Actual springtime in Nebraska finally settled in a couple of weeks ago. Most of us were impatient for the end of snows and to begin the time of severe storms, tornadoes, and budding plants. I’m being facetious, of course. People who live in the Great Plains of North America know that more frequently than not, the outdoors is more of a slap in the face than peaceful serenity. To perform something akin to outdoor meditation here can be quite a struggle until one accepts the climate of the Midwest.
A big help towards such acceptance is outdoor meditation, itself. If one can do formal sitting meditation outdoors, amidst the neighborhood’s stinging insects, you are an advanced soul. I prefer to keep moving, so as to make the mosquitoes work harder for my blood.
Due to the fact that even with sunscreen, my skin is prone to sunburn. So applying lotion in order to meditate outdoors indicates I need to exert more effort. If I’m going to be outdoors in the heat, humidity, and bugs, lawn mowing meditation will be my best motivation to go outdoors.
The idea behind lawn mowing meditation is the same as the concept of dish washing meditation. That is the Zen practice of when you wash dishes, only wash dishes. Try to focus only on the act of washing the dishes at the sink. By extension, we can do furniture dusting meditation, window cleaning meditation, and floor sweeping meditation. So, outdoors we can have sidewalk sweeping meditation and lawn mowing meditation. When mowing the lawn, one trains the attention towards only mowing the yard.
When or if there is no need to trim the lawn, a good alternative is walking meditation. This is a much more quiet type of contemplation that allows one to witness the thoughts without interference and judgment. When you walk, just walk. If you have ready access to a park or trail, outdoor walking meditation might be just the thing for you. Then you need not worry about hazards and curious onlookers if you attempt walking meditation on the street.
The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s technique is this: Select a quiet area where you can comfortably walk ten to 30 paces long. Allow your hands to rest easily. Take a few breaths to acclimate yourself to your surroundings. Pay attention to the feelings in your body and focus on your feet.
Begin walking much slower than your normal pace, but not so slow that you falter or stumble. It should still feel natural. One by one, place your feet onto the walking surface. Notice the sequential sensations affecting the heel, sole of the foot, and toes as you step down. Notice the same sensations of the other foot. Do this while you count the ten to 30 paces. Then turn around and repeat the same actions as you walk the opposite way. Slowly pace back and forth from ten to 20 minutes. Remember when you walk, just focus your attention on the physical act of walking.
In the future, once you get formal walking meditation down pat, you can adapt walking meditation to your normal traveling pace and walk to a destination or have a light workout. Then you have going places meditation. Variations on going places meditation include: going places on a pleasant sunny day meditation, going places on a rainy day meditation, going places on an an unpleasant day meditation, and so forth. Of course these meditations can be done on public sidewalks and streets where mindfulness will be of great benefit.
If you don’t want to walk anywhere or do outdoor tasks, you can simply go outdoors in any weather, stand or sit, and just pay attention to the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings of being outdoors. There is no need for any philosophy, teachings, nor special techniques.
Just go outside and simply be outside.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a thought from Thich Nhat Hanh. “The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”