Monday, October 24, 2016

How Nature Can Remind Us to Be Present

Bryce Canyon, Utah. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Buikema

By Kimberly Buikema
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir, early advocate for US wilderness preservation
Throughout 2016, the National Park Service has celebrated its centennial anniversary, with its actual 100th birthday having taken place on August 25. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit any of the national parks can attest to their overwhelming beauty and majesty. Visiting them, whether for a few photographs, a brief stroll, a hike, or camping can invoke a sense of awe, wonderment, and peace.

So what is it about that experience that makes it so special? There are most likely scientific studies out there that explain the benefit of getting back in touch with nature and the earth. Instead, I’d like to mention why visiting the national parks have been so special for me.

  • The parks remind us that we, as humans are all connected, both to each other and the grander universe. 
  • Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders for mental and physical well-being.
  • The views are simply awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • The quiet and solitude, while being surrounded by beauty, reminds me that I am OK just as I am. 
  • The only distraction is nature and abundant life as seen in vegetation and wildlife. I never even look at my phone (unless it’s to take a picture).

I’m seeing new things and views I don’t usually see in the city. The colors are so different and vibrant.

Here in Chicago, we aren’t close to The West where national parks, mountains, deserts, and canyons are abundant. So what can we do here, among the high-rises, sprawling suburbs, and expressways do to feel closer to nature?

  • Don’t be afraid to get outdoors! Chicago can be hot and muggy (or REALLY cold) but can you spare a few mindful moments to feel the air on your skin, the earth beneath your feet? Even if the weather is uncomfortable, can you incorporate that into your experience? Can you feel the sweat collecting, the heavy humidity on your skin? 
  • Take a moment to listen. What sounds do you hear? Is there wind rustling leaves in the trees? Dogs barking? Birds chirping? Cicadas?
  • Open up the windows when the weather allows it. Let natural, fresh air fill your home. Notice how your home smells, feels, or sounds different with the windows open. 
  • Take a moment to admire the sky. We have our fair share of lovely sunsets, not to mention clouds, thunderstorms, and stars. 
  • Take your meditation or yoga practice outside. 

       Although these ideas seem simple, simplicity is often involved in practicing mindfulness. It allows us a moment to pause, breathe, notice, and connect. Connecting back to nature and the earth can help us feel connected to others and our inner selves.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.” – John Muir
Kim Buikema is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center. She is currently in her second and final year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She believes that goodness and truth lives within everyone and hopes to help people find their own inner-truth and goodness through counseling. She has a regular yoga and meditation practice, and enjoys traveling and music. She has recently returned to Chicago after living in the UK for ten years.