Mindfulness and ecotherapy are two of the most ancient and powerful approaches to healing mental distress. What happens when you bring them together? Last week-end I spoke about practicing mindfulness in nature at a conference on ‘Psychotherapy and the Natural World’ at the Eden Project.
The original invitation to deliver a presentation had been open ended; I could have chosen any theme related to therapy and the natural world. Mindfulness in nature came to me almost immediately, but I wondered if I could say anything about it that was worthwhile.
Once I sat with the notion it opened like a flower, revealing a pattern of connections with other core aspects of my thinking: Ecotherapy of course, (Mindful weeding), spirituality, (Aboriginal deep listening), Focusing (Focusing in Nature), Barry Patterson’s “listening to the threshold brook”, and on and on.
My PhD research identified meditation as one of the pathways to connection with nature that inspired and supported environmental activism. One participant explained that his “connection with the earth” had become “a major part” of who he is. Mindfulness in nature had become a core practice for him:
“just spending time out in nature, just listening. Just looking. Not really thinking too much. It’s good to kind of not think, just become, just let it flow through you I guess” (Harris, 2008).
I’ve realised that the nature connection workshops I’ve been running for years are really mindfulness in nature sessions. Participants do experience a deeper connection with nature, but framing the practice as mindfulness really captures the essence of the work. It also shifts our perception of it: instead of focusing on some outcome – getting a deeper nature connection – it emphasises the process itself. That’s fundamental because mindfulness isn’t about making something happen; it’s simply about being.