You’re listening to Keith in the mindfulness community. With your host, Keith Horan. We’re talking about mindfulness and self compassion, how it can help you with stress and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. And just bring about more peace of mind.
Thanks for being here.
Welcome to Episode Seven. The main theme today is all about nature. Looking at how sometimes when we’re in nature, we can be really stuck in our heads, stuck in our thoughts, and exploring how to get past that. We’ll also look at the breath a little, and see why it’s such a great anchor. And we’ll do a short practice in the middle. Hope you enjoy.
Hey there, I’m just back from a nice walk. Today was the first real day of snow this winter. We don’t get much snow in Galway. Some years, we get none at all. So it was really nice to get wrapped up and get out there.
And that brings me into today’s show, which is really about nature, and how to immerse ourselves in nature.
But I’ll start back in time, back to 1999. And a meditation retreat I did in Sri Lanka. I mentioned some of this in a previous episode. But I never told you about how I arrived there.
So after getting a bus and a little tuk tuk, like one of those little tiny kind of taxi things. I still had a long walk through this kind of jungle landscape. I mean, not like jungle as in a machete and pushing back branches, but like there was a path but it was this kind of rain forest landscape. So after a long walk, I arrived at a series of buildings, which was the retreat centre.
A Buddhist monk came out to greet me, but I realised afterwards he was trying to stay in silence. So it wasn’t the warmest welcome. And as I’ve been walking, I had this feeling that maybe there was leeches on my face, but it was getting dark. And I didn’t want to stop. So I kind of kept ploughing on.
And I said to him, I think I might have a leech on my feet. And I’m wearing sandals. And he just said yes, probably. And he got a torch and shined it down onto my feet. And I had about 15 or 16 leeches there. And so I started to flick them off, and I’m thinking, Oh, this guy’s a Buddhist monk, and you’re not supposed to harm anything. And that was in the back of my mind. And at the same time, I’m like pinging them in every direction.
So it wasn’t the calmest most centred arrival. And I don’t think I was impressing anyone.
I also mentioned before that I really struggled to meditate on this retreat… because I didn’t know what to do…And no one was really volunteering to tell me.
But I said that I did have this one really impactful conversation with the leader of the retreat centre, an elderly man called Godwin, I didn’t realise it was important at the time. Like I was hoping for some deep wisdom that would transform my life right then. I mean, I had travelled a long way. But he just kept talking about nature, and said that it was really important for me to connect with nature.
So no guidance about meditation or insight or wisdom or enlightenment, just nature. He spoke about the rhythm of nature, and the timelessness and how we can see the connection we have with everything if we connect with nature, and I’ve often thought about what he was pointing me towards. But it took me a good 10 or 15 years to understand what he meant.
See, I’ve always had a difficulty connecting with nature. I’m sure this isn’t just me, of course. But growing up, I have this feeling of admiring nature and wanting to be really connected. But for some reason having this kind of disconnection, like I’m standing back and looking at us, I should be inspired, but I feel sort of separate to us. I was just too much in my own thoughts. And basically, I think I needed a way in.
So I’m going to share two entryways to nature that I’ve seen others use, and that I’ve tried myself, the first one is knowledge. I heard Tim Ferriss a podcaster recently, and he was talking about moving to this new place, and he hired a guide to take them out and show him you know, the different trees and noticing the details, the animal paths and all of the things that would make his everyday walk richer, because he can see more he can notice more.
The person I most admire in this area is my neighbour from across the road, Tom. You just often see Tom standing out the backyard and just looking around. And then you chat to him and he’ll tell you exactly which tree the cuckoo likes to come to. And he knows the sounds of all the different birds And he knows where the foxes den is.
And he’s always watching and experiencing all this and noticing all these small differences. And I don’t mean like rambling across the whole countryside, I just mean looking out over a few fields, and understanding and knowing everything that’s happening and seeing it all. So I think that’s one way that we can kind of connect with nature more.
The second way for me works even better. It’s all about embodiment, this word, embodiment, it’s something that I’ll probably talk about again and again. And it just really means being in your body, knowing you have a body, being aware of it. Not being stuck in your thoughts, but aware of the movement, the sensations. Experiencing your body in a way where you’re not kind of wishing it was different or thinking of how better it used to be, or something like that, but really experiencing what it’s like to be in a body. So anyway, I find that by being embodied, it’s way easier for me to connect with nature.
