I just returned from Burlington Vermont where I spent a few days with my son (a student at the University of Vermont) and gave a talk in the Medical School. More and more I find myself lecturing on the value of mindfulness meditation or other contemplative practices to enhance our children's (and our own) emotional health and well-being, to balance the massive information overload and heightened stress of Western society today.
As my son and I took a walk in a park, the beauty of nature struck me, in the snow-covered trails and ice-covered rock around us. He shared an experience he had where a class he was taking had walked out on a similarly snowy day to a similarly vast open field. They settled along a single wooden fence to read Robert Frost poetry, experiencing surroundings as he might have experienced them when inspired to draft his poetry. The boundless beauty in nature to inspire us is evident whenever one leaves behind the Blackberries, pagers, cell phones, and massive building environments for a moment of solitude in nature.
A recent article in the Am J Child Psychiatry highlights the necessity to bring our children back in tune with nature by creating safe walking routes from home to school, safe parks and playgrounds, and nature centers that allow children the time to walk, explore, and play outside. The growing rates of anxiety, depression, and learning disorders in our children are, in part, a consequence of the complex interplay of our biology and our current separation from nature, from play, from creativity and intuition. As adults, we also are in dire need of comparable activities away from the intensity of technology and production and into a haven of effortlessness experiencing.
As we turn our attention to enhancing health and well-being rather than merely treating disease, we will begin to likely create new spaces for such inward activities - whether they are small quiet spaces, public gardens, art and music centers, or activities that foster awareness such as meditation, yoga, or other contemplative practices. The underlying urge to change and improve things (including ourselves) may be met by an intuitive awareness to just experience things as they are, and in such experiences, creativity unfolds. It's funny how we each glimpse this intuitive awareness time and again throughout our lives and yet we spend much of our lives pushing it aside in search of something else.
The good news is it is with us all the time and requires very little effort to be revealed. Lie down on the ground and watch the sky for a while, sit at the beach and watch the ocean, sit by a tree and watch the leaves, or close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Watch your thinking of past and future as you would watch the leaves on a tree, the clouds in a sky, or the notes of a musical interlude. Let them rise and fall as they may, and just watch what is.