Mindfulness of Nature

It’s time for stillness – find your Sit Spot!

Dear friends,

Greetings from Pucon, Araucania, Chile where the stunning smoking Villarica Volcano remains our constant companion…

Villarica volcano

This first week in Chile has been challenging – for a number of reasons – some personal and some relating to the usual “settling” period of the mind catching up with the heart that I experienced in Cyprus.  I’m not surprised, transitions take time and patience – as I am beginning to learn.

After 4 days of torrential rain, sunshine and blue skies returned to Pucon today – with the return of some inner and outer stillness.  It’s been a truly beautiful day.

This morning I took a walk by Villarica Lake, where I sat on the shore for an hour just watching the water forming perfect reflections in the morning light. Meanwhile, two Great Grebes were performing their elaborate courtship displays – a graceful symmetrical dance.  Little Silvery Grebes were furtively swimming under water only feet away from me.

The stillness of it all became supportive of mine. As I sat and paid attention to my surroundings, the habitual thoughts of the past few days began to dissolve a little and new, more creative thoughts began to filter through into my mind.

More and more, I experience the true power of stopping, of stillness, of just paying attention. It feels like a radical act of bravery to do so in these days of constant expectation of “busyness”, and thus an extremely challenging one to engage in. All the voices in the mind can tell us that ‘stopping is a waste of time, lazy, uninteresting’. They can also tell us stopping is too scary (which it can be!)… so we avoid it. 

Yet somehow, it feels absolutely vital these days more than ever to just stop, let be, and notice what comes up in our experience – to really experience the richness of it all with openness and humility.

Of course, what we find in stillness is not always easy to be with, but it is life itself and an incredibly worthwhile exploration. Simply sitting, welcoming it all. Stepping out of our own way, letting all of life in and seeing what happens next. 

Later today, coincidentally, a friend sent me this poem extract…

“Sit and be still 

until in the time 
of no rain you hear 
beneath the dry wind’s 
commotion in the trees 
the sound of flowing 
water among the rocks, 
a stream unheard before

Wendell Berry

Villarica Lake, Pucon

So as the theme of the day seems to be stillness, stopping and allowing… here’s an invitation to you all to make time to listen out for those “streams unheard before”…

And there’s no better exercise than the Sit Spot (which I introduce in the Art of Mindful Birdwatching – an exercise inspired by the birder, tracker and naturalist Jon Young) for this invitation.
So wherever you are, whatever the season and whatever access to the outdoors you have, it’s time to find your Sit Spot…
Where?
  • Less than a 2 minute walk away so we have no excuse of “not enough time”
  • You can do it anywhere (In a city park, in your garden, in “wild nature”) but ideally:
    • Somewhere you can easily see around you
    • Low on the ground
    • If possible where you can’t see “man-made” impacts or other people   

When?

  • Daily, at any time of day (but dawn and dusk will often mean more wildlife activity!)
  • Ideally for 30-40 mins (time it takes for nature to “settle” after disturbance)
  • Notice changes over time

What?

  • Sit or lie down – but be at STILL as possible
  • Awareness of all your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, touch?
  • Take a journal to make notes

How?

  • Set your intention: Before heading to your sit spot, stop to take a deep breath. Exhale and relax.  Notice your mood. Set an intention to engage your senses.
  • Watch like an owl: Pick a point of focus ahead of you. Whilst staring at that point and without moving your eyeballs, notice what you see in your peripheral vision. Turn your head, pick another point of focus ahead and re-engage your peripheral vision. Notice how this helps us to be in the landscape instead of “looking at” the landscape.
  • Listen like a deer: Notice sounds. Notice the silence between sounds. Listen to the farthest sound you can hear ahead of you, behind you, to your right, to your left, below you. Listen to the direct sounds themselves beyond their labels.
  • Touch like a racoon: Notice what you can feel.  Is the ground cold? What can you feel underneath you? What can you feel in your body and on your skin?
  • Participate: Notice how you are feeling, what energy you are bringing to the place. Energy? Boredom? Superiority? Fear? Gently invite an attitude of belonging and participation to your experience. You are not just an observer, you are part of your surroundings.
  • Focus and expand your awareness: Try and notice the details, the specifics, but also take in your surroundings as a whole. What does the place feel like? What energy does it have? How does it make you feel? How does this change depending on your mood?

Where is your Sit Spot? What have you discovered there? Who/what have you met? What have you learnt about the wildlife you share the space with? What have you learnt about yourself? Share your experiences below!

Tomorrow, we will be heading up to Huerquehue National Park to find out Sit Spots for our retreat there. 

Wishing you all moments of stillness, wonder and discovery.

Claire x

2 thoughts on “It’s time for stillness – find your Sit Spot!

  1. Christopher Stokes

    Hello Claire,

    I’ve taken a while to respond to this post because I’ve been reflecting on your precious insight about the mind catching up with the heart, which perfectly describes an experience with which I’m particularly familiar. I have been thinking of you at Huerquehue, hoping that you were blessed with glimpses of your mind catching up with your heart.

    I’d like you to know that my own latest experience of this catching-up process has come, in recent weeks, while I’ve been reading your first book again for the umpteenth time (I have one copy in my rucksack, another at my bedside, and one on each of my two Kindles). This time I’ve been living with Chapter Four, and especially with your thoughts on acceptance, patience, impermanence and interconnectedness, and I’m challenged to realise that these lessons are only just beginning to move from my mind to my heart.

    I see now, as I hadn’t seen before, that taking these lessons to my heart involves a radical reorientation of my approach to day-to-day life. This will inevitably be a gradual process, because habitual ways of encountering the world cannot be changed overnight, but the process itself already feels like the start of an amazing journey to me and I very much doubt that I would be walking this path without your words as my signposts.

    I’m telling you this because I’d like to suggest that your written words, in your books and online, have a life of their own long after you’ve moved on to writing something else. Your words about acceptance, patience, impermanence and interconnectedness quickly became engraved on my mind five years ago, but are only now making their way to the heart of who I am.

    The beauty of your writing is that you write from your own lived experience, in an unassuming way which I find delightful, and I hope that all the experiences which you’re encountering at the moment – for better and for worse – will continue to inform your writing to the enduring benefit of your readers who, like me, find you inspirational.

    Christopher x

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Thank you Christopher for sharing this! It is a good reminder for me to hear. I also have the experience of reading things 5 or 6 years ago and only now feeling them in my direct experience, integrating them more fully. I often understand things rationally/intellectually before they filter through. But I think you’re right, sometimes it just takes time. It is a little like planting a seed and seeing it grow years later.
      As an aside, have you read the Art of Mindful Birdwatching? There is a whole chapter in there about acceptance which you may find supportive if that is where you are at the moment.
      Thanks again for your ongoing interest and support for what I do!
      Take care
      Claire

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