Field Notes: Mindfulness in nature

Office bound Ali Wright in our Comms team says spending even a small amount of time being mindful in nature can keep the winter blues at bay

Winter light loch tummel lizauty detail

We’re fast approaching the shortest day of the year. For the office-bound this can mean a lot of darkness, strip lights and dis-connection from the natural world. It’s no surprise that the nation’s mood gets a knock in winter. But if we could fight the urge to hunker down with a duvet and box set and get outside, the natural world has some pretty amazing benefits for our mental health.

A trip to the mountains, coast or woods can keep you chipper, lessen anxieties and keep the clouds at bay. But it doesn’t need to be a grand adventure. Just spending half an hour in nature with awareness can have benefits.

Awareness is the essence of mindfulness. The idea is to constantly bring your mind back to a point of awareness, to be present, and not pulled away by the 60,000 or so thoughts we have each day. This can include awareness of your thoughts, of sensations in your body, or of sights and sounds and other sensory input from your outer environment.

The benefits of mindfulness have been well researched. Add that to the head space you get just by being in nature, where there are no to-do lists, or screens or millions of other distractions, and imagine the benefits?

While our John Muir Award doesn’t directly reference mindfulness, it encourages appreciation and increased awareness of wild places. Participants are invited to slow down and tune in to their natural surroundings. And by listening to bird song or your footsteps crunching on snow, feeling the wind as it blows against your cheeks or filling up your lungs with the scent of pine, we discover what it is to be aware, to connect. To maybe even touch what John Muir was describing when he wrote:

"You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature."

While John Muir would never have heard of the term mindfulness, he was clearly so closely attuned to nature that he felt connected to the cosmos in a deep and prolonged way. He also understood that connecting to nature connects us to ourselves:

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home."

So whether you call it mindfulness, or awareness, or you don’t label it at all, just be-ing in nature is surely an essential thing for all of us this winter.

Image shows winter at Loch Tummel