Mindfulness of Nature

Permission to feel joy, beauty & hope in times of crisis

Dear friends,

Yesterday during our “What has nature brought you during lockdown?” Zoom call, we shared interesting reflections around how a number of us sometimes feel a sense of guilt about noticing beauty, taking time out in nature, feeling more peaceful and joyful – in this period when so many are going through desperately challenging times. I just wanted to reflect a little further on this.

Firstly, I wrote a blog a while back which highlights some of the reasons we may be afraid of embracing joy at the best of times. It may be worth revisiting this and Brene Brown’s work on joy and gratitude which is fascinating – you can read this here.

But here’s another thought, what if our disconnection from joy, beauty, compassion, peace and paying attention to life actually got us into this crisis in the first place?

Could our panicked racing lives have led us to forget the undeniable interconnectedness of our world? And could a tiny virus be here to remind us of this? In this light, what if reconnecting with peace, joy, gratitude and beauty were not only “okay” and acceptable – but actually vital right now?

Have you ever noticed that when we feel stressed, fearful and anxious – our perspective narrows and we become more judgemental and less able to support others? This is because we move into a fearful “self-protection” mode. And have you noticed how when we feel more rested, peaceful and lighter, we naturally become more accepting, loving and compassionate? This is due to the fact that when there’s no perceived threat, we can open up.

And at this time of global crisis more than ever before, do we not need buckets of the latter?

The thing is, when we’re stressed, fearful and anxious, our physiology shifts into a fight/flight survival state and we naturally move into a “protect myself, run for my life and the lives of my relatives at all costs” mode. This is a panic state (and apparently we buy lots of toilet rolls – humanity never ceases to surprise!) . When this happens, we go into basic ‘autopilot’, our creativity narrows as does our capacity for love and compassion. We become less able to give and support others. We become more self-centred, judgemental and violent. And what’s more, over time, we usually burn out or break down.

However, when we’re well, rested, open, and lighter, our physiology shifts into a “resting state” and our creativity and compassion flow effortlessly. We can give so much more to others, and this comes naturally. Because believe it or not, we are hardwired for care and connection.

In my opinion, if we are to move out of this crisis with more compassion and wisdom and less panic and fear, we need to tap into these resources to nurture our strength to stay well, rested, hopeful and connected to joy and gratitude.

So on the days when we feel able to move beyond our anxieties and fears at this time (which is extremely challenging for most of us) , it feels not only permitted but imperative that we do. The world needs us to lean into hope, joy, kindness, compassion and creativity wherever possible.

So please, release the guilt a little. Dare to lean in to the joy of your encounters with nature, of your time with your loved ones online, of your spontaneous laughs amidst the madness and your glimpses of beauty and peace.

By doing so, you will not only be filling your own cup. You see, it turns out that just like viruses, joy, love, hope and laughter are highly contagious too.

Because, if we still haven’t got the message, we live in a deeply interconnected world.

Thanks to all those who took part in the call yesterday. Our discussion triggered these further reflections.

And I’d love to hear any comments or thoughts you have below!

9 thoughts on “Permission to feel joy, beauty & hope in times of crisis

  1. Jo Norton

    I think you’ve expressed the undeniable truth beautifully and eloquently. I am certain that this time of lockdown is to gift us with the time and space to come back to our true selves, our true nature so that we may light up the world as we should be, as you have described. I feel no guilt at all. Just pure joy and gratitude.

  2. David Muff

    Hi Claire,
    Thank you for these thoughts. I know for myself a lot of this to be true. Interconnectedness at so many levels are vital as Johann Hari explores so well in Lost Connections.

    I’m really interested in why we may enter into a fearful, self-protecting mindset. So while I agree wholeheartedly in embracing the happiness and joy we experience, including that with nature, there are many people who need a lot of support to understand why they get stressed, defensive etc.
    Ideally there is a balance between understanding and compassion for an individual and encouragement to become more rested and open.
    I know from my own experience and those of others just how stuck we can get and yes burn out, breakdown, depression etc can follow. Self compassion is so important in our journeys. I think it is very important to remember that everyone’s path is different and some people have had very difficult backgrounds, have different temperaments, parenting and so much more. For people who have not experienced serious mental health issues there can be a well intentioned desire to generalise in a way that doesn’t take into account the individual and unintentionally can increase an individual’s pain and guilt. Please I don’t think this is what you are saying.
    For many of us it’s not an either or scenario as we experience joy, openness and connection at some time s and with some people as well as tension, stress and defensiveness at others. I would like to be more the former than the latter! We can learn a lot about ourselves and others by being with the pain and I would argue it’s an important part of life and of being a rounded human.
    I’ve rambled somewhat but fostering interconnection and recognising the ramifications of a lack of – AMEN!

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Dear David,
      Thanks for your thoughts on this. And rest assured I completely agree and was not intending in any way to dismiss or deny the challenges we all have. We (including myself and all the people I work with) all have our mental health issues in all their diversity and we should absolutely allow ourselves and each other to be with them too and find compassion there.
      What I meant is that where there is joy, peace and beauty, perhaps we could give ourselves permission to lean into it at the moment. As it is a huge source of strength, as I’m sure you’d agree from your beautiful sharing of your nature experiences recently. I hope this clarifies 🙂

  3. Annette Bee

    I just did a reply to you in Gmail. I didn’t get the link or know about the Zoom Call which I would have joined. A lady in my University of the Third Age Art Group was cycling near the Newton Estate and had to stop for a herd of 31 deer to cross the road. She has seen them several times. The animals are coming back and skies are blue!

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Thanks Annette and yes indeed the wildlife is breathing again! I responded to your email which I hope you received?

  4. clairethompson Post author

    Thanks Annette and yes indeed the wildlife is breathing again! I responded to your email which I hope you received?

  5. Clare Morris

    Beautifully put Claire and I agree that we are experiencing some truly amazing times with nature, quiet and time out. I have felt very connected to nature (whilst struggling with the difficulties of being out in nature and people getting to close to me) and the natural noise that fills my day instead of traffic, shouting and pollution.

    It’s sad that not everyone will see the wonder around them, take the time to breathe and accept what is happening and where this could take us if we learn from the break from commercialism.

    But we can hope that more and more will engage and want the restart to hold onto some new values. I’m sorry I couldn’t join your call, I missed hearing your voice and calm influence.

    If there is an opportunity to do this again then I would be so very pleased to join you. I hope your voice is being heard loud and strong right now and into the new future.

    Very best wishes, Clare

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Hi Clare! Thanks for sharing this and it’s good to hear how connected to nature you have been feeling. It can feel sad that not everyone can and does, but we only have control over our own actions. And who knows who they may inspire in time. Also, the call was not today but next Sunday at 4pm. If you’d like to join us then, drop me an email at clairethompson@cantab.net and I’ll sign you up! Hope to see you there soon, Take care, Claire

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