How simple can a meditation be? How about watching nature for one minute? Sound doable? It totally is.
Our moment-to-moment life is our practice. The quality of our practice directly informs our quality of life. Practice can be all about doing something skillful and delightful in any moment in our life. Benefits of practice are dose-dependent, meaning the more often we practice the more likely we are to get benefits from our practice. It’s not about how long we practice for, it’s about how often. How can we practice often? By making it really simple and really pleasant.
Nature is our original object of meditation because, as a species, it’s our original environment. When the Buddha instructed his monks he told them to go out into nature, to sit at the foot of a tree, and meditate. Sure, their schedule of meditation was probably pretty rigorous, but it was still nature the early practitioners were practicing in.
Nature is soothing, impermanent, and just “there” for us to be with. Nature teaches us that there are causes and conditions, that life can be quite simple, that adapting to change is a good idea, and that nothing lasts forever. Shapes in nature are soft on the eyes; sounds in nature are soothing to the ear; and there’s something about watching animals just be who they are that is totally inspiring.
Attention fatigue in our modern lifestyle
Environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, in their book, The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective talk about the difference between our experience of directed attention and fascination. Many of us use directed attention for much of our day, focusing on tasks within a busy schedule and working toward goals. The Kaplans argue that when we use too much directed attention this can lead us to “directed attention fatigue” which brings on behavior like irritability, forgetfulness and distraction. “Directed attention fatigues people through overuse,” Stephen Kaplan explains. “If you can find an environment where the attention is automatic, you allow directed attention to rest. And that means an environment that’s strong on fascination.” The Kaplans called this approach the attention restoration theory.
The Kaplans point out that we generally are pretty fascinated by nature. In a Harvard Medical School article, Scott Edwards wrote, “According to [attention restoration theory], people can concentrate better after spending time in nature or even after simply looking at pictures of nature. Watching a beautiful sunset or the nesting of birds in a tree doesn’t demand the type of attention from the brain that filtering a multitude of competing stimuli on a bustling city street does. Natural vistas allow the brain’s attention circuits to refresh.” We don’t have to actually be in nature to be fascinated and rejuvenated by it.
Nature microdosing as an antidote
So, dear ones, if you’re suffering from directed attention fatigue or a nature deficit my growing new collection of attention restoration video meditations are for you (or on YouTube here). I’ll add more meditations to the collection each week. These meditations are little videos of beings in nature who have inspired me over the years as well as contemplative scenes to soothe the senses. Inspired by a tree? Totally. Inspired by squirrels? Definitely. Inspired and soothed by water? Yes! Of course actually being in nature is the best way to soothe those jangly workaday nerves, but you can microdose yourself with nature to get you through until you can have the full nature experience (forest-bathing, anyone?).
Attention restoration meditations are a great way to add in a self-compassion pause to your day, wherever you are. How does resting away from your work for 2 minutes to revive yourself sound? This is how you can use these meditations. There are no verbal instructions, but there are subtle invitations from our wise friends in nature. Listen to them. Feel into them. Allow them to come to you. There’s nothing you need to do other than to be.
Our bodies natural rhythm is set to perform most tasks in 90 minutes cycles, so enjoying an attention restoration meditation at least every 90 minutes at work is a great idea (do that rather than scrolling through your Twitter feed!) It is best to enjoy these meditations with earphones so that you can block out noise in your environment, and to put aside the time needed to be fully with each meditation (meditations are as short as one minute). It’s also a good idea to give yourself a few minutes to sit and simply “be” after enjoying a meditation.