When we tune out of distractions and into our soul, most of us will find a little ‘wild’. The wild longs for starry nights camping, running through the woods, feeling the wind in our hair and dancing in the moonlight. It gets restless in meetings and edgy in the Supermarket. It’s often ignored and disconnected. We’re busy running the meetings, getting the shopping and taking care of other people. Yet, the wild wolf soul continues to prowl and the distant sense of uneasiness remains; although we may not be able to put our finger on why.
The other night as I was taking something out to the bin before bed, I felt the cool air on my face and heard the beautiful sound of our tree swaying in the wind. I felt compelled to just sit there in the garden, in the dark. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the magical night time scene of my garden came to life. The stars, at first obscured, became brighter. Colours and shapes become more defined. The sensations of sitting upon the grass, in silence, became stronger. I had no purpose and no agenda. I just sat there in open awareness, allowing the sounds and sights of the garden to come to me. A peaceful, blissful moment of present moment awareness. Connecting with the wilder part of my soul as I looked up at the stars and felt my insignificance in the Universe.
Open awareness is a more advanced mindfulness technique, but one that is made easier in the natural world. Kaplan & Kaplan published their work on ‘soft fascination’ in 1989 and it showed how natural environments initiate our attention involuntarily whilst not taking up all of our cognitive load (as opposed to television which takes our whole attention). This soft fascination allows us to gently place our attention on the many natural stimuli around us, without becoming overwhelmed or setting off a stream of thoughts. In fact, our stress calming response is activated and we feel more at peace.
When the thoughts are swirling, or you’re struggling to switch off, sitting in your garden at night can be the ideal way to bring mindfulness into your day. Not only does the presence of nature make it easier to sit in present moment awareness, but contemplating your place within the wider Universe often provides a welcome sense of perspective on our problems. In a gentle, non-judgmental way.
If you’d like to sit in open awareness, then I’d invite you to simply take a seat in your night garden. Perhaps take some deep breaths to begin with, to centre you in the present moment, then allow your attention to settle upon the environment around you. Allow the sensations (sights, smells, sounds etc) to come to you. You don’t have to ‘try’ to find them and equally, you don’t have to hold on to them. Simply allow your attention to move onto the next sensation naturally. Open awareness can be a really blissful practice, but it can be a lot more difficult than it sounds, so if you’d like to start with something more structured, you can try this simple grounding technique.
This is what I noticed in my garden this evening.
5 things I see
- The form of the tree lit from above
- The stars
- My shadow
- The green of the grass lit by the house
- A moth
4 things I hear
- Traffic in the distance
- A metallic chime (I always hear this in the wind. I’m not sure where it comes from)
- The tree swaying in the breeze
- Footsteps on the path
3 things I feel
- Cool grass beneath my feet
- Wind on my skin
- A dog ear against my arm
2 things I smell
- Moist soil
- Cut grass
1 thing I taste
- Fresh air
The magic of the garden at night is in it’s peaceful, transformative power. The ability to connect with and calm the wilder parts of our soul and release the mental burden of the day. If you haven’t yet taken a mindful moment today, I invite you to step into your garden this evening.