This exercise will help you begin to reattune yourself with the natural world of the heropath, clarifying and magnifying the outer landscape through which you walk and the inner landscape through which you create.
Exercise Goals: (a) Observe in detail, with all of your senses, the natural world around you; (b) Focus your mind on the here and now of yourself in communion with the trees, grasses, flowers, birds, animals, insects, clouds, sky and wind.
(1) Find a quiet natural setting—-your back yard, a park, a favorite trail or beach.
(2) Take off your shoes, if weather permits, and don’t forget sunscreen and a hat.
(3) Look around you. As David Abram suggests in “The Spell of the Sensuous,” during this exercise, the present is everything from your vantage point out to the visible horizon, the past is everything beneath the surface of the ground, and the future is everything over the horizon.
(4) Use your favorite relaxation technique and become at ease. If you don’t already have a relaxation or meditative technique, here’s one you can try:
(a) Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with the soles of your feet flat against the grass, beach sand, or forest floor and focus on something interesting in the environment—a shadow on a rock, a flower, a tree branch, a blade of grass.
(b) Take three deep breaths, slowly exhaling each time and visualize the tension draining out of you into the earth through the soles of your feet.
(c) Then, slowly repeat (or think) the following: “I will now count from 10 to 1 and with each descending number, I will become more and more relaxed and rooted to the earth. Ten, nine, I feel myself relaxing and absorbing rich energy through my feet. Eight, seven, six…more and more relaxed. Five, four three…deeper and deeper into relaxation now. Two, one…I am now at a deeper level of relaxation, a level I can use to observe and communicate with the natural world.”
(5) Casually observe everything that interests you for as long as you can remain grounded in the present—10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour. That is, when your mind wanders to yesterday’s joys and regrets or tomorrow’s challenges and excitements, pull your attention back to the environment—how the wind moves the tall grass or the waves, the shadows dancing in the tree tops, a line of ants moving across a flat rock, a bird looking for seeds or insects in the forest floor. What do you see? What do you hear? What does the air taste like? What do the things around you feel like to your bare feet, the caress of your hands? What smells can you detect? Move toward anything that draws you. Consider the possibility that everything you see can see (or sense) you and that everything that makes a sound can hear the sounds that you make; that when you touch a rock a woody shrub it is also touching you. Imagine that you are deeply engaged in a conversation with the plants, animals, rocks and earth, water, clouds and the wind and—like any other conversation—it would be rude, in a sense, if you allowed your mind to wander off in the middle of it to think about something you read in a book or something you need to pick up at the store.
(6) Over time, this exercise will help sensitize you to the environment and the lives and the information around you. Try different places, different times of day, different focuses for your attention, imagining with each visit that as you come to know and feel more comfortable at the places were you go, they too are coming to know you and trust you as well.
(7) After you have been going to one or more places for a while, also visualize going to them while you are relaxed in a comfortable chair or bed at home. Use a relaxation technique such as the one given in step four, close your eyes and then imagine yourself driving or walking to the selected place, sitting or lying down in your favorite spot, and looking around with all of your senses at the environment you already know so well. Pick a time when distracting household noises that will pull you away from the visualization are at a minimum and when your mind wanders off to other things, gently pull it back to your mental trip to your mental images of the natural world and what it is telling you.
(8) Experiment with both your on-site observations and your mental “trips” and discover what works best for you and what pulls you and seems important. If you wish, jot down a few notes and record your impressions over time. (Do this long after the exercise—while doing the exercise, try not to plan what you are going to say in your notes.) Like any good friend, repeated conversations with the natural world will impact your life, changing it and making it richer and deeper just as it always has done for seekers on the path and heroes on a quest.
(At some point, you may discover you’re not where you think you are. You may believe you have been meditating outdoors only to find yourself in a chair in your livingroom. Or you may believe you have been meditating in that chair, only to find yourself outside. Do not become alarmed.)