As I write this, I’m sitting in Central Park, as I often do on weekend mornings, attuning to the trees that have become my companions. I notice that I am resonating with their steady, still presence and that their steadiness and stillness, even their expression of presence, is moving into my body-mind experience. As I sit here, I absorb the qualities I experience in them and I find that access to the steadiness and stillness in me is enhanced by their presence. Central Park has been, and continues to be, one of the most important gifts in my life for over 35 years now, and my gratitude for having access to the natural life of the park is boundless.
This got me to thinking about how powerful it is to spend time in nature and to absorb the qualities that may not be easily accessible in urban life. When I look at the large rock outcropping off to my right, I think of its solidity, its constancy, its steady presence. When I hear the sound of the locusts that populate the park at this time of the year, I think of the freedom to express. When I think of one of the small waterfalls up in the northern section of the park, I am touched by a sense of flow. These are all projections, perhaps, and yet they offer me an experience that I find both strengthening and nourishing.
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to draw from nature—either the nature around you or the nature you carry in your imagination—qualities that you want or need to strengthen, develop, or nurture in yourself. Even though I believe that trees actually do emanate the qualities of their presence, it doesn’t really matter. We know that the brain processes imagined experience nearly identically to the way it does lived experience, so it’s more a matter of opening to what you experience when you tune into various aspects of nature.
Right now, I’m watching the breeze blow through the dense and lush green leaves of the trees around me and, for me in this moment, it reminds me that I am breathing air that has traveled around the planet, air that has been breathed by countless other beings before it became this present-moment breath. This is what I would like to ask you to add to the practice—to allow your associations and experience of nature to flow where they will, and to receive whatever insights or moments of experience that become unexpected gifts.
Here’s a poem about nature, to show how one person touched into her experience:
I want to tell you
about the sunflower I found
on the sidewalk yesterday.
It is wilting and curled and gorgeous
and knows it.
I want to age like that,
never forgetting my own beauty,
never forgetting how to say bloom.
Whatever your relationship with nature, allow yourself to use your imagination to access qualities and experiences that nature has to offer—experiences to support and nurture qualities you want to develop, experience, and perhaps deepen in yourself. Play with allowing impressions to come that surprise you, that you haven’t thought of before. You can also explore what it’s like to allow familiar qualities to deepen, as I do with the trees every time I am with them.
Also, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion. The presence of curiosity creates an opening to awareness, an openness to allowing things to “drop in” that you may not have registered consciously before. And, as always, please remember to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise—and they just about inevitably will—allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything to or about them.