. You really begin to feel like you are just another animal. Not separate from our planet but a part of it.
You might also notice the feeling of connectedness when you are eating. When we eat we are literally taking something that is a part of nature and making it a part of us. You might even reflect on all the people who were involved in growing this food. Additionally, I like to take a moment to think about how this plant or animal is giving its life to nourish mine.
Taking This Feeling Home
So once I left the retreat and was in the car with my husband I got to wondering how I could take this feeling of connection with nature home with me. Certainly one way is continuing to reflect on that my connection with nature while I am eating. But there are other ways I can make this connection a more regular part of my life.
I can take a walk around my neighborhood and just notice all the plants and animals I see along the way. I am lucky enough to live somewhere with lots of open space and nature. But even if you live in a city you can pay attention to the nature that is there. Maybe take a moment to stop and look at a leaf or watch a squirrel.
Another way to get this connection is to make more of an effort to go to places where I am immersed in the natural world. I often feel like I am busy and don’t have time, but I usually can take an hour to go on a short hike. I can even just drive to the beach and feel the sand under my for a few minutes. Putting activities into my regular life make me feel more connected and happier.
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