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Susan Smalley, Ph.D.

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How Nature Brings Us Into The Present

Posted: 08/21/08 09:50 AM ET

I am on holiday with my family in Martha's Vineyard staying on a peaceful farm on a beautiful pond near the ocean. The pond is still yet full of life and our kids are learning the art of crabbing. In the morning as the sun rises, geese raise their voices in a synchronized song against a backdrop of cows mooing, ducks quacking, and birds chirping. The rain drips lightly on shallow leaf faces creating a soft yet consistent tapping. A whippoorwill breaks in to whistle like a solo part in a symphony.

The countryside, or any immersion in Nature, evokes a calm and connectedness with little effort. Green trees, flowers, shadows fill my eyes with a vivid still landscape. A kayaker glides by on the pond creating a ripple in the glass. A slight fog hovers over the dew-covered grass giving it a bluish sheen. Two sparrows flit by my head as I sit on the porch immersed in the scene as if I am in a Broadway production.

Suddenly I notice the hum of a plane, a sound that fails to blend in with the surrounding but feels like a chainsaw hacking through a redwood forest.

For those of us who live in cities connecting with Nature can be hard at times. A recent report in the Am J Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted the reduced exposure children have with nature since most travel to and from schools today by car (or bus) and many after school activities are indoors. This loss of exposure to nature is thought to contribute to the rising rates of mental health problems in youth.

For those who say they can't 'meditate' (or don't want to) spending time outdoors, in nature, is a way to cultivate this sense of inward discovery with little effort. If you can be in nature, and particularly just 'being' a bit, such as lying in the grass, wandering on a trail, sitting and listening to the sounds, looking at the light of the sun cascading through tree branches and leaving patterns of light and dark images in the grass, or watching the cloud formations drift through the sky, Nature brings you fully into the present. Every sense becomes active yet none compete for attention.

A receptive awareness of an interconnection to life and the planet emerges as naturally as the morning dew. Repetitively present yet forgotten each day as activity distracts us. Nature's presence is available to foster insight if effort to override it can be relinquished.

"The most submissive thing in the world can ride roughshod over the most unyielding in the world - that which is without substance entering that which has no gap." (Lao-Tsu, Tao Te Ching, D.C. Lau translation, 1994).

 

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