So what does that mean, for me, practically, it tends to mean that it helps a lot for me to be doing something. So that’s why I’m loving gardening, as I’m moving and digging and planting and weeding, and harvesting and doing all of that work, I find that I naturally come into the body. And I naturally kind of settle into the experience of being in nature. And then there’s all the benefits of being in nature, that sense of timelessness, the gentleness of nature, nothing is forced, everything is at the right time.
A few years ago, a couple Sarah and Gabriel did work in our garden, and we worked alongside them. And they were it was incredible to see them how embodied they were, how immersed in their work, they were and Gabriel showed me taught me how to build stone walls, and just spending hours just being aware of the rock you’re choosing, shaping it, placing it in the right place, seeing the work kind of progress, again, using the body and coming into nature.
And there’s lots of other ways. So I find walking in nature, running in nature, I have some friends who would like to paint in nature, and it helps them to really get immersed. That sense of being in your physical body helps you connect to the physical landscape. Like I’m really connecting to the sea these days. And it’s not because I’m standing back and just looking at it. It really helps that I jump into the sea, I’m in it, I’m swimming in it, I’m feeling the water and the coldness. And that physicality really helps me to be present.
So if you’d like to connect with nature more, would one of these avenues or both be helpful? Would it be helpful to really learn about the place you’re in? Or equally Is there a way that you can be really physical in nature? Can you be more embodied in it, and would that help?
Okay, so that’s a nice thing to explore. But let’s pause now we’ll do a short practice.
So we’ll do a short standing practice that helps you to feel more grounded, more embodied. And if you’re driving or have to say sitting, you could just modify as best as you can.
So firstly, standing Well, the two feet are on the ground. It’s always better if your feet are bare, or you just have your socks, just looking at how you’re standing, maybe a very slight bend in the knees so the knees aren’t locked.
And checking how your pelvis is. So there’s not tilted to forward or to back, but just kind of feeling in the right neutral place.
And a feeling of length up through the trunk of the body all the way up to the top of the head. And just checking how your arms are and your shoulders. So if your shoulders are coming up towards your ears, just letting them drop the shoulders relax the arms hang.
And then as you’re standing well just tuning into your feet and slightly shifting the weight so it’s more towards your toes and moving the weight again so that it’s towards your heels, and then back to centre.
And shifting your weight more to the left was more to the right foot. And again, back to centre. Just sensing into the body sensing into the face and then letting go of the practice in your own time.
So to finish up today, let’s look a little bit at the Breath.
So in mindfulness, we’re always using an anchor for our attention. Like the way an anchor will hold a ship in place. We use the anchor of, say, the breathing or the body to sort of hold our attention in one place. And one of the most useful anchors is the breathing is the breath.
And there’s lots of reasons for this. The breath is just always with us like it’s always available. And it’s like this seamless thread that runs through our entire life, from birth to death, we always have this series of in breaths, and out breaths.
And you’ve probably noticed that your breathing changes as your mood changes, you know, it gets faster or slower. And as time goes on, and you really tune into your breathing, it helps to show you where you’re at. Like, sometimes you’ll realise you’re tense, because you notice that your breathing has slightly shifted. So that happens over time.
And with mindfulness, there’s no controlling or forcing of the breath. It’s just about noticing it, like getting to know it like a good friend. And settling into the breath can help us deal with stress and anxiety and anger.
That’s not to say the breath is always the right anchor. Sometimes if we’re feeling panicky, it might be the most comfortable place. So there’s always a choice we what we do. If the breath doesn’t feel right at any time, you can just let go of it and focus on something else, like maybe the body or I think an especially good anchor is like the feet on the floor. And then you might find that another time you come back to the breath, and it’s really comfortable. You just don’t want to force anything around the breath.
A friend of mine and member of the mindfulness community wrote recently about how she’s struggled to trust her breath since she had COVID last year, but that by kind of gently approaching it in meditation and doing guided practices, she’s sort of reconnecting with it and regaining that feeling of trust.
And one last thoughts relating back to nature, when we’re outside and we find we’re stuck in our thoughts, using the breath can really help us become more embodied. So if you’re out on your walk and your mind is racing, just stop and just spend a minute or so noticing the movement as you breathe in noticing the movement as you breathe out, and see if that changes things.
Okay, thanks so much for listening, and take care. You can find today’s show notes and more great resources at www.KeithHoran.com and I’d be delighted if you would leave a quick rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. This helps us in reaching people and growing the show. Thanks so much for listening.