Have you noticed how much time and energy we spend examining and assessing our lives? Our minds are like perpetual attention-seeking narrators inside our heads, creating stories about ourselves and others. They analyse our lives and judge our experiences as good or bad and right or wrong. What’s more, these stories often involve negative thoughts, or “second darts” such as “today was a bad day”, “I shouldn’t feel this way”, “I did the wrong thing”, “this person is irritating”, “I’m not good enough”.
This is not surprising because it is what minds naturally evolved to do – and they are very good at it! In fact, we depend on them for so many aspects of our lives. They enable us to protect ourselves from danger, solve problems, socialise, imagine and innovate. Our minds are indeed one of the greatest and most wonderful mysteries in this world!
However, don’t you feel that this constant examination of our lives can sometimes become quite tiring? Don’t you sometimes wish you could quieten your mind or even just “switch it off”? I think most of us feel this way at times.
I was recently lucky to spend two weeks on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Cyprus. I travelled there for my work and was hosted by two friends in a traditional Cypriot village.
Most evenings after work, I took a walk up to the local dam, enticed by the warm, golden evening sunlight. I set off along a rocky path through olive groves, poppy fields and a mosaic of green, golden, purple, yellow and white flowers and grasses.
One evening as I walked, my mind was obsessively assessing the working day’s events. I felt stressed and irritated. I just wanted some peace and quiet. I decided to stop and sit on a rock by the side of the path and made the conscious decision to bring my attention to what was going on around me.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly calm everything was. I listened to the gentle trickle of water flowing in the river bed. I watched the chattering swallows swooping around me with amazing speed and agility. I noticed jackdaws gathering to roost at the top of the hills surrounding the valley. A warbler was intermittently singing in a tree in the distance. There were small insects skating on top of the slow-flowing water in the river bed and I could hear toads croaking in a nearby water pool I felt cradled by the gentle breeze as it rustled through the olive trees. It was as if the surrounding landscape were whispering to me: “everything is going to be OK”. I felt instantly comforted and relieved as my mind started to settle.
I began to reflect on one of the many reasons why I love being in nature: the natural world doesn’t make me feel under pressure or demand anything of me. When I am in nature, I feel free to be myself and let go of any insecurities or inhibitions. In contrast to our society, the natural world doesn’t assess, classify, analyse, examine and judge events as good nor bad and right or wrong. In wild places, life just takes its course with no particular purpose, direction or intention.
Next time you feel overwhelmed by your busy, agitated mind, go and spend some time in nature! You could go walking in the mountains, spend some time by the sea, go for a walk in a nearby nature reserve, sit by a river or just watch a bird in your back garden.
If we pay attention to nature, it will always be sure to remind us how uncomplicated, peaceful and beautiful life can be.
As I sat on that rock in the evening light, I was reminded of the simple joy of just being. The swallows continued their veering flight around me, the jackdaws continued to gather on the hills in the distance, the warm breeze continued to softly brush against my skin and the river continued to flow in its bed. There was nothing more to life than this. For a short moment, my mind was quiet again. I felt present, alive and free.