To read the first article in this series, visit Entraining With Nature 101.
We all want a deeper connection with nature, but often we get outside only to find that we’ve brought tons of baggage. Our head is churning with thoughts, songs play incessantly in our heads, or we walk through the woods distracted, unaware of the natural world around us.
Today we’ll discuss four tools that lead us toward a higher level of Entrainment. These are Curious Thought Attention, Stimulus Reduction, the Sensory Meditation, and Imagination.
Animals are naturally entrained with nature. We, too, have this natural capacity, but it is buried under layers of mental gunk.
∞ Curious Thought Attention –
The magical thing about entrainment, or awareness in general, is that it happens automatically. It’s our natural state of being, and it is waiting just behind the din of thought-forms that are usually running around in our heads. But these thoughts can be difficult to shake. Our two-year old has a sign-and-song video that she likes to watch (she’s learning sign language, which is invaluable as a second language in the woods — you can communicate silently over a distance). It incorporates sign language, but also has catchy songs that tend to stick in one’s head. Since she’s rather fond of the video right now, we hear the songs a lot, and when it’s time to sleep or we’re out climbing trees — da da doo, da doo da — the song can just pop into your head and start playing.
These re-playing songs (and re-playing thoughts) can be maddening, but it’s actually simple to turn them off. The key is this — don’t try to turn them off. Instead, just focus curious thought attention upon them.
We don’t have a word for our language to explain what curious thought attention is, so I’ll try to explain it. It’s a way of looking at one’s thoughts with a light curiosity, focusing on them in the way that you’d watch a frog leap into a pond. It’s not about becoming mesmerized by them, or trying to turn them off, or trying to dissect them or find a higher meaning in them. Just turn your curious awareness on to them.
Once you get the hang of this, it works miracles. When we look at a thought in this way, it naturally evaporates. The reason is this – repetitive thought-streams or replaying songs need resistance in order to keep repeating. It’s actually our desire for them to go away that keeps them coming back.
If you are having thoughts as you walk through the woods, or as you’re trying to get to sleep at night, consider this a gift. It’s an opportunity to begin to learn the habit of turning our curious awareness onto our thoughts. And the more you practice this, the more it does become habitual, until you find that your mind becomes more and more silent and aware.
∞ Stimulus Reduction –
Our “civilized” world offers us constant input and stimulation in the form of various “entertainments”. Whether it is radio, television, movies, the internet (ha, here we are!), YouTube, or personal drama, these things keep our minds “revved up”, moving at a quick pace that promotes getting lost in our thoughts.
Most of us understand that we should be conscious of what food we put in our bodies. Every bite becomes part of us, infusing our bodies with the substances it contains. Each bite alters our body forevermore. It’s the same for media. Every time you listen to a song, watch a newscast, or play a YouTube video, that becomes a part of your mind, and you alter your mind forevermore. Seen in that light, it makes sense to pay attention to what we put into our heads. Is what we are reading or watching or hearing enriching us? Or is it just filling our heads with junk?
In addition, most of us can benefit from going on a media diet. Yes, it’s readily available (even stuffed down our throats), but if we decide not to turn on the radio when we drive into town, and instead open our awareness and take in the sights all around us, we soon find that the radio isn’t all that great. It was just a habit, and we feel much more ALIVE when we turn it off. In general, the less media the better, especially if we’re looking to seriously open our senses and regain our natural awareness. Turn it off!
∞ Sensory Meditation –
For most of us, we’ve grown so habitual about having a distracted, thought-filled mind, and so filled with media stimulation, that our senses have grown quite dull. We need our food to be super-sweet or super-salty in order to have it taste like anything. We need our music played louder. We need our movies to hit us with more and more blasts of visual and emotional stimulus. When we go out into nature with these nearly-dead senses, we miss about 99% of what nature has to offer. But a simple practice can help to re-awaken our senses.
Sitting under a tree and practicing your sensory meditation, the world will unfold in unforseen ways.
The meditation involves sitting down or resting on your back. Outdoors is optimal, but this can be practiced anywhere. Now, feel yourself “shut off” all your senses except for your sense of smell. Sip in air through your nose, and really see what scents come to you. Then shut down your sense of smell, and move to taste. Then your tactile sense, then hearing, then vision. Spend at least a few minutes with each sense. While you’re engaged with each sense, really immerse yourself in it. Become that sense. No need to label what you sense — just experience it like a symphony, especially as you move toward your more “powerful” senses. With hearing or vision, take in everything as one composition of music, without any need to single out this thing or that. No thinking is necessary — just sense. If thoughts come up, turn your curious thought attention upon them, and as soon as they dissolve, come back to your senses =)
Finally, consider that all of your senses are really just one sense — the sense of touch. Vision is really photons hitting the back of your eye (touching), and sending electrical impulses into your brain. Smell is tiny particles touching receptors in your nose. Hearing is sound waves touching your ear drum. You get the idea.
Now BECOME your sense of touch — a single, sensing organ that touches everything around it. No longer try to discern between the five variations of touch — just touch with your entire being. Spend as long as you like in this state, simply touching.
The more you practice this meditation (once a day will work wonders), the more your senses will revive, re-awaken, and drink in the sensuous world we live in.
∞ Imagination –
Most of us think we left imagination behind us as children. Then we might have imagined the forests filled with orcs or dragons or talking trees. As adults, however, we haven’t left imagination behind. Indeed, we’re imagining all the time, all of us playing a huge imaginary game with imaginary rules. We call it “real life”, but things like money and fame have no intrinsic reality. They are only “real” so long as most humans agree that they are “real”. Just like a game of Monopoly, we all agree on certain terms, and play (or cheat) within that context. But it’s all just imagination.
Like people in an asylum, “civilized” people usually don’t know they’re playing imagination games. They think that what they imagine is real (even though money is no more “real” than the pink elephant a crazy person sees in your bathroom. The only difference is that if we believe in money, there are enough people sharing the same delusion that we can feel secure in our own craziness!). If you’ve embarked on re-wilding, you have probably realized some of the craziness we call “real life”, and begun to question a lot of things. Maybe it’s time to question whether dwelling in imagination is really bad, and to start using our imaginations more as we did when we were children — to enrich our world.
“Becoming” other entities through our imagination expands our sense of curiosity and wonder.
As we walk into nature, we can use imagination to feel what it’s like to flit from branch to branch like a chickadee. We can feel what it’s like to burrow into the moist earth like a worm. Or we can feel the sensation of having the millipede’s many legs. We may not actually become these creatures, but we can begin to bridge the gap that our usual, mechanistic mind-set has created for us. We share this world with innumerable entities, from crow to wind to old, mossy stone. If you sit and take the time to imagine becoming any of these things, the world will begin to expand around you. What you’re really doing is breaking free of the narrow boxes we place around everything, and beginning to see the world with a sense of curiosity. Spend just fifteen minutes imagining that you are the bubbling stream that’s flowing by you, and I can guarantee that your world will begin to expand in unforeseen ways.
These four tools will lead you far down your journey toward entrainment with nature. Make them a regular practice, and watch the world blossom. This is the beginning of a new relationship with self, with others, and with the entire natural world.