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Meditating with Mother Nature: Slowing Down and Paying Attention to Your Relationship with the Natural World



“When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too.”  - Thich Nhat Hahn


Many people enjoy sitting under a tree or by a stream, lying on their back in a meadow, or just sitting on a bench in the backyard. Communing with nature can be a rewarding experience, especially if we are feeling gratitude and paying close attention to what is around us.


In the book, Awake in the Wild, author Mark Coleman writes, “Nature has the power to transform and awaken us. For centuries, monks, mystics, and other individuals have lived, meditated, and sought refuge in the forests, deserts, and mountains.” 


Thich Nhat Hanh (known as Thay by his students) was also a proponent of meditating with nature. “When we look into our bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of interbeing, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth;” from Love Letters to the Earth.


The idea of “interbeing” is very important to Thay and his followers. Interbeing is the belief that we are one with nature, its beings, and all that is part of our planet. We breathe together, hold space together, and depend on each other for survival. 





Meditating with Mother Nature can be as simple as sitting under a tree or next to a stream, closing our eyes, and following our in and out breath. It can also include going to a public park and sitting on a bench while listening to nature sounds around us.


Walking meditation, which Thay espoused, is a lovely way to commune with nature and bring mindfulness into the day: “Walking meditation unites our body and our mind. We combine our breathing with our steps. When we breathe in, we may take two or three steps. When we breathe out, we may take three, four, or five steps. We pay attention to what is comfortable for our body.”


When guiding clients in walking meditation, I explain that we are not necessarily trying to get somewhere in this practice. The most elemental aspect of this practice is to slow down the movements and sync the breath to our steps. For example, we can breathe in when lifting one foot and then breathe out when setting the foot down. Additionally, strolling meditation can just be walking without listening to music on our AirPods, talking on the phone, and, rather, paying close attention to body sensations as we walk, without inviting thoughts of planning or ruminating. Just noticing the feet touching down on the ground, the arms swaying in rhythm to the feet and the temperature of the air on our skin can be our practice.


In Thay’s words, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”


The following practice is intended for families (you can do it alone as well) to practice together in a natural setting. Find a quiet place outdoors – the backyard, a city park, next to a stream, or in a forest and enjoy this practice together. It is appropriate for all ages.


Exercise: Meditate with Nature


  • Once you’ve found your spot in nature, gather everyone around and find a place to sit. If you have brought chairs, cushions, or blankets, they can make sitting on the ground more comfortable. Barefooted would also be nice.

  • As you take your seat, notice what is going on in the body or mind. We can always be aware of something, whether it is thoughts or sensations. This is Mindful Awareness.

  • Close your eyes and bring attention to the body. Sense your posture and what parts of the body are in contact with the earth. Sit with as much ease as possible so that relaxation can be present.

  • Breathe normally and feel the full movement of your breathing as it moves through the body. As you breathe, feel the air coming in and going out, and imagine that you are breathing with all life forms around you. The plants breathe, animals breathe, insects breathe, etc…

  • Do this for a few minutes together, allowing everyone to enjoy their breathing sensations as well as the appreciation that there’s a community breathing together.

  • Now, bring your awareness to the natural environment around you. What do you hear? What do you feel? Are there sensations in relation to the areas that are in touch with the earth? Tickling of grass, crumbling of earth, Solidity of rocks …?

  • Open your eyes and look around you. What do you see? Trees swaying in the wind. A bird on a branch, an ant on the ground; pay attention carefully and with a curious heart. 

  • Allow everyone time to silently engage with their surroundings so that there is an awareness of the relationship we have with all kinds of life forms – the plants, the insects, the trees, the birds, even the hidden animals. Feel the fact that we are all part of this living, breathing ecosystem. Even if the family can only sense this for a short time, it is worthwhile, and with practice, the time can to extended (The worthy goal is to sit in nature for at least 30 minutes).

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC. Mindful Frontiers LLC is a Benefit Corporation (BCorp) committed to Community Wellness by providing schools and organizations with mindfulness meditation tools that nurture positive social-emotional growth. With over two decades of meditation experience, Anne-Marie leads meditation workshops and provides coaching for children, families, individuals, groups, and classrooms. She is a certified meditation leader as well as a certified labyrinth facilitator. A full audio version of featured practices can be heard on the Welcoming a Mindful Future podcast. Our website can be accessed at MindfulFrontiers.net.

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