3 Practices to Connect with Your Inner & Outer Nature
Dropping in to the Present Moment
There’s a reason why our screensavers have images of blue ocean waters and snow-capped mountains, and why all of New York City trots to Central Park on a sunny day to claim a square of grass: we crave nature.
When I was a kid, my favorite summertime spot, in humid rural Connecticut, was in the nook of a certain tree. I’d sit quietly, listening to the wind and waiting for birds and deer to wander by, with the hope of some kind of communion. I didn’t know what that meant or why it felt solemn and important, yet when I was rewarded with a curious bird landing on my tree, as we checked each other out, time stopped. It was magic, and I felt a little less alone.
Ironically, it took me another couple of decades to recapture what I understood in my tree — that deep focus on and in nature is a reliable gateway to being in the present moment. Any element of nature is available to you for the practice of “presence.” When I’m focused on a vine crawling up a tree, a patch of grass breaking through cement in the sidewalk, or a buzzing flies’ tenacity, everything else can fade away and worries are put in their place for a moment. In these difficult times, when the world feels dark and stormy, and the pervasiveness of anxiety is unavoidable, the ability to drop in to the vastness of the present moment feels like a balm. I highly recommend a favorite of mine, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, or, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle to get inspired.
"As I became more aware of my body, I began to notice how foods affected me."
Embodying Our Truth
The world around us rewards thinking. Big brains, big thoughts and ideas — the intellect — reigns supreme. Yet it’s the body, and the heart muscle, that is often our wisest teacher. When I was in my 30’s, I had a chronic throat infection. I would lose my voice almost every month, my throat would blister, and I’d be forced to go on antibiotics. Doctor after doctor couldn’t figure out why it was recurring, yet finally, during a middle-of-the-night emergency room visit, a wise Western doctor asked me, “What in your life is so toxic that it’s coming out in your body?” The question jolted me awake. I was in a relationship where I had no voice, and my body was making it as clear as a billboard on the Vegas Strip that it was no longer going to play. The body doesn’t lie. The day I left that relationship, five years of throat infections stopped, and haven’t come back in 15 years.
That began the start of a new relationship — this time, with my body. A teacher, Donna, gave me an easy, quick practice to remind me that, yes, I have a body, and yes, it’s damn powerful to navigate through life fully embodied.
“BBB” or Breathe, Back, Butt exercise: Sitting in a chair, close your eyes, and begin some intentional belly breathing. Next, move your awareness to your back body. (We tend to be in our chests or throats when anxious, so moving the energy and awareness to the back of your body, can immediately take you out of a stress response.) Finally, imagine a dropline towards the center of the Earth, and drop your energy down through your butt. BBB for a little body listening, calming and inner stillness.
Practicing Conscious Eating
As I became more aware of my body, I began to notice how foods affected me. I began to relate to food differently, eating mostly vegetables, fruits, grains and lentils. Food became sacred, as I cooked with ingredients that felt life-affirming, nourishing and close to the Earth for me and my two children. Even though it was a difficult and emotional time, the chopping, preparing, and handling of food felt like meditation. I felt more content and less frenetic. My gut, my skin and my energy all felt cleaner, without the heaviness that had often weighed me down after eating.
I unwittingly fell into conscious eating, starting with conscious food prep. The more I eat fresh, climate-friendly whole foods, the more I want to eat fresh whole foods. Yet it’s not always possible, the right season, and it can be heck-a hard to find the groceries, the budget and the time. When I do, though, I have rituals that let my hungry, wild now-teens know that Mom is cooking tonight. I light a candle to show that my kitchen is sacred space. I play music that I love.
And even if I’m just offering up olives and carrots as starters while teens pass through the kitchen, they know I’m giving them healthy food. They invite their hungry friends to eat my plant-based curry bowl veggie extravaganzas. And sometimes I sit, slightly chagrined, with four or five large teenage boys sweaty from mountain biking practice at my dinner table as we hold hands and thank the farmers, the workers in the field, the soil, Earth, Sun and Sky and all that went into the beautiful food. And then they do the dishes. For further reflection check out: Food & Spirituality: The Science & Practice of Mindful Eating podcast.