Awaken the Senses Outdoors

During the summer when days are long and warm, many people enjoy spending time outside. Whether walking, biking or yoga, being in Nature is a rich experience and, with a little conscious effort, it becomes even richer. Here’s how you can bring your practice of meditation and mindfulness outside to experience Nature more fully and awaken your senses.

“Come forth into the light of things,

Let Nature be your Teacher…

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.”

The Table Turned, William Wordsworth

We respond to the world via our senses. We understand the senses are tools through which we gain information when seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing. Yoga explains this information from the senses can either cloud our consciousness or bring us wisdom. The term used for the incoming senses is jnanendriyas, which translates literally as “wisdom senses.”

In order to activate your wisdom senses it’s important to witness perceptions objectively, without coloring awareness with your opinions. Analyzing sensations with your emotions or thoughts from the mind cloud perceptions. Try to just purely and simply experience them. This way you watch the world objectively, having no judgment. We gain information unconsciously. We gain wisdom consciously.

“All natural objects make a kindred impression,

When the mind is open to their influence.

The lover of Nature is he whose inward and outward senses

Are truly adjusted to each other.”

Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson

By awakening our senses outdoors, fully experiencing Nature while watching the breath, we experience the oneness of all. We can directly experience that true beauty without is the same true beauty that lies within. And this leads to wisdom.

Emerson continues:

“Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign…

In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”

The word “nature” derives from the Latin word for “birth.” I certainly feel a rebirth when spending time in Nature! My backyard is my favorite place to commune with it. I also love formal gardens, forested and pastoral settings. In southern France, extensive olive groves are considered Nature’s cathedrals, equally sacred as the Gothic cathedrals of northern France with their tall interior tree-like columns.

When I’m outside with my dog, he reveals how incredibly in tune he is with Nature. He’s ever attentive with his senses fully engaged. His nose wiggles as he picks up scents off the breeze. His ears turn in opposite directions to hear people, birds and cars all at once. I’m far more easily distracted than him, not paying as much attention to my senses. However, I’m rewarded when I carefully embrace them. To fully experience Nature through my senses I try to internalize the beauty, seeing it as part of myself, not separate.

The greatest treasure is found within the human heart and the goal of life is to find this treasure, according to the Katha Upanishad, written circa 500 BCE. The process involves having good intentions, observing sensations, and opening to receive grace. It involves learning to experience without likes, dislikes and without judgment, and having a pure, untainted, clear experience. That’s mindfulness.

When was the last time you walked barefoot on the Earth? How about lying on the grass? Gazed at the stars, sunrise or sunset? Make the most of our precious summer and go outside!

“And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Woodstock, Joni Mitchell

Here’s a suggestion to commune deeply with Nature:

Find a comfortable place outside. Try to think of neither past nor future, rather, be in the present moment. Now connect to your breath, deepen it and let it become very slow. Continue to keep your body still and relaxed, while breathing slowly.

Look out at the sky and the long view. Observe the horizon, buildings and trees. Notice if anything is moving. Watch the clouds. See the various textures and shapes of plants. Study tree leaves against the blue sky.

Listen to birdsongs as never before, distinguishing blue jay from robin; seagull from sparrow. Do you hear cicadas, crickets or other animals? People? Water?

Lightly caress a flower petal. Hug a tree! Relish the feeling of the wind blowing across your skin. Rub a leaf or tree bark between your fingers to release its scent. Smell several flowers and notice how they differ. As you breathe, notice any other scent in the air.

Taste an herb or an edible flower. At your next meal, taste a little food on the tip of your tongue only. Then take your first few bites and chew very, very slowly with your eyes closed.

Consider trying a walking meditation. Set your intention and begin very slowly.

“Walk not in order to arrive, but just to walk.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Move with full attention, stepping your feet one at a time carefully onto the ground. Feel each one touch down, then gently release up. Be still between each step. Follow your breath. Become one with the Earth. Open your heart and mind to the influence of Nature! Merge your little self into the greater Self of All. Feel the harmony of Nature without, and let it settle within.

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find

Peace of mind is waiting there.

And the time will come when you see we’re all One.

And life flows on within you and without you.”

Within You Without You, The Beatles


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